Happy 186th Birthday Clarke County!By DEBORA REESE,
It was on December 23, 1833, that Clarke County was established and named after Mississippi’s first chancellor, Joshua G. Clark. There is no record of the number of people residing in the area at that time, but the 1840 census was the first actually recording of 2,986 citizens.
The rolling woodlands, rich soil and the Chickasawhay River attracted the people moving west to settle in the newly formed county. By 1850 the population was just shy of doubling reaching 5,477, and by 1860 Clarke County reached 10,771 in population.
The War Between the States began in the 1860s. Men and boys left their homes and families to fight, some never to return. With the Meridian Expedition of Sherman’s troops, in 1864, homes and businesses were burned, food was scarce and rough times were endured. With the end of the war, the northern migration of the ex-slaves began. By 1870, Clarke County’s population had dropped 3,266 in all, leaving us with only 7505 residents.
With the reconstruction efforts and the logging industry starting to move in, Clarke County’s population began to increase once again reaching 15,021, doubling in population by 1880. The lumber industry brought many to our area; various businesses began to open throughout our towns and communities. Over the next thirty years, our population continued to grow reaching 21,630 residents in 1910.
Not long afterwards, the lumber business began to subside, and the US ventured into World War I, our population declined once again after so many successful years. We dropped nearly 4000 residents by 1920, with a population of 17,927.
What I found interesting is that during the Great Depression, when you would think more people would have been moving away to find work, we actually had people moving here. Then, I realized that they moved here because they could live off the land with vegetable gardens and hunting wild game. By 1940 our population had increased to 20,596.
In 1942, Mississippi Lumber closed shop in Clarke County. Our grandfathers enlisted or were called into the military with the bombing of Pearl Harbor and World War II. We faced a decline of 1234 in our population, dropping to 19,362 in 1950. This was just a start.
In 1955 the Vietnam War started and continued through 1975. Many of our young men were drafted, with some never returning home. These years took a toll on our county. It wasn’t just the war that took our young men, but others moved when transferred to another part of the US when their employer expanded their businesses, for example Southern Pipe & Supply in Meridian opened a branch in Louisiana. Automobiles manufacturing increased during the 40’s and 50’s, with some of our young men moving north for high paying jobs in the automobile and steel industries. It was in the 1960s, that Interstate 59 was built, bypassing the towns of Pachuta and Enterprise. We hit an all time record low since 1880 with a population of 15,049 in 1970.
Clarke County persevered. The next twenty year we gained over 2200 residents, reaching a population of 17,313 in 1990. Although, this did not last long with the closing of A & B Components, the Quitman Knitting Mill and Burlington between 2000-2002, laying off a total of 1721 employees.
We have had our ups and downs over the past hundred eighty-six years. We have maintained our population, gaining some and losing some within twenty to thirty year spans. If history repeats itself and it’s an indication of what to expect within the next ten years, then we can expect to be on a good incline once again. The fluctuation of our population leaves me very optimistic especially when citizens join together and support one another.
Take time on Monday, the 23rd, to acknowledge Clarke County’s birth and remember our county’s forefathers for their accomplishments and endurance.