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Today is March 25, 2019

Traveling back in time to Boler’s Inn

By Nancy Jo Maples

Traveling back in time to Boler’s Inn

Wesley Boler, a pioneer and wealthy landowner in the 1830’s, commissioned his son-in-law to build Boler’s Inn as a boarding house for travelers.


Across from the Piggly Wiggly in Union, Miss., sits a very old house that holds more than a few stories worth telling.

The structure is referred to as Boler’s Inn because at one time it was a stagecoach inn for travelers on a wagon route known as Old Jackson Road that runs through the middle of this small central Mississippi town. The inn’s most famous occupant wasn’t a welcomed guest – it was Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman who seized the building on the night of February 21, 1864, after burning the city of Meridian during one of his infamous, destructive Civil War campaigns. He had destroyed Meridian, uprooting its railroads and leaving most of its people homeless and horrified. Sherman had been in Meridian since Valentine’s Day that year and was headed to Canton when he spent the night at Boler’s Inn.

Sherman did not burn Union. Local legend asserts he spared it because he likened its name to the Union Army. Sherman’s personal memoirs mention his stay in Union and he marked the town’s name with quotations; however, the journal does not elaborate on why he didn’t bother to burn its buildings. Ironically, while Sherman slept in Boler’s Inn, members of the Boler family fought for the Confederate Army.

Although he left the town standing, Sherman and his troops, which numbered as many as 28,000 according to local historian Ralph Gordon, camped in the surrounding area stealing meat, livestock and tools from folks living within several miles of Union. “If at all possible, the residents would hide their tools and the meat from their smoke houses,” Gordon said. “Sherman’s troops took anything and everything that they could, and if they couldn’t take it, they would destroy it.” 

Another pre-Civil War structure nearby is the Jack Vance descendants’ house at the New Ireland community three miles west of Union where some of Sherman’s men found shelter while he slept at Boler’s Inn.

One anecdote associated with Sherman’s stay is that his payroll clerk buried money for safekeeping the night they were in Union. The tale goes that the clerk had been wounded and died before dawn. The money was never found. Treasure hunters have certainly searched for it; yet if it has been found, a discovery has not been reported.

In addition to Sherman, other noteworthy Boler’s Inn guests supposedly include Stonewall Jackson and Jefferson Davis. Definitive documentation of such is outstanding; yet, both would have more than likely traveled though that area.

The Sydney P. Stribling family moved to Boler’s Inn in 1910 and established the Union Appeal newspaper, now known as the Newton County Appeal. Stribling also sold furs from the building. It was home to Dr. F.C. Bradley and his family for about four years. Bradley moved there in 1914 when the newspaper office located to the business district. In addition to being an optometrist, Bradley was a jeweler, radio builder and inventor. He is credited with the invention of a single-dial radio tuner and soft nose pads for eyeglasses. He also owned the first car in Union, which he reportedly took apart and rebuilt to learn how it worked as there was no mechanic in town.

Other uses of Boler’s Inn according to accounts from old newspapers, WPA reports, family genealogy and various historical accumulations, show the building to have been the site of piano lessons, a saloon and Sunday School classes of the Presbyterian Church, which sat next door at one time.

The town of Union lies in the east central area of the state that was ceded by the Choctaws to the U.S. government in the 1830 Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek. Neshoba County was formed in 1833 and its courthouse was a dirt-floored log cabin in the community of Union. Local historian Teresa Blount, who has extensively researched the town’s history, said that Union earned its name because of a church there named Union Church. “Or that is the story that goes around,” Blount said. “I don’t know for sure.”

The name remained when it became a town in 1835. In 1836, Newton County was carved out of Neshoba County by a legislative act with most of Union falling in the new county and some of it remaining in Neshoba County. A portion of the town still sits in Neshoba County; however, it is not a county seat for either county. Neshoba County moved its courthouse to Philadelphia soon after the division, and Decatur was developed for the specific intent of being the Newton County seat as it is geographically centered in the county.

It was during this time of Union’s early history that pioneer and wealthy landowner Wesley Boler acquired a federal land patent on a large tract that encompassed much of Union. A historical marker gracing the inn’s front lawn is thought to incorrectly declare that the inn’s construction year was 1835. The Newton County Mississippi Pictorial History, published in 2000 by Rose Publishing Company, states Boler received the land patent in 1835 and built the inn in 1845. Several dates of the inn’s original construction have been floated in accounts throughout the years, but currently the most accepted date is 1856. The 1856 date surfaced when a letter was discovered from Norfleet Staton, who married Boler’s daughter, Elizabeth.

According to Nancy Moore, president of the Foundation for the Restoration and Preservation of Boler’s Inn, Staton’s letter, dated August 10, 1856, to his father in North Carolina, includes a detailed description of a house he was building for his father-in-law fitting the dimensions of the original building. The inn has galleried upper and lower porches and originally featured a dogtrot with four rooms – one on each side of the dogtrot on each floor. “We don’t know for sure when it was built, but everything points to the year 1856 due to the letter,” Moore said.

Norfleet wrote to his father, Ennis Staton, “I am bilding (sic) a house for my old father law 46 by 38, 2 story high. I think I will make 150 or 200 dollars by crismas (sic) father.”

Although the letter refers to the structure as a house, all accounts are that it was not used as a dwelling until after the Civil War when Staton and Boler’s daughter made it their home. Wesley Boler never lived there. It was built as a boarding house on the Jackson Postal Road, now known as Old Jackson Road, which was a mail and stagecoach route from Jackson to Montgomery, Ala.

According to historian Dr. Harold Graham of the Newton County Historical and Genealogical Society, the road was built in approximately 1842. Much of the route was first a Native American trail. At that time, mail was carried either by young, small men on horses who could deliver with speed, or it was taken via a stagecoach, which might also have transported passengers. “It was built as a stopover for any passengers that might be along on the coach. They would have needed a room to rest and the horses would have needed a livery for food and stable,” Graham said. “It would have been the equivalent of today’s travelers needing a ‘quick’ stop and a motel.”

The postal route from Jackson included stops at Morton, Hillsboro, Sulphur Springs (south of Sebastopol), Union, DeKalb and other points onward to Alabama. It was a thoroughfare with the same importance of a modern-day interstate highway. 

“Jackson Road ran west of Union on what is now Highway 492 toward the community of Prospect and then turned toward Sulphur Springs and then Hillsboro, which was the Scott County seat at one time,” Graham said. “In the town of Union, some of the road is still labeled Old Jackson Road.”

The point where Old Jackson Road leaves the pavement of Highway 492 West and heads south on a dirt path called Andrew Fredrick Road is located between Evans Chapel Tabernacle and New Prospect Baptist Church. On the east side of Union, the point where it leaves Highway 492 is near the Greenland Community.

Located at 205 East Jackson Road, Boler’s Inn was designated as a Mississippi Landmark on December 21, 2000. After many years of deterioration, several citizens banded together in 1995 to form the Foundation for the Restoration and Preservation of Boler’s Inn. Insurance agent Marcus Herrington purchased the property and donated it to the foundation. Funds were raised by locals and assisted with government grants for making significant repairs. However, like most old places, it continues to need maintenance attention and upkeep.

Boler’s Inn tours are available by appointment only. Due to weight on the structure, entry is limited to group sizes of 20 children or 10 adults at a time. To schedule a visit, call 601-635-3160.

Award winning journalist Nancy Jo Maples is a native of Union and lives in Lucedale. She is the author of Staying Power: The Story of South Mississippi Electric Power Association. Reach her via email at nancyjomaples@aol.com.

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