Marks, MS (MKS)
Sited on a bend in the Coldwater River, Marks is located in the northern reaches of the Mississippi Delta. The region has a rich heritage tied to the Civil Rights Movement and the development of country, rock and blues music.
Northwest Mississippi Regional Station
285 Cherry Street
Marks, MS 38646
Annual Station Ridership (FY 2019): 2,542
- Facility Ownership: City of Marks
- Parking Lot Ownership: City of Marks
- Platform Ownership: Canadian National Railway Company (CN) Illinois Central (IC) (A subsidiary of CN)
- Track Ownership: Canadian National Railway Company (CN) Illinois Central (IC) (A subsidiary of CN)
Amtrak began service to Marks on May 4, 2018, with the arrival of the northbound City of New Orleans. The establishment of the new station was a project nearly two decades in the making, part of a local effort to improve travel options for residents of the Mississippi Delta and encourage tourism in the area, which has a rich heritage tied to the Civil Rights Movement and the development of country, rock and blues music.
The $1.2 million station, located downtown within walking distance of the domed Quitman County Courthouse, consists of a fully accessible concrete platform and open-air passenger shelter with benches and heating elements. The shelter features square piers of buff colored brick and a hipped, seamed metal roof. Light standards lining the platform cast a bright, welcoming light.
This project was funded in part by a $500,000 grant from the Federal Highway Administration and appropriated through the Mississippi Department of Transportation with a 20 percent local match from Quitman County. The local match was secured by a grant of $150,000 from the Mississippi Development Authority, and a $300,000 grant from the Delta Regional Authority.
In 2014, civic leaders from Quitman County attended an Amtrak-sponsored Civic Conversation in Memphis – a forum for community and state officials focused on building, preserving and upgrading existing Amtrak-served train stations.
Mississippi was home to the Choctaw and Chickasaw peoples when the first Europeans – mainly the French – began exploring the area in the mid-17th century. The Choctaw occupied the lower two thirds of present-day Mississippi while the Chickasaw were to the north. Both peoples lived in networks of villages and pursued agriculture as well as hunting to meet their needs.
European explorers encountered a landscape marked by earthen mounds – some nearly 2,000 years old – constructed by early indigenous peoples. Older dome-shaped mounds had tended to be constructed as burial markers, while later flat-topped mounds were symbols of social and political power, and often formed a platform for a temple or other structure. But by the time of European contact, mound building had largely subsided.
Rene-Robert, Cavalier de La Salle, claimed present-day Mississippi – and other lands drained by the Mississippi River – for France in 1682. This large territory was referred to as “Louisiana” in honor of King Louis XIV. Initial settlements were limited to areas along the Gulf Coast and the lower Mississippi River. Fort Maurepas, the first European settlement in Mississippi, and the first capital of French Louisiana, was established at Biloxi Bay in 1699. In 1716, the French established a fort at Natchez, but the northern reaches of the state, including the Delta, remained sparsely inhabited by European and American settlers until the early 19th century. Trade links, though, developed between the French and American Indian groups.
Defeated by Great Britain during the French and Indian War, France lost control of Louisiana in 1763. Spain gained possession of the French territory west of the Mississippi River, including New Orleans, while Britain took control of land to the east. The latter region subsequently fell under Spanish and then American control in 1795. That year, the United States and Spain signed a treaty establishing the border of Spanish Florida, which allowed American settlement to proceed in central Mississippi.
The Mississippi Territory was organized in 1798; from that year through 1812, the population increased from 10,000 to 30,000 settlers. By 1813, the territory had grown to include most of present-day Mississippi and Alabama. The western half became the state of Mississippi in 1817, with the east admitted as the state of Alabama two years later.
Many settlers came to pursue cotton production, which blossomed after the invention of the cotton gin – making it easier to separate the seeds from the cotton fiber. Cotton production also encouraged the growth of slavery: by 1860, a year prior to the start of the Civil War, there were nearly 437,000 enslaved people living in the state – more than half the population.
Advancing American settlement also led to conflict with the Choctaw and Chickasaw, who were pressured to cede their lands in central and northern Mississippi. In the 1820s, a new state law cancelled American Indian land claims and gave the state jurisdiction over those lands. This was followed by the signing of the Indian Removal Act of 1830 by President Andrew Jackson. It allowed the president to grant unsettled lands west of the Mississippi River to American Indian peoples in exchange for lands within state borders.
These federal and state actions culminated in the 1830 Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, in which the Choctaw gave up their remaining lands and agreed to move to what is now Oklahoma; the Chickasaw ceded their northern Mississippi lands two years later.
With the Chickasaw cession of 1832, the entire Mississippi Delta was opened to American settlement. Newcomers were attracted to the natural levees and higher elevations, since the land was susceptible to flooding – which also helped deposit rich sediments. They also constructed artificial levees to drain and protect their lands. Interior areas hosted extensive hardwood forests well into the late 19th century.
Following the Civil War, a majority of Delta land was not being used for agriculture – it had been abandoned, confiscated by the state in lieu of back taxes or caught up in speculative schemes. Millions of acres were ripe for development, which in part was made possible by the arrival of new railroads.
The Illinois Central (IC) extended its Chicago-Cairo, Ill., line south to New Orleans in 1873, but ran east of the Delta. It then began to eye direct access through the middle of the Delta. In the early 1880s, a branch line, known as the Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad (Y&MV), was driven north from Jackson to Yazoo City, and was later extended further north to Greenwood and then on to Memphis. The Y&MV also purchased Delta land with the idea of attracting small farmers who would settle along the route. This smallholder vision never came to fruition, and the railroad’s Delta land was eventually sold to lumber interests.
