By Sandi P. Beason
AMORY - Cotton Gin Port, once a significant stop on the Tombigbee River, vanished almost overnight when the railroad came to Monroe County.
The port's history was nearly forgotten, until several decades ago when Amory native and historian Arch Dalrymple III went looking for it.
Joining him on the mission to find the Bell Mission site marker near Amory were two friends, former Gov. William Winter and James Silver, then controversial history professor at the University of Mississippi.
"We tramped up and down looking for the place where the marker was," Dalrymple said. "We hunted all day Saturday, driving up every gravel and dirt road on the west side of Monroe County. We followed all kinds of helpful directions: It's down the road a piece,' It's up the bottom there a ways,' It ain't been no Indians in this bottom since fore I can recollect.'"
In late afternoon, they found "a stone marker of sorts" near an old creek overgrown with sassafras sprouts and blackberry vines.
"It occurred to me that all of this should be codified and written down," he said.
Nothing happened, he said, until five years ago, when he spoke to Elbert Hilliard, director of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, about how to approach the idea.
"We decided to let it be a joint venture between the (Dalrymple) family foundation and the Mississippi Historical Society," he said. "The historical society would be given the books and the proceeds would go to it. We decided to have some of those books go to the Amory museum."
After extensive research, and writing and editing by several hands, the book, "Cotton Gin Port: A Frontier Settlement on the Upper Tombigbee" is complete. It will be unveiled at 1:30 p.m. Sunday at the Amory Regional Museum, and copies will be available for $25.
Proceeds will go to the Amory Arts Council Museum Building Fund to help with a museum renovation. Copies will be placed in the state's public libraries and in school libraries in Northeast Mississippi. It also will be sold at the Old Capitol Gift Shop in Jackson.
"It's very interesting," said Lynn Millender, museum director. "We couldn't put it down."
Very little remains today of Cotton Gin Port, the predecessor of the city of Amory. The old town site is west of Amory on the Tombigbee River.
"Cotton Gin Port's story is a microcosm of the frontier American experience, complete with Indian wars, pack horses, ferries, flatboats, trading posts, missionaries and adventurers," Skates said. "Its colorful history and characters make it well worth remembering."
Dalrymple said Cotton Gin Port has been among the legends of Amory.
"When the railroad came, (port settlements) picked up and moved bodily to the railroad," he said. "Amory is an extension of what was there. A good many people in early Amory lived down there. The stories have been prevalent around here a long time."
The book was written by Jack D. Elliott Jr., known for his works on extinct Mississippi towns, and Mary Ann Wells, who was recommended to Dalrymple by a professor at the University of Southern Mississippi.
"She did a good deal of the writing and completed a manuscript," Dalrymple said. "Her health failed, and she moved to New Mexico."
The book has an introduction by John Ray Skates, chair of the MHS Publications Committee and an adviser of the book, a foreword by Dalrymple and accompanying maps and historical photographs.