Sunflower County Mississippi Genealogy & History Network

A History of Drew, Mississippi

Submitted by: Robert Eiland

In 1914, Roy Eiland came to Drew, MS to try to make a living doing whatever he could find in the way of manual labor. His first attempt was at farming for his older brother Allen Eiland, who was farming the land that is now bordered by 3rd St., South Blvd., Blue Lake, and Shaw Ave., which is  now in a residential area. He said farming was not for him as he wanted to count his money once a week instead of once a year.

He also worked in the corner drug store, now Gilbow’s, which at about 1919 was Atkinson's Drugs. He has mentioned that during rainy seasons he would go out front and pick up chickens mired in the mud to keep them from being run over by mules and wagons.

He also told me that one time there were 3 passenger trains a day going south and 3 going north. Carl Black (the scholar in our 1948 high school class of 1948)’s Dad was the depot agent and where the park is today was a large depot and warehouse where many of Drew's supplies came in.

I remember when school bus chassies came in on box cars and were unloaded to be taken to the Crosthwait Chev Place where old bus bodies were put on new frames. Daddy, in 1938, took two old wrecked trucks and made one useable truck and began buying/hauling anything he could make a dime from. Buy it here, sell it there; buy it there, sell it here.

I remember stacks and stacks of stove wood stacked in rows, and I could get lost behind the old hotel wandering around through these. Time were hard then and people would do anything to make a dime to get something to feed their children with, and Daddy had 5 of us. In 1936, we moved into the Drew Hotel, and Mother, with the aid of two Negro cooks who lived in a house in the backyard, served 3 meals a day and provided a clean room for $15.00 a week. Many of Drew School teachers stayed here. The hotel was located at 250 Shaw Ave. and a part of it is still there, but in 1954 the front four rooms, lobby and bathroom, were sawed off, jacked up, and moved to 123 Alice St. where Robert and Gencye Eiland lived for 19 years until they had a house built for them by Bobby Ellis on 430 Ruby Ave., next to Prentiss and Grace Lewis.

When I lived at the hotel, 1st St. going north of Shaw Ave. was dirt, and from there east to the Clinic (Richardson's) was pasture with the exception of one large  horse and cow barn across from now Sunflower Store. The barn burned somewhere around 1950. A pasture fence ran along behind all of the residences facing Shaw Ave.

In 1949, Nancy Eiland was given the key to the city by Mayor Marsalis for the 50th anniversary of our fair city. There is a picture somewhere if I can find it.

Out on Lombardy Rd. (the back road to Clarksdale) 6 mile there is a concrete bridge that crosses Sunflower River and leads to Mound Bayou. This bridge at one time was an iron turn bridge (as were all bridges on the Sunflower River) since paddlewheel steamboats came up the river a far as Clarksdale. The Sunflower had locks and dams and there is still a remnant of one just South of state highway 12 out west of Belzoni. Roger Williams, who lived across the Sunflower from Claude LaMastus, would hear the steamboat whistle coming up or downriver, jump on a horse, ride to and out on the turn bridge, stick a crank down thru the floor and turn the bridge for the steamboat to pass.

Growing up in Drew from 1935 was much fun. We could play out at night until 9 and 10 o'clock with no worry of being shot at, run over, or kidnapped, and knew we were safe. We had a pony or billy goat to ride and when that got tiresome, get on a bicycle and ride all over town playing chase. We had 2 wholesale grocery stores, 5 Chinaman stores, 5 Jewish dry good stores, 2 5 and 10 cent stores, 1 bank, 2 insurance agencies, 4 grocery stores, 2 car dealerships, 1 hardware store, a Western Auto Store, a Firestone store, and Lewis Feed and Seed and a Quaker Oats elevator. Also had 4 doctors, 1 optometrist, and 2 dentists. We had a great town here from 1935 until about 1975, and businesses began to close, mostly because of thievery.

Some of the guests at the Drew Hotel, other than teachers, were some of the highway crew that built 49 where it is now. In the past the highway was Main Street from where Shurden's grain bins are now down to the S curve past Lewis grain scales. I have heard older people say that cars came from many miles around to drive on the concrete 2 lanes wide from Drew to Ruleville.

Another group of guests that stayed in the hotel was an oil drilling crew that drilled a dry hole out west of what then was Whitney, MS, 3 miles north of Drew. At a small community known as Fitzhugh (which is now occupied by Jim Reed) there was a large barn with seating all around an arena and in this arena cockfights were held with people coming from Florida to California to bring fighting roosters to enter in the fights and in these fights, thousands of dollars were bet on which rooster was going to win. These dollars were certainly welcome in this area in the late thirties and early forties.

Parchman only had about 1500 to 2000 inmates about that time and very few guards, as trustees were used to guard prisoners. Very few escaped and lived to tell about it.

We had a German prisoner of war camp along South Blvd where the AW James elementary school east to about where Mr. James Petty lives now. Some of these prisoners were hired out to local farmers to chop and pick cotton, also I remember two were hired by Mothcr to paint the Drew Hotel. Their names were Han Tintelott and Wilhem Roseman and they were from Paderborn, Germany. None of these prisoners wanted to escape because they were fed well and had good housing, and had about all the time they wanted to play soccer.

Where the City Hall is now was W. P. Brown's farm office. At one time he was rumored to be the world's largest individual cotton farmer. Where the laundromat behind the City Hall is was his farm shop, where I took 4 bicycle wheels, a little wood and steel and one half-horse gasoline motor and built my first car. It lasted until fat boy Hess Hall ran it across a concrete curb and egged all 4 wheels. End of car.  In Mr. Boyd's corner drug store, there were comic books for sale. We would go in, buy a nickel glass of malt, go over where the comic books were, start reading (mooching) and Mr. Boyd would ease over when we weren't looking and pour some ammonia out on the floor, and of course it would burn our eyes and noses so we would put the comic books down and go outside to finish the malt. One way to make us buy the comic books, I guess.

There were 4 Eiland girls and me, the only son. We all graduated at Drew High School and went on to finish college. The girls all graduated from then Mississippi State College for Women (MSCW) and I from Mississippi State. Juaweice married a chemical and mining engineer, now retired in Anderson, N.C.; Yvonne married a career Marine, now living in Pickens. S.C.;  Antoinette married an Inverness farmer and they are both deceased. Nancy was a Delta Airlines stewardess, married an American Airlines pilot, and they are retired in Litchfield Bay, S.C. I quit farming in 1984 after 31 years and went to work as an independent crop insurance adjuster and am still at it. I received a commercial pilot’s license at 58 and flew a few years photographing farmland for the USDA. Gencye has been a hardware store operator for about 25 years now and I believe will be there from now on.

Gencye and I have 3 children: Emry, married to Phil Duckworth and they have one son, Phillip, who is 6; Bobby, who married Lynn Ray, and they have 2 children, Mari Beth, who is 12 and Beaux, who is 7; and Courtney, who married Jason Stebly and they have one son, Eiland, who is 4 months.

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