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Few travelers along U.S. Highway 82 know they are driving along the main street of a city of the past, a town that grew from a mere trading post beside an Indian trail in 1834 to become "The Athens of Mississippi" a few years later, and then began a decline that saw its end within a few years after the close of the Civil War. Today not even a "historical" marker preserves the memory of Middleton, a town then in Carroll County that ran the cycle of life from a log cabin store to a population of more than 2,000 (not authenticated) and back to a single old house in a period of less than forty years.
Along about 1800 a trader decided that this spot of flat land exactly where Interstate 55 and Highway 82 cross two miles west of Winona was just the right place for a "post" to set up shop and trade with the friendly Choctaws as they traveled the trails that crossed here. After the formation of the State of Mississippi, although the lands in this area were still in the hands of the Choctaws, other settlers came and built their cabins, trading with the Indians and clearing the land for farming. Among these was one William Pace, forbear of a long line of Pace descendant to the extent that the last house on the scene, the "old Pace house," was there to be torn down in the mid-1960s when Interstate Highway 55 was built: It Was the last reminder of "the glory that was," in Old Middleton.
With the purchase of the Indian lands in 1830, a flood of settlers came into the area, and in 1834 Carroll County was organized, but Middleton, being too far from the approximate center of the county, was not considered suitable for the county seat and Carrollton was built "from scratch" for that purpose. However, the old town continued to grow and flourish and was incorporated in 1840 when the population is said to have numbered more than 2000.
In 1841, Middleton was one of seven towns in our state considered for the site of the establishment of the University of Mississippi. By 1850 it was a bustling town of several hundred inhabitants. A stage line ran from Holly Springs by way of Middleton to Durant over which mail and passengers were carried daily. To the west of the town were a wool mill and a flour and a cotton mill.
There was a newspaper, plenty of inns and saloons to care for the needs of men, several stores, a tailor shop, shoe shop and cabinet or furniture shop. Here we might note that the inns offered three meals and a night's lodging for one dollar. Lawyers and doctors abounded and there were photographers of a sort (daguerreotype), clockmakers, and other skilled workmen.
As was usually the case in the "new country," Middleton was always a religious center with Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Christian and Episcopal congregations served by some of the outstanding preachers of the day. Perhaps the old town gained its greatest fame through the schools that soon followed settlement and became "institutes" and "academies" and were known all over the state for the quality of learning they dispersed.
Of names of prominence in the community and the surrounding area, we list only a few of the many. Here came as merchants and planters. Peter Gee and O. J. Moore who later moved to Carrollton and Winona respectively. and became prominent in Carroll and Montgomery Counties. In and around Middleton also we note the Barrows, Youngs, Waddlingtons, Herrings, Turners, Rays, Whiteheads and Curtis and others.
With the completion of the Mississippi Central (now the Illinois Central-Gulf) Railroad a few miles east of Middleton in 1858-59, the town "hit the skids" and within fifteen years there was really nothing left but a memory, a cemetery now almost unknown to man, and the ghosts of "The Athens of Mississippi".