J. J. White Lumber Co.

Liberty-White Railroad  



Standard and 36" Gauge

Headquarters: South McComb, MS

Officers (1907): J. J. White, President; W. M. White, Vice-president and Gen Mgr.; J. J. White, Jr., Sec.; H. L. White, Tres.

Years of Operation: 1902-1921

Miles Operated: 1904-1907: 35.1 miles

                         1907-1912: 43.7 miles

                         1912-1918: 60 miles

                         1918-1921: 25 miles

Locomotives Owned: 18


1910- 5 locomotives, a mail and baggage car, 6 passenger cars, 1 passenger motor car, 2 cabooses, 4 tank cars and 14 box cars

June 30, 1914- 2 locomotives, 5 passenger, 1 baggage, 12 box, 50 flats, 1 coal, 2 other, 1 service

Click Map for Larger Version

History by Tony Howe:

     The Liberty-White Railroad, in Southwest Mississippi, was one of the more unique shortline railroads in the state. In many ways, it was similar to most of the smaller railroads of the state built to serve the lumber industry at the time. The Liberty-White, however, seems to have had a character all its own, and was notable for being the only shortline in the state to operate both standard and narrow gauge lines at the same time. The J. J. White Lumber Co., owner of the railroad, also had a varied and interesting history. It was one of the longest-lasting companies, and was one of the first in the state to build a logging railroad. 

     John J. White was born in Anderson County, South Carolina, on April 1, 1830. When he was eight years old, White moved with his family to Madison County, Mississippi. After teaching school for a few years, J. J. White then became a carpenter. In 1859, J. J. White decided to enter the lumber business, and together with his brother, Robert E., started a small sawmill near Summit, Miss. This mill ran until the outbreak of the War Between the States.

     J. J. White, although opposed to secession, enlisted with the Confederate Army at the beginning of the war. He served in Company H, Thirty-ninth Mississippi Regiment, and became a Lieutenant in his company. He fought in the battles of Corinth, Vicksburg, and Port Hudson. At the latter, he was taken prisoner and was held in the military prison at Johnson’s Island, Ohio,  in Lake Erie, until the end of the war.

     After the War, J. J. White, forever known as “Captain White,” returned to Summit and rebuilt his sawmill business from the ground up. In 1873 he moved the plant south to McComb City. The small town that grew up around the mill, located about a mile south of McComb, became known as Whitestown. The depot built at this location by the Illinois Central Railroad was simply dubbed South McComb. To supply the mill with logs, a 36" gauge logging railroad was built in 1879, and extending westward several miles into the timber. By 1891, this railroad had reached a length of 14 miles and extended into Amite County. The first locomotive was a small 0-4-0 tank locomotive bought new from Porter. A second Porter locomotive, an 0-6-2T, was added in 1885, and Brooks-built 2-6-0 was bought from the Houston East & West Texas RR in 1895. A Baldwin 2-8-0 was purchased from the Colorado & Southern in 1901.

     When the land due west of McComb was all cut over, the railroad was about to be abandoned and taken up when the citizens of Liberty, seat of Amite County, persuaded J. J. White to extend the railroad to their town. As a result, the Liberty-White Railroad was chartered in Mississippi on December 22, 1902 and took over the narrow gauge line of the J. J. White Company. The entire capital stock of the Liberty-White Railroad, amounting to $300,000, was owned by stockholders of the J. J. White Lumber Company.

     The Liberty-White Railroad added a third rail to the narrow gauge line from S. McComb a point known as Irene near the Pike-Amite County line. From this point, a standard gauge railroad was built westward to Liberty. The line was finally completed into Liberty and opened for business on July 20, 1904. The J. J. White 36" gauge logging railroad was built southwestward from Irene in 1900 into the southeastern corner of Amite Co. 10.1 miles to a point known as Keiths. This line, known as the Louisiana Division, was leased by Liberty-White from the parent lumber company for $300 a month. Logging spurs eventually extended from Keiths into the northern edge of St. Helena Parish, Louisiana. This narrow gauge line was also notable for having one of the few known points where two narrow gauge logging railroads crossed. At a point named Sandifer, this line was crossed by the 36" gauge logging railroad of A. W. Stevens Lumber Co. running westward from the Stevens mill just north of Chatawa. Instead of building a crossing diamond, two switches were used by the Stevens railroad to get across the J. J. White line, with Stevens log trains running a short distance over the White railroad. 

