Abandoned: Vaughan, Mississippi

Vaughan, Mississippi, with an older aerial image showing the depot/museum just to the right of the intersection and along the railroad bed.

Recently I decided to take the Vaughan exit off I-55 to see how this little hamlet was doing. It’s been a while since I was through, maybe 2004 or 2005, but even then it seemed like things were slipping away. Vaughan was never a big town–maybe it would have qualified as a “village” back when that designation was still an official one. Vaughan’s primary claim to fame was the train wreck that killed engineer Casey Jones and that was made famous in “The Ballad of Casey Jones.” The wreck, which happened in 1900, occurred about a mile north of the Vaughan downtown.

Wikipedia actually has a detailed account of the accident and its aftermath.

Downtown Vaughan, once the home of the Casey Jones Museum (located to the left of this picture)

After the wreck, Vaughan continued as a small-time railroad stop and later Highway 51 hamlet, but it was the opening of a museum dedicated to Casey Jones that kept it as a going concern until the twenty-first century.

According to Elmo Howell’s helpful Mississippi Home-Places: Notes on Literature and History, 

In 1980, near the site of Casey Jones’s wreck in 1900, the state Bureau of Recreation and Parks opened a museum in a restored train depot moved to the Vaughan site from Pickens, Mississippi. Vaughan itself is a ghost town with only a store, post office, and a few vacant buildings. The state has restored a large commercial building across from the museum.

Howell’s book was published in 1988, so obviously the museum wasn’t even enough to keep the few “downtown” buildings going if he was already describing it as a “ghost town.” I’m not sure how successful the museum was, since Casey Jones’ hometown, Jackson, Tennessee, has its own Casey Jones Museum. Not to be left out, Water Valley, up the mainline, has a Casey Jones Museum too, housed in a reconstructed railroad building on the old railroad line in downtown.

The Vaughan museum, like several other historical state parks such as Florewood, was closed in 2004, and whatever chance Vaughan’s few buildings had withered away. In 2008, the town of West got a grant to have the depot moved up the tracks to its downtown, where it stands today as a visitor center. By my count, this little intrepid depot is now in its third location–is that a record? You can see a picture of the depot when it was at Vaughan here.

While the two-story building in downtown Vaughan is clearly too far gone for realistic hopes, the one-story old post office may still have a few years of life left in it, and at least two older homes still stand in varying stages of abandonment within a few steps of downtown.

Abandoned nineteenth century house in "downtown" Vaughan still could be fixed up.

Another abandoned house in downtown Vaughan

From my brief observation, it seems that the recycling bins across from the downtown buildings are probably the main draw for people to stop here anymore.

Usually I end posts in the “Abandoned Mississippi” series with a call to action. This post may be more of a remembrance and an elegy. Vaughan, like many many Mississippi places once full of life–a particular kind of agricultural and railroad life–is slipping away. But its passing should not go unnoticed; it should be pondered. We can’t stop moving toward the future, but Mississippi will be different when all the places like Vaughan and Hot Coffee and Rodney have rotted away and disappeared back into the forest.



Categories: Abandoned Mississippi, Demolition/Abandonment, Depots, Historic Preservation, Urban/Rural Issues

20 replies

  1. The old hotel is owned by West, Ms. as well. I’m sure there are some material in it worth salvaging. If nothing else, but to say where it came from.

  2. I think these losses are SO SAD–

  3. I was there with my girlfriend about a year ago . We stopped and wandered as you did. I thought at the time that there was a lot of ‘energy’ in that area , who owned the buildings and what someone could do with the salvaged wood. It was kind of ‘weird’ at the time , all the feelings that seem to persist. thanks

  4. I remember well as a young boy, attending the big celebration and bar-b-que at Vaughan when the historical plaque commemorating Casey Jones’ wreck was installed. Jones’ fireman, Sims, was in attendance. It was a big day in little Vaughan! Every time I visited the town after that more deterioration was evident. Even the historical plaque disappeared. The loss of the Vaughan Post Office and the closing of the Illinois Central main line were the end of the town. The town was named after my great, great grandfather, Major Henry Vaughan, one of the largest landowners in the area and a signer of the Mississippi Succession Ordinance.

