July always brings, hot humid weather and thoughts of vacations. Though destinations and entertainment have to a large extent changed, summer vacations have long been with us. While people still often go to the Biloxi and the Gulf, who now goes to or has even heard of Way, Mississippi?
In the 1800s and early 1900s people enjoyed their summer vacations as much as we do today. Surprisingly, they also did not hesitate to travel great distances. Popular summer resort destinations in the mid- to late-1800s were often springs or wells that featured mineral water. They were considered “health spas”. In Mississippi “health spas” such as Castallion Springs near Durant and Allison’s Wells near Canton wee popular. However, people also did not hesitate to travel to more distant and famous resorts in Virginia, West Virginia New York and Wisconsin.
The post marks and date lines on old letters provide a glimpse of some of the places people from the Columbus area traveled. The summer of 1871 found members of both the Billups and Sykes families of Columbus at Allegheny Springs in Virginia. S.D. Lee journeyed in 1877 to White Sulfa Springs, Virginia, and James Sykes of Columbus went to Blue Ridge Springs, Virginia. Blue Ridge Springs was popular with both the Billups and Sykes families.
Other popular resorts were the springs at Waukesha, Wis., to which J. S. Billups would take his family, and Saratoga Springs, N.Y., to which both the James T. Harrison and James Sykes families would travel.
By the late 1880s Monteagle, Tenn., with its Monteagle Sunday School Assembly had become popular, and even today it remains popular with some Columbus families. The assembly grounds, with its residential houses and cabins, offered a combination of spiritual retreats and cultural activities patterned after New York’s famous Chautaugua Institute. Locally, camp meetings and camp grounds dating back to the early 1800s provided spiritual retreats more accessible to area residents.
The popularity of the distant resorts and spas mushroomed in the 1870s with the advent of improved rail service. Most of the mid-1800 resorts blossomed near railroads so that travel the could be relatively easy and not too lengthy. That was the case with Allison’s Wells at Way. In 1879, a shallow well dug about a mile from the small Illinois Central Railroad depot at Way, produced an ice-cold medicinal mineral water. At the site, a “health spa” to be known as Allison’s Wells was soon built. The water there was noted not only for its healthy properties but because mixing Bourbon with it would cause it to turn black.
Entertainment there in its early days included cock fighting and gambling. By the early 1900,, though, the resort had become more family-oriented. An advertisement in the June 7, 1914, Columbus Dispatch announced that “Allison’s Well is now open for guests” and claimed its water could treat every thing from malaria to eczema.
The Gulf Coast has also long been a popular summer destination with local people. With the widespread construction of all weather roads around 1912, the popularity of the coastal communities greatly increased.
From the 1910s through the 1930s, the Billups family would often vacation with the Richards and Kimbrough families in Ocean Springs and Biloxi.
On one of those trips around 1920, T. C. Billups of Columbus was driving his family to Biloxi to meet up with the Kimbrough family from Greenwood. Near Macon, his automobile broke down. It broke down again near Scooba. Then, not to far above Meridian, the automobile broke down a third time. Billups ordered his family out of the car, pulled out a pistol and emptied its chambers into the engine. As he fired his last shot he said “That’ll put it out of its misery.” Fortunately Billups had a friend who was in the automobile business in Meridian.
While vacations are still enjoyable they are usually not quite the adventure they once were.
Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at [email protected]