Monday, June 10, 2013


In Pike County, Mississippi, there is a place – now just a ghost town – which was once a thriving center of commerce in the county. The town of Holmesville was established in 1816, just a year after Pike County was formed and a year before Mississippi became a state. Located near the geographic center of the county, Holmesville was named not for territorial governor David Holmes, as might be expected, but for a soldier who fell on the field of battle many miles from Mississippi.

Andrew Hunter Holmes, a Pennsylvanian, was an officer in the 24th U.S. Infantry during the War of 1812. In 1813, he was promoted to major with the 32nd regiment. On August 4, 1814, Major Holmes was selected to lead an attack on Mackinac Island, where the British maintained a fort named, appropriately enough, Fort George. Fort George was a strong position, and included cannon, a blockhouse and an ammunition magazine, and the Americans were unable to take the position. Killed in the attack was Major Holmes, along with several other soldiers. In 1815, after the war ended, U.S. forces reclaimed Mackinac Island and took possession of the fort, and renamed it Fort Holmes. With no military use, however, the fort began a slow decline and by the early 20th Century had all but disappeared. During the Great Depression, however, the fort was rebuilt according to its original plans by the Civilian Conservation Corps, and part of the rebuilding effort included a reconstruction of the blockhouse. Today, the 1930s blockhouse (above) is gone but the earthen fort remains and Mackinac Island, Michigan, is a popular tourist destination. 

Holmesville, founded prior to Mississippi statehood, was named for Major Holmes. After the town was chartered on December 11, 1816, Holmesville grew at a rapid pace. As the judicial center of the new county of Pike (itself named for Zebulon Pike of Pike's Peak fame), Holmesville attracted lots of businessmen and lawyers, among them William A. Stone. Stone was a native of Livermore, Maine and a graduate of Bowdoin College in 1825 and a classmate of both Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (right) and Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of The Scarlet Letter. Stone was appointed as a circuit judge at Holmesville by Governor McNutt, and then served in the Mississippi House of Representatives from Pike County in 1838-1839, when he moved to Natchez. Later moving to Monticello and Hazlehurst, Stone was also a senator from Marion and Lawrence counties, mayor of Hazlehurst and a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1865 from Copiah County. He died in 1877. Although his burial place is currently unknown to me, it's unlikely to equal in grandeur that of his classmate Henry Longfellow, who, while buried in Massachusetts, is memorialized in Poets Corner at Westminster Abbey. 

Holmesville was not only a place for business and law, it was a resort of sorts. Situated on the Bogue Chitto River, the area was a haven for those wishing to escape the vicissitudes of life in New Orleans, including the very real threat of yellow fever. In 1841, John Francis Hamtranck (J.F.H.) Claiborne (left), often called the “father of Mississippi history,” visited Holmesville and wrote glowingly about his experience. “This is really a pretty village,” he wrote. “Beautifully shaded with venerable trees, it is the residence of several interesting families and of many agreeable and intelligent gentlemen. It has a new and spacious Temperance Hotel, kept by a respectable Methodist, in a style of taste and comfort rarely met with by the traveler. We know of few places where one could spend the summer more agreeably or with a better prospect for health.” In addition to the Temperance Hotel, there was the California House (where presumably you could get a drink), and the town boasted a Masonic Lodge, courthouse and a newspaper called The Holmesville Independent.

Among the “intelligent gentlemen” were members of the Quin family, starting with Peter Quin, one of the earliest settlers. Born in Ireland in 1750, he emigrated to the American colonies and fought in the American Revolution (although he was perhaps on the “wrong” side of the conflict). Regardless of his loyalties, he moved to the Pike County area about 1812 along with six of his seven children. Peter Quin, Sr. died in 1824. One of his sons, Peter Quin, Jr., was a colonel in the militia in the 1820s and then served two terms in the Mississippi Legislature. He died on August 25, 1825, from wounds received in a duel with a man who had been a “warm personal friend,” according to his obituary. The duel was reportedly over a political disagreement. Peter Quin, Jr. left behind twelve of his thirteen children, one of whom was Hugh Murray Quin (above right). A student at Oakland College, he became a lawyer, judge, planter, supervisor of the State Lunatic Asylum and mayor of Summit before his death in 1900. Like his father, he and his wife had thirteen children, but only eight survived to adulthood. Quin’s wife died after their last child was born in 1866. Hugh remarried the next year and fathered two more children. One of his brothers, Josephus, was a captain in Co. A, 14th Mississippi Cavalry during the Civil War. He was killed in the battle of Harrisburg (aka Tupelo) in 1864. He was 37 years old at the time. Most of the Quin family, including the patriarch of the family, now rest in the Holmesville Cemetery, along with many other prominent families. Other than the cemetery, there are just a few buildings which remain, including a small brick building (lower right) used at one time as the county clerk’s office. The building, often referred to as the old county courthouse, was enlarged in the 1930s and partially renovated in the 1970s.

