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University of Mississippi Slavery Research Group
The University of Mississippi

Heritage Foundation Digitizing History Maps

March 13, 2015  By Errol Castens for The Oxford Citizen

The folks deepest into the Oxford-Lafayette County Heritage Foundation’s latest major effort call it “the map project,” but it’s intended to be far more than that moniker conveys.

The project will indeed involve some 233 maps showing parts or all of Lafayette County—from an 1833 representation of the Chickasaw Cession to the latest Mississippi Department of Transportation roadmap, with many layers in between—but those collectively will be just the framework on which to hang other information, each of which ideally would have a direct link embedded in the a digital map from its era.

Other parts would be online versions of early Lafayette County newspapers, now being digitized by the Library of Congress.

“What we would like to see this project be is to include pictures, family histories, church histories, school histories,” said OLCHF President Richard Burnette. “Anything that people want to share of their heritage, we’d like to share it online.”

Some of the maps have been lent by private owners, such as Don Locke’s map that shows the routes followed between Lumpkin’s Mill and Oxford by part of the Army of the Tennessee in 1862.

Others came through lots of research, hitting barriers and pulling strings.

“There were maps of the Mississippi Central Campaign – from Grand Junction, Tennesssee, to Grenada,” Burnette said. “Nobody had seen them – I’d read about them but couldn’t find them. We looked everywhere, and I saw a little, tiny picture of one in a book about Civil War mapping.”

Even a University of Mississippi history professor couldn’t get past a bureaucratic stonewall in the National Archives, Burnette said, until Oxford merchant and civic leader Will Lewis got involved.

“Well, I told Will Lewis about it, and Will did whatever he does, and we got the maps in,” he added.

Lewis also contributed a countywide map from the early 1900s.

“This one’s great because it shows things like schools and stores and churches,” Burnette said. “In Faulkner’s novel ‘The Rievers’ – which is a somewhat unusual spelling – the road they took on their trip to Memphis was the old road through College Hill. And here you see on this map (northwest of College Hill) ‘Rieves Store.’ A Faulkner scholar might want to go out there and look at that setting.”

Mark Levy, who oversees mapping for the City of Oxford, said the ability to project maps onto each other shows the progression of Oxford and Lafayette County.

The chronological linking of Oxford maps, especially, gives hints to the lives of individuals.

“It really lets us see how the city developed and lets us see the fabric of life during each time period,” Levy said. “You know what each building was and who owned it and what it was used for.”

One of the most serendipitous aspects of the “map project” was unexpected help when OLCHF board member Darlene Copp read of a tiny town, Granite Falls in Washington State, which had undertaken a similar project.

The project leader, Fred Cruger, gave invaluable advice to his Oxford counterparts. He even told of some unexpected uses of their findings, when developers ask for site records to know whether they might be disturbing historical artifacts. Snohomish County, Washington, also saved some $200,000 on a historical inventory by using the history group’s latest information.

“I suspect that Oxford has more development going on than Granite Falls, Washington, and that that really could be a good tool with all the development we have,” Burnette said.

In addition to early settlement and Civil War information, another historical era that OLCHF members are concerned about is Native American history. Jack Lamar Mayfield, whose family came shortly after the area’s first settlement by whites, asked that care be taken to include maps of the Chickasaw Trail.

“That would be to start at the very beginning,” he said. “That came from south of Oxford, just north of the Yocona River, then took a right-hand turn here to College Hill and across the Tallahatchie to the Chickasaw Bluffs in Memphis. That’s a very ancient trail.”

Burnette and other project principals say the “map project” has no logical end.

“The more people who find out what we’re doing, the more we’ll uncover,” he said.