     Upon completion of the Liberty-White into Liberty, the lumber company started buying timberland northwest of Liberty. Considerable timberland was eventually bought in northwestern Amite Co. and southern Franklin Co., but it appears that an extension of the logging railroad into this area was never built. Most of this land, approximately 14,710 acres, was sold by the lumber company to the Homochitto Lumber Co. on February 27, 1912. Timberland was also purchased east of McComb, and a standard gauge railroad was built into this timber. On January 1, 1907, the Liberty-White opened the line between S. McComb and New Holmesville, a distance of 8.6 miles. Logging spurs were built from New Holmesville northward to log timberland owned by the J. J. White Lumber Co. between the Bogue Chitto River and Topisaw Creek. In order to log in this more rugged area, the lumber company purchased two Shay locomotives. A 2-truck 42-ton Shay was bought in 1908, and a 3-truck 70-ton Shay followed a year later. The Liberty-White line was extended southeast from New Holmesville to Tylertown, and opened on September 28, 1912. It downtown Tylertown, the railroad connected with both the New Orleans Great Northern and Fernwood & Gulf just east of their depots, near the crossing of these two railroads. A deep cut was said to have been dug between buildings in downtown Tylertown to reach this connection, as the downtown area is located on a hill.

     J. J. White was not only involved in the lumber company and railroad, but also other area enterprises. He was president of the McComb City Bank, and organized the McComb Electric Light & Power Co., the McComb Brick Co., the McComb Cotton Mill, and a number of other enterprises. White also helped bail out his son-in-law, J. H. Hinton, whenever the Camp & Hinton mill at Lumberton ran into financial difficulties. White eventually purchased the mill at Lumberton on October 12, 1893, but resold the property back to the Camp & Hinton Co. on June 3, 1899. Capt. White’s sons, William M., John, Jr., and Hugh White, became increasingly involved in the various family businesses. When the J. J. White Lumber Co. was formally incorporated on January 11, 1905, Hugh White was elected president of the company. W. M. White served as general manager of the Liberty-White RR. By the time J. J. White, Sr., passed away on November 16, 1912, the lumber company and railroad were already being run by his sons.

     In 1910 the equipment of the Liberty-White RR was listed as consisting of 5 locomotives, a mail and baggage car, 6 passenger cars, 1 passenger motor car, 1 caboose, 1 passenger caboose, 4 tank cars, 14 box cars, 50 flat cars, 85 log cars and camp and construction cars, and 2 wreck and pile driving cars. No distinction was made between which cars were narrow and which cars were standard gauge. At that time, two passenger trains and two log trains were run each way daily between McComb and Liberty, and a mixed train was run between McComb and New Holmesville. Liberty-White charged the lumber company $5 per car to haul log cars from the connection of the log spurs to the mill at South McComb.

     After almost four decades of operation, the mill at McComb was rapidly depleting all available timber in that area. In September 1911, the company bought 270 million feet of timber in southern Marion Co. from Edward Lowe. It was speculated that the Liberty-White Railroad would be extended from Tylertown to Columbia to haul this timber to McComb. The decision was made that it would be more economical to replace the aging mill at McComb with a new mill at Columbia instead. The mill at McComb finally cut its last log on October 4, 1912. Despite being in poor health, the elder J. J. White was driven down to the mill from his home to watch the last log go through the mill.

     The new mill was built on the south side of Columbia, and consisted of a circular mill capable of cutting 100,000 feet per day. This mill was placed in operation in February 1913. It was eventually replaced by a band mill and a hardwood mill was also added. Log trains were run over the Gulf & Ship Island Railroad from Pinebur and Hub to the mill at Columbia. The first log camp was set up near the G&SI main near the top of Hub Hill between Pinebur and the Marion-Lamar County line. The camp was later moved to a point near Hub.

