Housing the past in Tippah County

RIPLEY – If walls could talk, the tall tales that would emerge from the inner sanctum of the old Tippah County “Big House” would fill a book and might just provide a script for a Hollywood movie. The jail cells and barred doors are still intact in the old two-story, solid concrete building built in 1938 to confine minor offenders. Stories are still told of a breakout when bars were sawed through. A massive lock and key are other reminders of another day and time. The jail remained in use until 2000 and was known as the oldest continuously operating jail in Mississippi. Fast-forward to 2008, when jail restoration and renovation began on the Art Modern architectural-style building to be used by the Tippah County Historical Society for the preservation of early records and archives. “We look at this phase as another milestone in the history of this old building,” said Ripley Main Street Director Allison Windham. “We will soon be able to actually move the early record books here for preservation. The records are from both circuit and chancery courts with some books dating to the Civil War.” Once the building was deemed feasible for storage, efforts began for funding and renovation. Those efforts led to official historic recognition and a $115,000 matching grant awarded to the Tippah County Historical Museum from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History for the preservation of cultural resources. Continuing efforts of the Tippah County Board of Supervisors, the city of Ripley, the Tippah County Development Foundation, Ripley Main Street Association, The Peoples Bank, Ripley Historic Commission, the Tippah County Historic Museum and many individuals and organizations raised the funds necessary to match the grant. All were dedicated to the protection of Tippah County historic records. The old building was recently repaired, painted, and new lighting and climate control systems were installed, along with new metal roll-away shelving. The shelves will hold up to 700 record books, said Tippah County Development Foundation Executive Director Duane Bullard, and will make the large books more accessible and easier to handle. In 2003, three years after the jail was empty, the Tippah County Board of Supervisors determined it was necessary to move and store county records in a more appropriate place than the facilities in the Tippah County Courthouse. Windham added, “The early Chancery books record marriages, divorces, land disputes and old trustee decisions. All are a vital record of this county’s history.”

Jane Matthews/Southern Sentinel