Location of Byhalia, Mississippi
|• Total||2.9 sq mi (7.4 km2)|
|• Land||2.9 sq mi (7.4 km2)|
|• Water||0.0 sq mi (0.0 km2)|
|Elevation||361 ft (110 m)|
|• Density||246.8/sq mi (95.3/km2)|
|Time zone||Central (CST) (UTC-6)|
|• Summer (DST)||CDT (UTC-5)|
|GNIS feature ID||0667879|
According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 2.9 square miles (7.5 km2), all land.
The town of Byhalia was founded in 1838 when C.W. Rains and Wash Poe purchased land at the intersection of Pigeon Roost Road (now Church Street) and the Collierville-Chulahoma Road (now Highway 309). Pigeon Roost Road was originally the Chickasaw Trail, a long-used Native American path followed by Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto in 1541. Pigeon Roost Road had been improved in 1835 to accommodate the removal of the Chickasaw Nation to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma).
Byhalia was named for a creek spelled Bihalee. The Chickasaw word was Dai-yi-il-ah, meaning “White Oak.” The U.S. Postal Service accepted the name Byhalia in 1846.
Byhalia's location had several advantages for an early settlement, lying near the crossroad site where the Pigeon Roost Road ran from Memphis to Oxford and Pontotoc, Mississippi. Much land in Georgia, Virginia, and North and South Carolina had been depleted from continuous tobacco planting and lack of crop rotation, making the newly opened territory in north Mississippi an inviting opportunity for emigrant farmers.
Entering the 1850s, Byhalia seemed to be developing as a key trade center in North Mississippi. Stagecoach service from Memphis to Oxford came through Byhalia in the late 1840s. Mail, light freight, and passengers traveled to and through Byhalia with this fast and reasonably comfortable means of transportation. As more settlers arrived, local commerce flourished and schools were established.
Holly Springs obtained a railroad in 1852, making the stage line obsolete. Since Byhalia was only a stop on the stage route, and the stage line could not effectively compete against the railroad from Memphis to Holly Springs or Oxford, service was suspended in 1856. Also devastating to Byhalia’s growth was the outbreak of the Civil War. More than 250 men from the area immediately surrounding Byhalia served in the Confederate Army.
After the war, Byhalia struggled through the changes of the Reconstruction period, with planters trying to deal with a market of free labor. A national financial depression hit in 1873 which lasted for several years. A severe freeze in the winter of 1873 blocked traffic on the Mississippi River and compounded the hardships of the depression.
Yellow fever epidemics were carried by steamboat passengers and poor sanitation throughout the Mississippi river cities along the main routes and in northern Mississippi in 1873, 1878 and 1879. Byhalia appears to have escaped the wrath of the fever, as few tombstones in the immediate area reflect deaths in the summer of 1878, which elsewhere resulted in high fatalities.
The town of Byhalia grew slowly due to competition with nearby Holly Springs and lack of a railroad. In 1885, the railroad was completed from Memphis to join the existing railroad at Holly Springs and it spurred new growth. Most existing downtown buildings date from the period 1884 to 1920, when cotton was still an important commodity crop. Time, fire, and the Civil War destroyed many of the earlier homes in Byhalia. The city gradually recovered from the effects of the Civil War and Reconstruction; by the mid-1880s railroad traffic had spurred the Byhalian economy. Irish laborers and convicts built the railroad. In March 1925, electricity came to Byhalia. Around 1949, Dr. Leonard Wright established a sanatorium in Byhalia. Financially well-to-do patients from Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Mississippi frequented the successful sanatorium. Most notably, William Faulkner died at the Wright Sanatorium in 1962.
Like many American places, Byhalia has a complicated history of race relations. The Civil War and Reconstruction engendered bitterness among many whites, who used other means to maintain white supremacy following the end of slavery. In 1890 the state passed a new constitution, which disenfranchised most blacks. The state imposed legal segregation and Jim Crow rules, which lasted for decades, well after the 1960s civil rights legislation enacted by Congress.
In 1974, Butler Young Jr., a 21-year-old, black unarmed suspect, was shot and killed by a police officer after escaping from a squad car. Young had been arrested on suspicion of committing a hit-and-run. The shooting and subsequent handling of the case by the sheriff and grand jury (which did not indict the officer) resulted in one of the longest boycotts of white businesses by blacks in Mississippi history. The black boycott of white businesses received national media coverage. The shooting and boycott hardened racial attitudes on both sides. White business owners complained that they were being punished for grievances that they had not caused, while many black community members claimed that the shooting was part of a broader marginalization of blacks.
As of the 2010 United States Census, there were 1,302 people residing in the town. 51.4% were White, 44.9% Black or African American, 1.7% of some other race and 2.1% of two or more races. 4.0% were Hispanic or Latino (of any race).
The following demographic information is based on 2000 Census information; however, the population of Byhalia has significantly increased in recent years due to immigration and a 2005 annexation of adjacent area. The population in 2007 was estimated at over 2,000.
As of the census of 2000, there were 706 people, 275 households, and 188 families residing in the town. The population density was 246.8 people per square mile (95.3/km²). There were 306 housing units at an average density of 107.0 per square mile (41.3/km²). The racial makeup of the town was 60.76% White, 35.69% African American, 0.14% Native American, 3.12% from other races, and 0.28% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 3.12% of the population.
There were 275 households out of which 30.9% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 42.5% were married couples living together, 22.2% had a female householder with no husband present, and 31.6% were non-families. 27.6% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.57 and the average family size was 3.13.
In the town the population was spread out with 26.5% under the age of 18, 10.8% from 18 to 24, 25.8% from 25 to 44, 22.2% from 45 to 64, and 14.7% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females there were 84.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 79.0 males.
The median income for a household in the town was $26,618, and the median income for a family was $35,313. Males had a median income of $34,375 versus $19,219 for females. The per capita income for the town was $15,156. About 25.0% of families and 26.4% of the population were below the poverty line, including 31.2% of those under age 18 and 39.2% of those age 65 or over.
Notable people and events
- The original field recording of "Sea Lion Woman", sung by Katherine and Christine Shipp, was recorded in Byhalia by Herbert Halpert on May 13, 1939.
- Novelist and Nobel laureate William Faulkner died of a heart attack at Wright's Sanitorium in Byhalia in 1962 at the age of 64.
- The soul singer Jan Bradley was born in Byhalia in 1943.
- Keith A. Baca Native American place names in Mississippi
- Town of Byhalia General Development Plan, Working Draft, p. 13, August 18, 2008. http://www.gobyhalia.com/images/stories/townofbyhalia.pdf
- "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31.