     Without the huge White sawmill at McComb, the Liberty-White Railroad was faced with an uncertain future. The narrow gauge line from Irene to Keiths was quickly abandoned  in 1912. On November 12, 1914 the railroad was placed in receivership. The line from South McComb to Tylertown, 24.78 miles, was abandoned on December 24, 1918 by authority of the State of Mississippi. In May 1919 the remaining line was sold to pay off creditors. Under new management the line from South McComb to Liberty was rehabilitated, but again went into receivership. On September 23, 1921 all operations ceased on this segment.

     Many miles of logging spurs were built out of Hub to haul logs to the mill at Columbia. Initially, spurs were first built northeastward. One of these eventually connected with the logging railroad of the Helen White Lumber Co., whose railroad ran southwest from their mill at Clyde, on the Mississippi Central Railroad, to near the Marion-Lamar County line. Helen White Lumber Co. was also owned by Hugh White, and was formed in 1921 when he purchased the Lamar Lumber Co. properties, and operated until 1927. About 1924 a new logging railroad was built by the J. J. White Lumber Co. southward from Hub into timber owned by the company in northern Pearl River Co. In addition to the pine cut in the northern part of the county, hardwood timber was cut in the bottoms along the east side of the Pearl River as far south as the Crossroads and Henleyfield area in Pearl River Co. At one time, a connection was made with the logging railroad of the Goodyear Yellow Pine Co. near Crosby.

     In February 1922, Hugh White purchased the hardwood mill and holdings of Price Veneer & Lumber Co. at Columbia. Included was a logging railroad running west from a point known as Cody’s Spur on the G&SI in southern Lawrence Co. and a small 2-4-0 locomotive.

     In late 1928 the hardwood mill of J. J. White was leased to the Kentucky Lumber Company, of Sulligent, Alabama. Included in the deal was hardwood timber off of White timberlands, 2-8-0 #19, and the right to run log trains over the J. J. White logging railroad into Pearl River Co. 

     The pine mill of the J. J. White Lumber Company at Columbia continued to run a few more years. It finally cut its last log on October 24, 1931. After this time, the railroad was abandoned and equipment sold off or scrapped. After more than 70 years of sawmilling, the J. J. White Lumber Co. finally came to an end. Hugh White went on to serve two terms as governor of Mississippi in the 1930's and 1950's. Today, there is little remaining to remind anyone of the great lumber empire built by Capt. J. J. White at either McComb or Columbia. The old cotton mill that was once served by a narrow gauge spur off of the L-W still stands abandoned in McComb. By some miracle, the old Liberty-White depot at New Holmesville still stands silently not far from the banks of the Bogue Chitto amidst tall pines that once lured its owners to the area.



Narrow gauge train at the Glading depot circa 1904. Note standard gauge ties with rails still spaced 36" apart.

Southern Iron & equipment photo of Liberty-White #12 before delivery to McComb.

Liberty-White shops at South McComb with dual-gauge trackage.


L-W #12 with passenger train at South McComb depot shared with Illinois Central.


The Liberty-White depot at New Holmesville still stands. This section of the railroad was abandoned in 1918!

"Capt." J. J. White

Offices of Liberty-White Railroad, as well as the lumber company and other White-owned companies. Postcard from John Sharp Collection

J. J. White Lumber Co. mill at South McComb. Postcard from John Sharp Collection

J. J. White McComb mill with No. 9 switching a log train. Postcard from John Sharp Collection 

J. J. White Lumber Co. No. 90 at Columbia circa 1930.

J. J. White Lumber Co. mill at Columbia. Columbia Chamber of Commerce

Aerial view of White mill in Columbia. Columbia Chamber of Commerce 


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For more information contact Tony Howe at tonyhowe76@yahoo.com or David S. Price at davidsprice46@gmail.com

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