    • He is also my 4th great grandfather. I have always wondered where Mandalay Plantation was located in Vaughn. Possibly by the cemetery that still has the name?

    • Hi,

      Do you have information about Major Henry Vaughan? I just found a book that was dedicated to him, a travelogue of Europe published in 1860 written by a Philadelphian named E.K. Washington who later settled in New Orleans. If you have information about Major Vaughan, please email me. My email address is my last name at bu.edu.

      Jack Beermann

    • Henry Vaughan is also my 4x great grandfather – would love any information.

      -Leslye Lyles Anderson

  5. :(( So Sad to See Houses that once had Life, people, children, Love, Gone. But that is what is need to bring it back !
    LIFE, PEOPLE,LOVE,AND CHRIST !

  6. Do you know how much Florewood brought at auction?

  7. Wonderful job that your doing!

  8. Henry A Vaughan is the son of Henry Clader/Braford Vaughan, plantation owner of Cherryvale Plantation in Sumter, SC. He was born on that plantation on 31 Mar 1800, Cherry Vale Plantation, Stateburg, Sumter County, South Carolina and died on 13 Dec 1870, Madley, Yazoo County, South Carolina. Family oral history says I am a direct descendant through the slave Thisby and Henry Clader/Bradford Vaughan.

  9. Has anyone ever visited Ellison Methodist Church, which according to googlemaps is located near the intersection of Vaughn and Brown. The picture on googlemaps shows a cemetery. I have old photos from my grandmother, who was one of the daughters of James Anderson Ewing, which show a stained glass window that they donated to Ellison Methodist Church. I’d love to go and see it.

    • Tori..Ellison church is a beautiful church less than 10 min off I-55..you should go see those windows..you’ll probably run in to someone you’re related to!…Its still a great community….my family is from there and I pass it often…Dave Deason

  10. I lived in Vaughan from 1959 to 1961. My father, Clint Cummins, was section foreman for the Illinois Central Railroad there and we lived in the section house (now demolished) located not far from where these photos were taken. The “abandoned nineteenth century house” photo is a picture of “Rose Hill” the home of Ms. Nineta Brewster and Ms. Virgin Reed. These sisters were little girls at the time of Casey Jones wreck and were the resident historians on the wreck at the time we lived there. Ms. Nineta was a poet and Ms. Reed was an artist (as I recall). They said that they actually carried food to the workers who cleared the wreck. Their mother ran Rose Hill as a boarding house for railroad men in 1900. Their story can be found in the book “The Choo-Choo Stopped at Vaughan” written by former postmaster Massana Jones. The second house is I believe the home of Mr. and Ms. “Tot” Dixon. I may have this confused with the former home of Mr. Sam Phillips. Mr. Tot ran the Dixon grocery store in Vaughan which was the town center for all practical purposes. I remember his store well and how good the cheddar cheese smelled when he cut it from the cheese “round” in his store. Vaughan was indeed a busy place in 1960. Dad leased land and grew cotton (hiring many in the neighborhood to help him) and had it ginned at the cotton gin located and operating in Vaughan at the time. Passenger trains travelled through Vaughan (although stopping only at Canton and Pickens) several times a day and you couldn’t keep count of the freight trains that passed through. I remember well the Wilson family, the Dixons, Clarence, Mary Ester, Joe Louis, and many others who were good friends to us while we were there. Thank you for a wonderful online surprise and bringing all these memories to me. Bill Cummins

