THE CLAY HILLS 361 selling lots in 1836, and Boardtown (renamed Starkville in 1835), which moved to its present location and became the county seat. Columbus was the region’s urban success story. It began as a settlement known as Possum Town with around 100 residents in 1820 (eighty-three whites, twenty- three slaves, and one free black) and began grow with the opening of Military Road. It was resurveyed and renamed, and soon it greeted the arrival of the first steamboat on the Tombigbee. By 1825, it had become an important center of commerce and transport in eastern Mississippi. By the 1840s, the regional land rush and cotton boom had also made it the unofficial capital of the Black Prairie. As such, it was home to banks, craftsmen, and businesses of various sorts that serviced the local cotton economy. It was also the site of Franklin Academy, the state’s first public school. By the 1850s, with about 2,600 residents, Columbus became an architectural showplace as the site of many local planters’townhomes. The two-story mansion, “Riverview,” which was erected between 1847 and 1853, is one of the grander examples still extant today. With its striking brick facade, columns, porticoes, and cupola atop the roof, architectural surveyors of the 1930s described it as “an exceptional Greek revival residence,” noting how “its design, craftsmanship, and construction materials are of the highest order.” They were especially impressed by its interior details, which included a grand oval spiral staircase that ascended three floors to the cupola. This was a house its owner, Colonel Charles McLaren, had built to impress. McLaren, born in Baltimore but longtime resident of Alabama, arrived in Columbus in the late 1830s. His house, one of the finest private residences in the town, was an expression of his local prominence. He sold it and moved to St. Louis in 1856. The newcomers who pioneered the Clay Hills were overwhelmingly southerners who had migrated west from the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, and south from Tennessee. The luckiest and most privileged among them took up residence on the fertile soils of the black prairie or in the lowlands of the Loess Hills. With their many slaves in tow, they came from the Eastern Seaboard and began to grow massive quantities of cotton, the crop that had already made Mississippi’s Natchez elite wealthy and powerful. Lowndes and Noxubee became two of the top five cotton- producing counties in the state by 1859. As a result, in Holmes and Lowndes counties African Americans outnumbered whites by a ratio of about two to one. In CORN CLUBS As a way to educate young farmers about different ways to grow better and more profitable crops, corn clubs were popular across rural America. The first one in Mississippi was held in Holmes County where 120 young men learned how to properly grow corn. What started as a corn club sponsored by Mississippi State University turned into a nation wide organization focused on connecting agricultural universities with communities. The organization, 4-H, taught and continues to teach young people the importance of using their head, heart, hands, and health to better themselves and their communities. By the 1850s, with about 2,600 residents, Columbus became an architectural showplace as the site of many local planters’townhomes. PHOTO COURTESY OF MISSISSIPPI DEPARTMENT OF ARCHIVES AND HISTORY, MISSISSIPPI FARM BUREAU FEDERATION COLLECTION