Just as the Y&MV entered the Delta, it had competition in the Memphis and Vicksburg Railroad (M&V). The M&V never laid any track itself, but was instead subsumed, along with three other railroads, into the Louisville, New Orleans & Texas Railway (LNO&T) as part of a Memphis-New Orleans line. Completed in 1884, the LNO&T ran west of the Y&MV, serving areas closer to the Mississippi River.
Eight years later, the LNO&T, facing financial difficulties, was sold to the Y&MV. As part of the deal, the Y&MV received more than half a million acres originally granted to the M&V. The land was generally sold or leased to lumber companies who quickly stripped away the trees and then sold it to planters.
Complementing these two north-south rail lines through the Delta was the Georgia Pacific Railway. In 1889 it completed an east-west line across the Delta from Columbus, on the border with Alabama, to Greenville, located on the Mississippi River. Eastward, the line extended all the way to Atlanta.
The Marks area, largely wilderness, was settled by a woodsman and trapper known as Moore in the mid-19th century. In 1852, the land became part of a 5,000-acre estate owned by Thomas B. Hill, who built a home near the Coldwater River. The waterway was deep enough to accommodate flatboats and steamboats, and Hill’s property became a landing point.
Marks takes its name from Leopold Marks, a German immigrant who arrived in New York City in 1868 at the age of 17, and then worked his way south. He peddled goods across northern Mississippi by foot and small boat, growing a dry goods business that eventually allowed him to amass 6,000 acres – including the old Hill property. As a state legislator, he introduced a bill calling for the creation of Quitman County, which was carved from its neighbors. He then served as its first state representative.
Marks established a dry goods store in what was then known as Riverside, where the Coldwater River meets Cassidy Bayou. He was also instrumental in bringing the Y&MV to the area by providing the railroad a right-of-way through his property as well as a land grant. The IC was looking for a shorter, more direct route through the Delta as part of its Chicago-New Orleans line, so a new branch of the Y&MV was built between Lake Cormorant, Miss., southwest of Memphis, and Tutwiler, Miss.
The line was in operation by 1902, and the railroad referred to the stop as “Marks.” The former Y&MV passenger depot, which opened in 1904, still stands about a block south of the Amtrak station, but is now used for commercial purposes. The depot anchored a small commercial row along East Main Street, which soon included the new Savoy Hotel.
The community decided to take Marks’s name when he formally laid out a town site in 1906 and sold lots. A year later at incorporation, the community counted 350 residents. Soon thereafter, Marks became the county seat – Leopold Marks donated 10 acres for the neoclassical, porticoed courthouse that opened in 1911.
With only 5,435 residents in 1900, Quitman was one of the least populated counties in the state, but to people like Marks, growth seemed on the horizon with renewed interest in the region’s lumber and agricultural resources. Key crops were high grade, long staple cotton and corn; oats, wheat, sorghum, millet and tobacco were also widely grown. By 1925, Marks’s population grew to 1,750. About 90 percent of the farms in Quitman and six other Delta counties in the 1930s were operated by tenants who did not own the land.
The national spotlight shone on Marks in May 1968 when it became the starting point for one of the caravans forming the Poor People’s Campaign. On a visit to the Mississippi Delta in 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was struck by the poverty of Marks’s African-American community. As a result of the Delta visit, King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference decided to form the Poor People’s Campaign, meant to raise awareness of the conditions of the poor and push for federal legislation to alleviate systemic poverty.
King was assassinated weeks before the campaign launch, but his colleagues moved forward. From Marks, 115 Quitman County residents departed for the nation’s capital in a dozen wagons pulled by mules; at Atlanta, they and their wagons and mules boarded a train for Washington to march and demonstrate against poverty. They were joined by 50,000 protestors from across the country.
Today Marks and the Mississippi Delta are known for their rich heritage related to the Civil Rights Movement and American music. These ties are celebrated in the fall during the annual Quitman County Mules & Blues Festival. The Delta was the birthplace of country music singer and guitarist Charley Pride; John Lee Hooker; Albert “Sunnyland Slim” Luandrew – known for playing the blues piano; Earl Hooker, who gained fame for his slide guitar technique; harmonica player James Edward “Snooky” Pryor; and many others.
Not far from Marks, in nearby Clarksdale, is the Rock & Roll Blues Museum, filled with music memorabilia and artifacts, and the Delta Blues Museum, which features videotape and slide-and-sound programs, recordings and other memorabilia. To the north in Tunica is the Gateway to the Blues Visitors Center and Museum that focuses on the birth of the Blues.
Quitman County is also part of the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area, which “fosters preservation, perpetuation and celebration of the Delta’s heritage through a climate of collaboration and sustainable economic development.” It focuses on themes including “The River and the Land it Embraces” and “Growing More than Cotton: The Delta as a Wellspring of Creativity.”
Northwest Mississippi’s rivers, forests and wetlands also offer ample opportunities for outdoor activities such as fishing, hunting and wildlife observation.
Amtrak does not provide ticketing or baggage services at this station, which is served by two daily trains.
Image courtesy of Quitman County.
Platform with Shelter
- Quik-Trak kiosks not available
- No ticket sales office
- Amtrak Express shipping not available
- No checked baggage service
- No checked baggage storage
- Bike boxes not available
- No baggage carts
- Ski bags not available
- Bag storage not available
- Shipping boxes not available
- No baggage assistance
- Accessible platform
- No restrooms
- No accessible ticket office
- No accessible waiting room
- No accessible water fountain
- No high platform
- No wheelchair
- No wheelchair lift