The Depot-Compress Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡]
The twenty acre Depot-Compress Historic District derives its identity from the Depot buildings constructed alongside the Illinois Central Railroad tracks and the Federal Compress Company's sprawling sheds. The Depot-Compress area is distinguished by a marked juxtaposition of commercial and residential buildings. East of Compress Street, the Depot-Compress Historic District is dominated by the depot buildings and the Compress complex, while west of Compress Street the land is used exclusively for residential purposes. The proposed Depot-Compress District is located one mile east of the Holly Springs Courthouse Square Historic District.
In response to the rapid growth of Marshall County's bustling agricultural economy, the Depot-Compress Historic District emerged as the area's leading transportation center in the early 1850s. The establishment, at that time, of the Mississippi Central Railroad, which linked north Mississippi with New Orleans, was perhaps, one of Holly Springs' greatest achievements. The Depot-Compress Historic District's strategic location on the state's major rail line made it a particularly vulnerable target during the Civil War. Here, General Grant stored supplies for his Vicksburg campaign and was resolutely halted by General Van Dorn's raid on the Depot stockpile, one of the war's most daring Confederate coups. Late in the nineteenth century, the Depot-Compress Historic District achieved new prominence as the base of the area's largest industry, the Federal Compress Company, a cotton processing concern.
Ground was broken in 1852 at Holly Springs for the Mississippi Central Railroad after more than a year of surveying, and extended negotiations between Holly Springs promoters, Judge J.W. Clapp, Colonel H.W. Walter and Walter Goodman, first president of the line, and representative of the Southwestern Railroad Convention. (Wyatt, "The Depot," p.2). By 1856, the newly-laid tracks stretched southward to the Tallahatchie River. Construction of the line northward from New Orleans had also begun. (Wyatt, p.8.) By that time, a lot of cars had been delivered from Smith and Company in Dayton, Ohio and two locomotives had arrived from Lawrence, Massachusetts. (Wyatt, p.8.) In 1857, the area's first telegraph line was installed in the Mississippi Central route by the Southwestern Telegraph Company. (Wyatt, p.9.) Finally, in 1860, the long-awaited rail system linking Holly Springs and New Orleans was completed.
During the Civil War, the Mississippi Central Railroad played a vital role in the movement of troops and supplies by both Union and Confederate armies. General Grant kept the track cleared to maintain communications with the major supply base he had established at Holly Springs in 1862 in preparation for the siege of Vicksburg. (Deupree, p.50.) Vast supplies of food, clothing, medicine and ammunition were stored at the depot, in box cars, at the courthouse and in buildings throughout the town. Led by General Van Dorn, the First Mississippi Cavalry, together with divisions from Missouri, Tennessee and Texas, stormed the supply center on 20 December 1862, totally ravaging the Federal stockpiles.
"The scene might well have been described as "wild and exciting: Federals running; Confederates yelling and pursuing; tents and houses burning; torches flaming; guns popping; sabres clanking; Negroes and abolitionists begging for mercy; women, in dreaming robes and with disheveled hair floating in the morning breeze, clapping their hands with joy and shouting encouragement to the raiders; a mass of frantic, frightened human beings, presenting in the frosty morning hours, a motley picture, at once ludicrous and sublime, which words are impotent to portray" (Deupree, p.58)."
Between $2,000,000 and $4,000,000 in Union supplies were destroyed (Deupree, p.58). Buildings throughout the town, as well as those in the Depot-Compress Historic District, were burned. Gone were the old roundhouse with its octagonal cupola, the warehouses and machine shops illustrated in 10 January 1863 issue of Harper's Weekly. Only part of the hotel remained.
After the war, the task of rebuilding the railroad began immediately. In 1878, the Mississippi Central Railroad was purchased by the Chicago, St. Louis and New Orleans Railroad, to be integrated into the new line from Chicago and New Orleans. It came under the full ownership of the Illinois Central Railroad, today the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad, in 1882 (Wyatt, p.15).
The Illinois Central Depot (East Van Dorn Avenue), now  used as a private residence, is the most outstanding extant nineteenth century railroad depot in the state. Completed in 1886 under the direction of the Illinois Central's Master Carpenter J.B. Lee, the Romanesque Revival-influenced hotel incorporated the old hotel which survived Van Dorn's Raid. The two-story structure, embellished with three prominent towers, soon became one of the most popular hotels on the line. The first floor housed ticket and telegraph offices; separate waiting rooms for ladies, gentlemen and blacks; and a splendid 125-seat dining room (The Reporter, 20 May 1886). Twenty guest rooms and suites filled the second floor. The facilities at the new hotel were complemented by the construction of several saloons and boarding houses across the street in the early 1880s. Freight was handled at the freight depot, constructed in 1876.
Industrial development of the Depot-Compress Historic District was initiated in 1890 with the establishment of a cotton compress on the site of the Federal Compress Co. building. The local firm was bought out in 1900 by Joe Newberger and R.L. Taylor of Memphis who organized the Granada Compress and Warehouse Company, parent company of forty-two compresses in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi. In 1942, the company was reorganized as the Federal Compress and Warehouse Company ("History of Marshall County," p.13).
The giant sheds, with their monitor roofs enclosed with screens for ventilation, were built ca. 1900. Two additional sheds, which more than doubled the capacity of the operation, were constructed in 1933 ("History of Marshall Co.," p.13). At the Compress, for many years the town's largest industry, graded cotton was compressed into bales for shipping.
The significance of the Depot-Compress Historic District is heightened by the inclusion of several properties long associated with the railroad and the compress. The Compress Office has been in use since the beginning of the twentieth century. A row of workers' dwellings on Compress Street is no longer extant. (Map, The Cotton Insurance Association, Atlanta, Georgia, 30 October 1919.) The Holland House, constructed in 1859 for a Mr. Hastings and later sold to the Illinois Central Railroad for use as a section house.
Two of Holly Springs most architecturally significant residences are located within the boundaries of the Depot-Compress Historic District. Hillside on East Van Dorn Avenue is the only pre-Civil War Italian Villa/Gothic Revival influenced residence in the town. It is a one-and-one-half-story flanking-gable frame residence with front-gable dormers with brackets and ogee arch windows. There is a three-bay porch with Gothic arch openings and spandrels pierced with quatrefoil motifs. It has a two-story hip-roof tower. There is also a flat-roof bay with paired windows and bracketed hood. A convex-pyramidal roof spring house is partially enclosed with latticework. The Sailor House on East College Avenue is the last of the many homes built in Holly Springs by contractor Israel Sailor which still boasts Sailor's trademark, a stucco finish scored to simulate stone.
‡ Depot-Compress Historic District, Marshall County, MS, nomination document, NR# 83000959, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
College Avenue East • Compress Street • Route 178 • Van Dorn Avenue East