Old Town Nesbit to get facelift

DeSoto County Supervisor Lee Caldwell displays artifacts of Old Town Nesbit during a presentation on the history of the community, north of Hernando.

History is in danger of being lost if it's not discovered and preserved.

A Nesbit couple have embarked on a mission to do just that, with the restoration of Old Town Nesbit, which can trace its origins to land cessions by the native Chickasaw Indians in the 1830s.

DeSoto County Supervisor Lee Caldwell and her husband, Retired U.S. Marine Corps Reserves Col. John Caldwell, are often asked about their passion for restoring the historic downtown portion of Old Town Nesbit and preservation of Mississippi history, in general.

"They ask us if we were born in Mississippi and I say 'No, but we got here as fast as we could," Lee Caldwell said during a presentation Thursday night of plans to restore Old Town Nesbit, which has fallen into a state of disrepair.

"We traveled the country and looked at where we wanted to raise our children," Caldwell said, adding that Nesbit seemed the perfect place to settle down and raise a family.

The couple discussed their plans to restore Old Town Nesbit during the annual meeting of the Historic DeSoto Foundation at the old Presbyterian Church on the grounds of the DeSoto County Museum.

"I hate to see our buildings being torn down and our history destroyed," Lee Caldwell said.

Three years ago, the Caldwells purchased several older buildings downtown including the town's bank, original post office and other buildings.

John Caldwell unearthed some rich history during the process, including the fact the former bank closed down due to the fact it was robbed during the Great Depression before banks were federally insured.

Caldwell said he was informed the bank robber is still alive and living in Panola County.

He also talked about the days when cotton was hauled into Tennessee on wagons along the Old Plank Road.

When the railroad arrived in 1856, it all but put the toll road out of business.

Caldwell said he sees the rebirth of Old Town Nesbit as completing that cycle of death and rebirth.

"We're trying to bring some commercial growth and have a rebirth of the old town," he said. "Sometimes we lose our history — it's nothing malicious. It's hard to manage it all."

Lee Caldwell said she recently came across the original land charter for Nesbit in 1837 which bears the original mark of Chief Ishtehopa, headquartered in Pontotoc. The parchment, nearly perfectly preserved, had been rediscovered in an attic.

It was Ishtehopa that led the more than 4,000 exiled Chickasaw from Memphis  on July 4 of 1837 for Arkansas and points west, with their dogs, horses, cattle and chickens herded onto flatboats, while Caucasian settlers shot off fireworks on the bluffs of Memphis above.

Many native Chickasaw, including the Colberts, Harrises and other families, lived in and around original Nesbit.

That struck a chord with Lee Caldwell.

"I am Native American — I'm Cherokee," she said. "I'm excited about bringing all this history to life. It's so important that we share this. If we don't, it's gone."

Fellow DeSoto County Supervisor Mark Gardner interviewed elderly people in the community for a school project in 1976. Many of those former Nesbitonians are now deceased.

"We're looking every day for tidbits of history," Caldwell said.

Robert Lee Long is Community Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He may be contacted at rlong@desototimestribune.com or at 662-429-6397, Ext. 252.

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