    • Bill, there is just one correction I’d like to make, the house that Ninetta and VIrgie lived in and ran as a boarding house, is called “ROSE REST.”
      These ladies were cousins to my grandfather, John Henry Fowler, who lived just a few miles past the Vaughan Road Ellison Church, off of Fowler Road. John Henry Fowler was my mother’s father.
      I spent the night once or twice in the old house, ROSE REST, while there I heard delightful stories from my cousins, who delighted in showing me and all my cousins, their albums filled with pictures, letters, and articles pertaining to Casey Jones and his wife, and the ‘accident’…the sisters did walk right up the road to see the results and I am pretty sure they told me that they saw Casey’s body. There were, after all, just a few steps away. My grandfather also went to the scene to see the aftermath. This story has long haunted me, being brought up and raised in Canton, to which Casey was racing with the mail, when the accident occurred. He had almost made up the 95 minutes of lost time, when the tragic accident took place. He had been filling in for another engineer who was SUPPOSED to taken that mail run to Canton, but the other engineer became ill and Casey got called in. I firmly believe that in the foggy mist and darkness, that Casey did miss that signal to stop the train! I have a signed copy of Massena Jones’ book, The Choo-Choo stopped at Vaughan…given me by my aunt the late Susie Maie Fowler Wilson, who was a resident of Vaughan all her life.
      What always intrigues me, is Casey’s Whistle–which he could make sound just like a whippoorwill…they said that even when he was miles away, everyone that heard that moanful sound knew when Casey Jones was at the throttle!
      There has been a stamp made for the USPS with his likeness on it. If you ever were in the museum you would have seen his portrait, that the stamp was patterned from.

      • Thank you for the correction Nina. I think you are correct that the name of the house was “Rose Rest.” I believe an article in the Illinois Central Historical Magazine has helped me understand how the accident could have happened at all. According to that article, Casey knew when he left Goodman, MS of the congestion on the rail lines at Vaughan because he received train orders telling him that there would be what was known as a “saw by” at Vaughan allowing him to pass three trains all of which were too long and obstructed the main line. Casey was travelling southbound and would have assumed that the trains were arranged so that he could pass the northern most switch without difficulty and then “saw by” the obstructing trains at the southern most switch. This assumption is not without merit because I believe that railroad rules and procedure would have dictated such an arrangement in order to save time in accomplishing the manuver. However, due to a malfunction in one of the trains Westinghouse brakes, it was the northern switch that was obstructed, shortening the distance of Casey’s scheduled stop considerably. As you indicated, he had been running fast and had made up most of his time by the time he reached Vaughan. However, he had slowed to about 35 miles per hour at the time of the impact. I think he was able to accomplish this because he was already slowing down as he approached Vaughan for the “saw by.” If he heard the torpedo at all, he could have reasonably mistaken it as a warning of the obstruction at the south switch (which he anticipated) rather than the north switch (which would have come as a tragic surprise). The follow up report of course placed all of the blame on Casey Jones and the railroad made certain in its report to note that Casey had been cited about 10 times in his career for various infractions, several involving speed. They did not, however, indicate that he had also been promoted to the Cannonball for that very reason, his ability to make up time and bring in his trains on the “scheduled.”

        Thank you again Nina for your comments on what to me is a cherished footnote in personal and local history. I enjoy the dialogue.

  11. Looks like an awesome place to metal detect. I would love to get out there and use my F75 to locate some lost history. I live in New Albany and donate all my finds to the Union County Haritage Museum. If I found anything it would be donated to a museum as well. I don’t care for the value of my finds, I just enjoy finding stuff and learning about our history.

    • Please remember to always ask for written permission of a landowner before visiting an archaeological site on private property. Never take anything from a site or disturb it in any way unless the landowner has given permission and you know how to keep a careful record of what is removed. It can be a trespassing violation to gather artifacts on private property without the written permission of the landowner.

      Digging disturbs evidence and destroys part of the scientific value of a site and its artifacts. Refrain from digging at archaeological sites. The locations of artifacts and other fragile archaeological remains are evidence of the behavior of the people who made them. Only through careful, scientific excavation can the archaeologist recover and interpret this evidence. Archaeological sites are considered “non-renewable resources”: once a site is excavated or disturbed in any way, the information the site contained is no longer available and cannot be gained from another source.

      If you are going to dig it is very important to keep good records. You should mark each of your sites on an accurate map, such as a USGS 7.5’ topographic map, USDA soil maps, or a highway map. Keep artifacts from different sites separated. Label each of your pieces in a way that will tell you from which site they came. For example, mark your own site name or number on artifacts with indelible ink.

      It might be worth contacting the archaeology division at MDAH before visiting a site.

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