The boundaries of Panola County were established in 1836, and by 1939, the town of Panola (a Chickasaw word meaning “cotton”), had become an important port on the south side of the Little Tallahatchie River. Early residents and landowners thrived with the help of the river as their source for shipping commodities. In the mid-1850s, the Rev. James W. Bates helped the railroad find the land it needed, and the first train passed through the new Panola Depot in 1857. A year later, as businesses migrated away from the river and towards the railroad, the Panola Depot was renamed Batesville after Rev. Bates. By the mid-20th century, Interstate-55 connected it to Memphis in the north and to Jackson (the state capital) and the Mississippi Gulf Coast to the South. Major east-west routes connected the city to the historic university town of Oxford and to the rich farms lands of the Delta.
Today, Batesville is Panola County’s largest community. Its convenience to major transportation systems and its role as a county seat help ensure its place as the area’s fastest-growing city. Tourists flood the Batesville area year-round. Special Events such as SpringFest attract thousands who enjoy the live entertainment, food, carnival rides, a 5K and other festival activities. Shopping is a huge industry. Batesville’s charming Main Street area features restaurants, antique shops and other retail establishments. Bargain hunters also flock to The Factory Stores at Batesville for great deals at name-brand store outlets. For sports fans, area colleges and high schools offer a variety of athletic events while neighboring lakes keep the anglers happy (not to mention the swimmers, boaters, and skiers.) Beautiful parks are ideal for campers and hikers - and just about anybody with a picnic basket!
The construction of a train depot north of the Little Tallahatchie River lured many residents away from the little river port of Belmont to a small community called Danville (named after its first school teacher, Dan Killebrew.) Incorporated in 1866, just a year after the end of the Civil War, the town petitioned for a post office but postal officials thought the name was too long. Consequently, the people chose the name of Sardis, which was the name of one of the Seven Churches of the New Testament. Sardis became a county seat by 1871.
Visitors and residents alike enjoy exploring the side streets of Sardis, discovering its numerous historic homes and neighborhoods. The Heflin House Museum is open every third Sunday of the month from 2:00-4:00 p.m. and is managed by the Heflin House Museum Heritage organization. This group also sponsors an annual Christmas Open House and an annual Flea Market, which draws shoppers from miles around. Another big attraction is the Panola Playhouse. The Playhouse presents about six plays a year and features actors and directors from Memphis and Oxford as well as lots of local talent. The perennial favorite, “A Christmas Carol,” was first performed more than twenty years ago and is still going strong!
In the 1830s when Dr. and Mrs. Mrs. George Tait of Georgia came to Panola County and bought all the land that is now the site of Como. He sold a small number of lots to other settlers, but they had to travel to Sardis to get their mail. In order to have their mail delivered, their settlement needed a name. There was a store located near a small pond, and it is believed that this inspired the name of Como, after Lake Como, Italy.
The little community of Como quickly became a major area of commerce which was centered around the railroad that went straight through the center of town. From the late 1880s until the Great Depression, Como could boast of having more millionaires per capita than almost anywhere in the U.S. W.C. Handy used to ride the train from Memphis to perform up and down Main Street.
Now Como attracts its residents from all over the country – and its visitors from all over the world. Famous as the Home of Hill Country Blues, its Main Street recording studio brings in major Rock, Blues and Country Music performers while the town’s Opera Guild features regional talent in its many concerts and recitals. Many people travel as far as 75 miles to dine at one of Main Street’s popular restaurants (some with live entertainment) and to browse the little gift shops. Additionally, Como has organized a walking/drive tour that includes such landmarks as the Mississippi Fred McDowell gravesite, the Como Gin, Holy Innocent's Episcopal Church (with its exquisite, authentic Tiffany window), the domed Como United Methodist Church, and the Fredonia Methodist Church (the county's oldest standing pioneer church), plus such historic homes as Four Oaks, Oakhurst, and the Ada Sledge Bankhead House (home of actress Tallulah Bankhead's mother)...among many others.
