Mississippi Central (Illinois Central) Railroad in Oxford, Mississippi

As of 2019 the Mississippi Central Railroad tracks stop north the airport in Oxford, Mississippi, though they are not used south of Holly Springs. The railroad formerly continued south to Coffeeville, and many of the remaining parts of the railroad in the Oxford area have been transformed. Below I'll look at what remains of the railroad south of the airport in Oxford.

The Oxford Depot Trail

The Mississippi Central Railroad (at one point Illinois Central Railroad) began operation in the 1850s, and like many railroads in the South, played an important role in the Civil War. Union forces under the command of General Grant followed the railroad south from Holly Springs before occupying Oxford during the Vicksburg Campaign (see also the Civil War Earthworks at Tallahatchie Crossing).

When the airport was expanded in the mid-2000s, the remaining section of rails north of town were disconnected from its former route to the south. Starting along Molly Barr Road (just south of the airport), the railroad has been turned into the Oxford Depot Trail. The trail continues south, crossing Price Road and Washington Avenue at grade and then across Jackson Avenue on a newer pedestrian bridge. There were formerly two rail bridges over Jackson Avenue, and the trail ends when it meets Gertrude Ford Boulevard, just after passing the Illinois Central Depot, which was constructed in 1872.

Illinois Central Depot

Gertrude Ford Boulevard follows the former railroad through the Hilgard Cut, which was dug by hand with the use of local slaves in 1857. The cut was along the eastern end of the University of Mississippi campus and is now crossed by a bridge on University Avenue. The road splits with the former railroad approximately at the entrance to a university parking lot on the west side of the road.

Looking north from the University Avenue bridge over Gertrude Ford Boulevard as it passes through the Hilgard Cut

From here the railroad continued southwest directly along the southeast side of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Past the stadium, the railroad's exact path can no longer be seen due to the more recent construction of Manning Way, the athletics building, and parking lot. However, its path roughly paralleled where Manning Way now is.

The railroad approximately followed to the right of Manning Way in this photo towards the southeast (Vaught-Hemingway Stadium at far right and athletics center in the background)

From the southern corner of the athletics building, an unnamed road continues southwest and follows the railroad to the end of the parking lot and track and field facilities that are on each side of the road. After here is perhaps the best preserved section of the railroad in Oxford. There are no tracks remaining, but the railroad continues southwest and there is a fence on both sides of the former railroad (though not blocking the path). This area is heavily overgrown, but it soon reaches a railroad trestle (I estimate 70 ft long, 30 ft high) in a wooded area between the university and Highway 6. Some of the wood on the trestle is pretty well rotted and sketchy to cross.

On top of the trestle

On the other side of the trestle, the railroad crossed Highway 6 at grade before reaching the former Whirlpool factory (now South Campus Recreation Center). The last section of tracks was actually between the eastbound and westbound lanes of Highway 6, but they were removed in 2017 when a new barrier was constructed in the middle of the road.

The trestle

Part of the railroad at the recreation center is now a road, but soon becomes the South Campus Rail Trail. This is a 2.5-mile rail trail makes up the remaining section of the railroad in Oxford (to Thacker Mountain Road). Past this point the railroad is in various states (abandoned, part of people's yards, etc), and I won't discuss here.

South Campus Rail Trail

However, along the South Campus Rail Trail, the railroad grade remains in relatively good condition. There are a few of the original stream tunnels under the railroad remaining, but the site of most interest is Buckner's Trestle. The 100-foot long, 50-foot high trestle has been removed, but its site is located near the Faulkner Flats apartment complex and is clearly visible due to the large dip in the trail and a commemorative sign. The trestle was the location of two crashes, one in 1870 that killed 20 people, and another in 1928 that resulted in numerous injuries. A large network of mountain bike trails have been constructed in the area around the South Campus Rail Trail.

The South Campus Rail Trail section of the railroad from the mountain bike trails.

There are more photos of the Mississippi Central Railroad in this album.

© Copyright 2019 Matthew Pintar. All rights reserved.


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