So, one might ask, what happened to the rest of this once bustling town? The story of the rapid decline of Holmesville is the same story repeated throughout Mississippi history. The booming town was a victim of “progress,” progress in the form of a railroad. Even though Holmesville was the county seat and was prosperous, the railroad (later part of the Illinois Central) decided to locate nine miles west of town. Despite the protests of her citizens, Holmesville declined as businesses moved to the railroad. In 1872, the county seat was relocated to Magnolia, which was on the railroad line, and Holmesville quietly passed into memory. If you’re ever in the neighborhood of Holmesville, take a few minutes and enjoy the peaceful setting. In particular, stroll through the old town square and among the monuments of the cemetery. And while you’re at it, take a moment to remember the sacrifice of Major Hunter Holmes, who gave his life nearly 200 years ago at far-off Mackinac Island, Michigan. 

Photo and Image Sources:
(1) Blockhouse:
(2) 32nd Infantry:
(3) Longfellow:
(4) Claiborne:
(5) Quin:
(6) Clerk's Building:
(7) Holmesville Cemetery:


  1. Interesting piece, Jim. The original county seat of Appling County, Georgia was also known as Holmesville. The state legislature created Appling County in 1818 and named it for Col. Daniel Appling, of Columbia County, Georgia. Holmes, was also a War of 1812 hero for his victory over the British at the Battle of Big Sandy Creek in Northwestern New York. Appling was luckier than Holmes in that he survived the war, but died in 1817. The town of Appling, which is the seat of Columbia County, is also named for Col. Appling. When it was first established, Appling was a huge county, but was eventually reduced in size during the next several decades. One of the last chunks of Appling County to be carved off was used to create Jeff Davis County in 1905, which also includes land from Coffee County. During the first eight or so years of Appling County's existence, no county seat had been named, but by 1828, the county settled on the settlement at Holmesville. In 1875, four years after the Macon & Brunswick RR went through Appling County, the county government moved the seat of government to station number 7, which was named Baxley. Back in 1987, just after I passed my comps in grad school, I took my first preservation job as a Regional Historic Preservation Planner. The planning commission where I worked was headquartered in Baxley, and I soon learned about the ghost town. A couple of times I visited the site of Holmesville, which is south of Baxley on SR 15 near the Georgia Baptist Children's Home. In those days, there was just an abandoned wood dwelling, which I was told did not date to the period when Holmesville was the county seat, so it really was a ghost town. I'm guessing that the house is now gone, so all that's left to mark the community is a Georgia Historical Marker and a local road named "Holmesville Road," which terminates at US 84 outside the city limits of Jesup, Georgia. I've never read who the namesake of Holmesville, Georgia was, but given that the county's establishment was so soon after the War of 1812 in a part of the state that was ceded by the Creek Indians following the war, I suspect that it very well could have been Andrew Hunter Holmes.

  2. That's very interesting. Small world, eh?

  3. I purchased the Quin home constructed in 1820, located in Holmesville, from the 6th generation of Peter Quin heirs. After spending approximately 18 months renovating the home, my wife and I moved in in July 2007. We feel honored to be able to renovate and preserve a part of history.
    I have a copy of Luke Conerly's "History of Pike County", but it did not contain the information concerning Peter Quin's death. Could you share where you found this information? Thanks. Benton Gibson

  4. I purchased the Quin residence which was constructed in 1820. After approximately 18 months of renovation we moved into the residence in July of 2007. We feel truly honored to have been given the opportunity to renovate and live in a part of history.
    I have a copy of Luke Conerly's "History of Pike County", but it does not contain the story you recounted of Peter Quin. Jr's death. Can you share your information source for that? Thanks

    1. Hoot, great news! I'm a great great grandson of Peter Quin Sr. My direct lineage goes from Wm. Monroe Quin, Maj. 39th infantry Co. K from 1862. I'm trying to find anything on the family, photos, anything. They had a plantation in Pike County that the yankees burned down. My Dads grandmother was Quin's granddaughter. My email is Please email me, Thomas

    2. Hi, I'm a great great grandson of Peter Quin. My lineage comes from Wm. Monroe Quin, Maj. 39th infantry Co. K in 1862. His granddaughter Jane Garner was my great grandmother on my Dad's side. I'm looking for any photos, papers, history, anything. Please contact me and let me know. Thank you and my email is Thomas

  5. HI Everyone, I am a Veteran cemetery hunter - no other place in the world so peaceful and 'mysterious. I acemeterym from Pike County Mississippi, and visit the Holmesville often. There is something I don't understand about the condition of the cemetery in the back where the woods are. Sooooo many sunken graves, very few are marked. There are about five stones that appear to be new with unknown inscribed on them. They are strangely placed around a big tree. We walked farther into the woods and found a lovely military stone from World War 1. The name on it is Murray Guy, born Feb..14, 1896 and died 1998. He lived to be 102 years old !!!
    I think, as told by my Grandmother that that section contain the remains of African Americans. Does anyone know for sure ?

  6. Yes you are correct. My original cemetery map identifies this as the "colored" area.