THE PINEY WOODS 157 PHOTO COURTESY OF THERMO-KOOL/MID-SOUTH INDUSTRIES, INC. THERMO-KOOL MID SOUTH INDUSTRIES Thermo-Kool, a leading walk-in cooler and freezer and blast chiller/shock freezer manufacturer, was established in Laurel in 1960. Since moving to the current location in 1975, the company has expanded four times to amass a 139,000- square-feet establishment with 150 employees. Thermo-Kool’s products have earned the company recognition in the foodservice industry of overall “Best In Class” among consultants, dealers, and operators for walk- in coolers and freezers. Thermo-Kool’s walk-in coolers and freezers and blast chillers/shock freezers are utilized across the United States and in some foreign countries by major chain and renowned restaurants, schools, banquet facilities, hotels, stadiums, and warehouses. From the settlement of the territory until 1860, the population of the Piney Woods grew slowly. The poor soil of the region and a land rush in the area above the Choctaw Cession Line combined to limit settlement. Slow Growth in the Antebellum Piney Woods Since agricultural market production, particularly in the form of corn and cotton, was the central tenet of the Southern agricultural ethos, many prospective residents chose to seek land in the central or northern portions of the state during the antebellum period. Until the Choctaw and Chickasaw Cessions during the second and third decade of the nineteenth century, settlement in Mississippi was limited to roughly the southern one-third of the state. After this time, however, new and fertile lands opened for settlement in the northern section of the state, causing a boom in speculation often referred to as “Flush Times.” Derived from the title of Joseph G. Baldwin’s 1853 volume The Flush Times of Alabama and Mississippi: A Series of Sketches, the term refers to the period of immense land speculation that occurred as settlers sought land in the newly opened section of the state. By 1833, five land offices served the public, and in 1835, land sales topped 2 million acres. The land office for the southeastern Mississippi counties, or the District East of the Pearl River, was at the Perry County seat of Augusta. This central location failed to draw entrants for much of the land in the Pine Belt, an excess of which lay unclaimed until after the Civil War, when timber buyers purchased large tracts of land, often at the federal minimum price of $1.25 per acre. People were on the move to Mississippi, but often the move was not to the Piney Woods. The immediate impact of “Flush Times” on the Piney Woods counties in the southeastern portion of the state was a much slower rate of growth than the state average. While between 1820 and 1860 the population of Mississippi increased tenfold from 75,548 to 791,305, the number of people calling the Piney Woods home did not increase proportionately to that of the state in general. In 1860, eight counties composed the Piney Woods: Covington, Greene, Jones, Lawrence, Marion, Perry, Pike, and Wayne. The total population of these counties was 41,294, a mere 5 percent of the state population. Between 1820 and 1860, the population of the Piney Woods counties grew by 20,000. Pike County, which had the advantage of an early railroad line, was the most densely populated Piney Woods county with 11,135 residents, up from 4,428 in 1820. Greene County contained the fewest residents, in spite of a population increase from 1,445 in 1820 to 2,232 in 1860. In the Piney Woods, 61 percent of the population was free, compared with a total of only 44 percent statewide. Only Wayne County contained more slaves than freemen.