College Hill is located along what was the Chickasaw Road and lies about 3 miles northwest of downtown Oxford. This is almost exactly halfway between Oxford and Sardis Lake, which was built in the 1930’s.
Over time the Chickasaw Road had become the Sardis Road for the stagecoach. The road split at the Church here and one branch that went across the river at Wyatt was called the Memphis road, while the main road crossed the swamp and was known as the Sardis road. The third road was the Panola Road that led to the little town of Panola, later relocated to become Batesville.
Where Sardis Lake is now was once an immense swamp of towering cypress breaks with the Tallahatchie river running down the middle of it. Several small towns like Wyatt and Eaton had ferries to cross the river and to allow boats to unload supplies. These little port towns were about the only place that the remaining Indians could trade and the wild land here was so dangerous that the Indians could be mostly left undisturbed and protected by Chief Toby Tubby.
College Hill is at the split of this road in the hills before it drops off into the river bottom and was so named because a Normal School called North Mississippi College was founded here in 1830. For those of you that do not know; a normal school is basically a teachers college. The new town quickly thrived and great hopes were given to this new town and undertaking.
The roads changed, the University was established at Oxford, and the town quickly sank into obscurity. All that is left now is a large scattering of suburban homes, a closed store, and the beautiful College Hill Presbyterian Church.
Going up the shaded brick walk, I studied the large antebellum southern planter style columns and the basic square design. At one time you could tell that a large balcony had hung over the entrance in front, and as I stepped on the brick porch, I studied the two sets of old doors entering and ran my hand over the old slave brick. Touching the brick brought back a trip years ago with my grandmother who had told me that William Faulkner had married in the church. It was a good feeling that the Church was almost exactly how it was the day that the Chief’s funeral procession passed in front of it. I cracked the door and peeped in.
A voice said “Come on in.”
I replied “ Just wanted to peep in” and the preacher appeared and stepped out with me. He introduced himself as Rev. Samuel Goodwin and we shook hands. I told him who I was and asked if he knew my Aunt Marilyn. He did, which by now, did not even faze me. We talked about what an amazing woman she was, I told him that I was writing a story about Chief Toby Tubby and that I just wanted to get a feel for the area.
Rev. Goodwin smilingly asked me “Are you a treasure hunter?” I laughed and said “No, just a wanna-be writer.” He asked if there was anything he could do for me and I asked if I could walk through the cemetery behind the church. He agreed and I walked around the church and entered the graveyard.
The old graves I studied were the movers and shakers of the time. Andersons, Coles, Bufords and Bensons mixed with many other old well known families; Camps, McCalls, Millers, Snopes, Lammeys and many others, including the well-known Isom family. I took a few pics of the different style headstones and markers. There were quite a few headstones marked with the sign of the Masons. It was a really big honor to be a Mason at that time and they took it very seriously. Many graves just had a large rock for the headstone with no name or date which seemed a little strange.
I spent thirty minutes walking around the little cemetery before I headed toward the tuck; and luckily found the preacher watering his azaleas near the front door. I asked him a question that I already knew the answer to.
“Are there any Indians buried here?”
He said that he doubted it, and none of the records showed any Indian names. He said that they had their own beliefs and religion and as far as he knew, their dead were buried in mounds scattered across the county. He went into detail of how the cemetery was really divided into three parts with the old black or slave cemetery in the rear and mentioning how several Union soldiers were buried there when General Grant camped on the property during the Civil War. Making my goodbye, I started down the walk and he laughingly called after me, “If you find the gold, don’t forget to make a donation to the Church!” I waved, got in the truck and headed back to work.