Como has many fine Bed and Breakfast establishments. Check them out on the Lodging page of this website. Also, Como is one of only a few locations along the Mississippi Blues Trail to have two Blues Trail Markers. Mississippi Fred McDowell and Otha Turner were both honored with the installation of Blues Trail Markers on Downtown Como's Main Street in 2009. Be sure to make this a stop our your next trip!
For more information on the Mississippi Blues Trail, visit their website at www.msbluestrail.org.
Deep in the heart of Panola County, Mississippi lies Como, a small rural town where children and grown folks alike have been living and breathing gospel for as long as they can remember. In the summer of 2006, Daptone Records placed a small ad in local papers and on the radio inviting singers to come down to Mt. Mariah Church to record their songs. The result is COMO NOW, a stirring collection of traditional and original a cappella gospel from the voices of Panola County’s own families.
It may seem like a leap for Daptone Records to be releasing an album of a cappella gospel music. Daptone has earned a reputation for creating and proliferating the purest of today’s soul and funk music. Why gospel? And why without any instrumentation? If you put aside the analytical categories of the music critic for a moment, and just listen to the record, the answer becomes simple and clear: this is soulful music.
The 16 songs on this record feature performances by every one of the singers that came down to Mt. Mariah Church on July 22nd, 2006. Though their music is steeped in tradition, it should not be filed away as some sort of academic field recording. It was not made for the archives of the Library of Congress, nor for the benefit of musicologists and anthropologists. COMO NOW is a contemporary recording of contemporary people. From the slow stirring duets of Brother Raymond and Sister Joella Walker to the bouncing harmonies of the Jones Sisters, every song on this record is meant for you, their contemporary, to hear how the people of Como, Mississippi sing – right now.
Source: Daptone Records (www.daptonerecords.com)
Venture off the beaten track to make discoveries of your own in the communities of Courtland, Crenshaw and Pope. These southern towns are steeped in the traditions of America’s rural farm lands and are surrounded by fields of cotton (“white gold”), soybeans, wheat, and corn. Deer, wild turkey, ducks, and other wildlife abound. This is where life slows down, where one takes the time to share a cup of coffee or a hot lunch plate special with friends and neighbors. You just might stumble across a real surprise or two!
Like many communities in the Mississippi Delta, Crenshaw was a settlement long before it became an “official town.” This designation came with the arrival of the railroad in the 1850s. Huge cotton farms dotted the area, and the railroad quickly became Crenshaw’s link to wealth and prosperity. Vast cotton fields still surround the area, along with other crops and small businesses. Just a stone’s throw from Tunica, the third largest gaming center in the United States, Crenshaw is a town that knows how to blend the old with the new. When visitors aren’t rolling the dice, they often discover Crenshaw as a quiet respite and are drawn to the town’s Soul Food Restaurant for some real, down-home, southern-style cooking. There’s another little surprise in Crenshaw, too: Miss Billie’s Pecans, right on Main Street. Even the Martha Stewart has stopped by to pick up some cinnamon-spiced pecans and other specialties that are shipped internationally from this unassuming little storefront enterprise.
Originally called Randolph’s crossing, Courtland is another town that grew into a bustling center of trade and commerce when the railroad came to town. By 1871, it was a thriving community in the heart of one of the nation’s richest agricultural areas, when cotton was “king.” Courtland is a little quieter now, but the train still roars through everyday, blaring its “hello” to the townsfolk. Old houses line its streets and Main Street is still the place to linger and mingle and share a good story or two.
When the railroad was being constructed in the 1850s, a civil engineer from Georgia named W.E. Pope was in charge of building the roadbed. The settlement was referred to as Pope Station and later, Pope Depot. When the Civil War broke out, W.E. Pope and a group of followers joined the Southern cause and called themselves “Pope’s Devils.” It’s believed that the community was given its name in their honor. Pope was officially created in 1872. Logging was its primary business. When the trees were gone, they were replaced by row farming and then livestock. Cotton ginning was a mainstay for decades. One of Pope’s most popular attractions is the Back Porch Restaurant. This is where you’ll enjoy a great southern meal and learn the most about what makes Pope one of the cornerstones of Panola County.