Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Soulé Steam Feed Works, Meridian, MS

by Pam Hillman

Sometimes you live within a few miles of something that impacted your community-- or the world-- and don't even know the significance of it. You might not even know it exists! This happened to me since I started writing and researching interesting tidbits about my part of the country. I was introduced to the Soulé Steam Feed Works, which is about fifty miles from me in Meridian, MS.

Soulé focused on servicing the lumber industry from 1892 until the mid-1950s. I wrote a series of novellas set in the 1890s focused on the logging industry, and the main occupation of the men in my Natchez Trace Novel series is logging and lumbermills.

I found the entire place fascinating. The founder of Soulé Steam Feed Works, George W. Soulé, patented more than 20 items during his lifetime. Some of Soulé's most notable products were rotary steam engines, lumber stackers, mechanical log turners, and a cotton seed huller. Soulé's steam engines are still in operation today, deep in the forests of India and Australia.

I signed books at the Soulé Live Steam Festival and enjoyed the experience tremendously. Approximately 2000 people tour the restored buildings at the festival and watch the steam engines belch out steam and enjoy reminiscing about the industrial revolution. 

Given the nature of this event, many of the attendees are male. Late on the first day, one of the museum volunteers and a steam engine enthusiast who'd just arrived hurried into the area where we'd set up our book table next to the welcome desk. Both men looked like two kids on Christmas morning. The enthusiast had brought a steam whistle with him that was so large he hadn't been able to build up enough steam to blow it. They were making plans to connect it to a bigger steam engine so they could try it out.

I didn't get as many photos as I would have liked since I was signing books, but I hope to be back next year. In addition, there were so many people I would have loved to interview for HHHistory.

There are thousands of handcrafted mahogany patterns for large and small gears, balcony railings, andirons, etc. on display throughout the museum. This one was a manhole cover for the city of Meridian. 
A nameplate for the lumber stacker manufactured in 1897.
Technology students from the local community college demonstrate the antique equipment in the machine shop. The Soulé Steam Works Machine shop contains an operating 120' (that's FOOT) line shaft with original belt-driven equipment that dates from the turn of the 20th century.
Manual Underwood typewriter. One of the curators at the museum gave me a private tour a few months before the festival, and she said that Mr. Soulé kept everything, so a lot of the antiques are literally pieces that were used in the daily operations of the business. The vault even has copies of receipts and payroll records from the the 1890s and early 1900s.
The steam is chugging out and the wheel is in motion....
1928 Wurlitzer Caliola. Only about 300 of these were produced and this one is in working order. This one was on loan from the historic Temple Theatre, in Meridian, MS.
This building is across the brick-laden alley from the original office and machine shop where our book signing  was held. It's a huge open building with rough timbered woodwork and is host to many receptions and weddings. The upstairs houses turn-of-the-century employee locker rooms. I failed to get pictures because I needed to get back to the book signing. Next year for sure!
Several steam engines doing their "stuff" at the entrance of the  Mississippi Industrial Heritage Museum where the festival was held. The lattice truss frame sign was completed in 2013.

This is the brick-paved alley between two of the buildings that are part of the museum complex. The ambience between the buildings with the steam billowing out of the pipes was an interesting experience. The museum staff and volunteers have done an amazing job restoring the buildings and the steam engines.

Pam Hillman and a young fan who bought a book for her grandmother!
Sometimes all we have to do is get out and about to find fascinating things about where we live. I've made notes on my phone of day trips in my area as soon as I have the time. There's a cypress swamp which I'm really anxious to see and is first on my list since The Crossing at Cypress Creek releases in June 2019! And there's an old mill that's still in operation, a cafe that dates to 1884, and many others.

There just isn't enough time in my day/week/months to do it all. But I'm making plans.

What about you? What interesting historical places would you like to see or have seen that's within a day's journey of where you live?


  1. I need to do some research again to remember the things I've seen advertised in my area. I know one thing I always say I'm going to do at Christmas is go to Portland, ME and see some Victorian homes or museums that they decorate for the holidays. But when it's that time of year, I don't see the ads again! Good reminder, and your Soule adventure sounds like something my husband would love. Thanks for posting!

  2. Wonderful post. I enjoyed the photos. One of the things my husband and I enjoyed was touring the textile mills in Manchester, NH which is about an hour from us.

    1. Oh, I would love that, Linda. Sounds like fun. I just got to tour The Alamo for the third time in my life. The sacrifice of those men never fails to inspire me.