EAST CENTRAL MISSISSIPPI 263 Immigrants in East Central Mississippi After the War Reconstruction in the East Central region provided opportunities for many immigrants with entrepreneurial spirits. In 1868, in Mobile, Alabama, Felix Weidmann stepped off the boat where he had served as chef. In 1869, he and wife, Clara, settled in Meridian. They sold fruits and vegetables and hot cups of coffee in the growing industrial town. Their son, Phillip, started a restaurant business in 1870 that continues to this day: Weidmann’s Restaurant. Also in the 1870s, Joseph Baum, an immigrant from Boosen, Prussia, came to Meridian and established a wholesale and retail dry goods store which purchased large amounts of cotton from local farmers. The business took up an entire city block, which became known as the Baum Block. Meridian also became the home town of a sizeable Gypsy contingent. In 1915, by the funeral of Gypsy Queen Kelly Mitchell, which drew thousands of Romani people of the Mitchell, Marks, Bimbo, and Costello clans into Meridian. The services were held at St. Paul Episcopal Church. A crowd of about 20,000 followed the Black Maria to the burial site at Rose Hill Cemetery. The Gypsy Queen died in Coatopa, Alabama, while giving birth to her fourteenth or fifteenth child. Meridian was the closest town that could provide enough ice to preserve her body at Watkins Funeral Home (now Webb Funeral Home) until Gypsy bands from across the nation gathered six weeks later for her funeral. Visitors still leave trinkets on her grave. Lumber Becomes a Major Industry After the War, Captain William H. Hardy moved to Paulding in Jasper County and began working on his idea for a railroad line between Meridian and New Orleans. In 1872, Hardy moved to Meridian to promote and raise funds for the line. While on surveying trips for his proposed Meridian/New Orleans railroad line, Hardy established the towns of Hattiesburg, named after his wife, Hattie, and Laurel, which would be the stop between Meridian and Hattiesburg. On November 18, 1883, the New Orleans railroad line became reality. The first passenger train—made up of Engine #203, a baggage car, two coaches, and a sleeper—traveled the rails between Meridian and New Orleans in seven hours. The railroad provided the transportation needed for growing industries. The state’s annual cotton production rose to almost 1 million bales, matching its pre-war production rate. The raising of livestock proved to be lucrative, and before long livestock and dairy herds rivaled cotton and row farming in the East Central region. Both cotton and livestock benefited from the railroads, but not to the extent that the emerging lumber industry did. In the nineteenth century, lumbering was a migratory industry. The ravenous world-wide appetite for lumber had already led to the rapid depletion of the forests in New England and the Great Lakes. Large scale commercial lumbermen began looking toward the vast forests of the south where the rails provided the extensive transportation needed. Commercial lumbering centered on steam engines which pulled log cars into the forest by way of narrow-gauge tracks. Trees were felled, de- limbed, and logs were pulled to trackside by enormous steam-powered skidders. Rails extended into undeveloped forest areas where timber was harvested, creating in turn new fields for farmers to plant. Mill towns, sometimes company-owned, often featured housing and recreational facilities. Logging camps, however, were company-owned and primitive. Segregated camps moved as companies moved through the Mississippi forest. Some allowed families to live in the camps and the YMCA occasionally had a presence there. The Gilchrist-Fordney Lumber Company camp in Jasper County was built in 1930 for about $30,000. It had thirty houses for whites and twenty for African Americans, all with electric lights and water. There was also a hospital and a railroad logging camp kitchen. Some logging camps even had schools. In the late nineteenth century, workers included African Americans, immigrants, and native whites. Crews were racially mixed with the better paying jobs held by whites. Sawyers and saw filers were considered laborers well paid by the standards of southern rural society. Most jobs were for low wages, but paid in cash, something valued by rural folks and immigrants, both African American and white. Labor could be treacherous, and workers lost limbs and even their lives. Nonetheless, the To provide education for rural students, the Mississippi legislature passed laws in 1908 which allowed counties to establish agricultural high schools for white students.