Happy 151st birthday, Union County

Union County's third courthouse, torn down to be replaced by the current building. Partially visible to the left behind the courthouse is the old jail where the chancery court building is now.
July 19th, 2021     Community Featured News

Union County celebrated its 151st birthday July 7, 2021.

There is little fanfare about this occasion, but the formation of the county is worth noting. It was during reconstruction after the Civil War that several north Mississippi counties were founded.

According to the history collected by the late Edgar Stephens, it was difficult for people to get to Pontotoc or Ripley to take care of their legal business since they were so far away from the county seats. So a decision was made to try to have a new county formed.

“A total of $3,000 was collected and a man selected to carry the money to Jackson where a carpet-bag Legislature was in session,” writes Stephens.

There is no record of how the money was spent, perhaps an early lobbying effort, but the plan paid off. Union County was established July 7, 1870.

The county received its name when George Mitchell, Nimrod Wilkins and a few other men met at Charles Bond’s store in New Albany to consider the matter.

After discussion Nimrod Wilkins suggested the name Union since so many of the early settlers came here in 1840 from Union County South Carolina. And it was also the union of Tippah and Pontotoc Counties and the area was still under Union Army reconstruction until about 1872.

Apparently there was a consensus, and thus the formation and naming of Union County with New Albany as the county seat.

About where Regions Bank now stands was the location of the first courthouse. It was a frame building and by 1872, a new courthouse was built on the present courthouse block. Unfortunately it was burned by an unnamed arsonist in October 1881, who it was said to have done so to destroy his criminal record.

And that obviously worked. Not only his criminal record was burned but all of the land records as well.

A third courthouse was built and remained in use until 1908 when it was torn down to make way for the current courthouse which opened in September 1909.

New Albany has been in existence since 1840 when the area was first settled by pioneers following the signing of the Pontotoc Creek Treaty and the Chickasaw Indians, which ceded six million acres to the federal government.

The Tallahatchie River was a good place to settle near, since it proved favorable to transportation as well as the building of a mill by Moses Collins, who is considered one of the founders. The mill was located behind where Barkley Travel Service on Bankhead Street is today. In those days the water from the river was much closer to downtown. It was a three-story structure that was a grain and saw mill powered by the river.

And so it is that Union County was formed and today has a population of approximately 28,000. Happy Birthday, Union County!

Jill Smith, Director, Union County Heritage Museum

When the current courthouse was new. A photo from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History

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