Among the pioneers who came to the Starkville area was the second son of an Irish immigrant named David Montgomery. Already a man of some means when he came to Starkville in 1837, David Montgomery established a prosperous cotton plantation in the rolling hills of Oktibbeha county. Six years later in 1843, he completed his plantation home now known as “the Cedars.” All the bricks were made on the plantation and the house was constructed mainly from enslaved persons.
The Montgomery family and their home continued to prosper in the antebellum era; however, the peace was shattered with the outbreak of the Civil War. The Confederate General James R. Chalmers used the Cedars as his headquarters for ten days in February 1864 to meet with General Nathan Bedford Forrest headquartered in Columbus. They developed an ultimately successful strategy to block Union troops advancing from Memphis from joining General William T. Sherman in Meridian. General Chalmers time at the Cedars must have been favorable because while there he found time to draft the lyrics for a song praising the “The Pretty Little Girls of Starkville.”
Upon David Montgomery’s death, the Cedars passed to David’s nephew, Col. William Bell Montgomery, who ultimately had a tremendous impact on the Starkville area. W.B. Montgomery quickly realized that the soil around Starkville was not suitable for growing cotton and that the intensive cultivation of cotton had depleted the soil. He was determined to try something new and in doing so would shape the area’s economy for the next century. He introduced grasses to improve pasturage and imported the first Jersey cattle to Mississippi, setting up the area’s first dairy on his plantation. Dairying became Oktibbeha’s main industry and as a July 1927 journal article notes, “As cotton farmers [in Mississippi] are worrying over low prices and wondering how they will meet their notes, Oktibbeha bank deposits are enjoying steady growth.” Oktibbeha County would become known as the “dairy capital of the South”. This distinction and the economic benefit it wrought was brought about by the foresight of W.B.
W.B. wasn’t done; W.B. was instrumental in bringing Mississippi State to Starkville. According to legend found in the Starkville Daily News the committee in charge of finding a location for the land grant agricultural and mechanical (A&M) college for the state had all but determined to put it in Meridian, MS, but “Montgomery approached one of his fellow committee members and asked if it would be possible for them to vote for the Starkville location so that he, Montgomery, could save face with his home town supporters. After all a 3-2 vote would look much better than a 4-1 vote. The final vote was indeed 3-2, in favor of the Starkville location. It seems that according to the story. Montgomery had sold not one, but two of his colleagues on the idea of switching votes.” Whether this story is true or not Montgomery played a large role in developing the institution we know as Mississippi State. He helped to start its dairy and textile courses and served on the board of trustees of the fledgling Mississippi A&M.
The Montgomery family continued to live at the Cedars until 1999 when William and Judy Eshee bought the property and embarked on extensive renovations that took seven years to complete, preserving the house for future generations. In 2019 the house was bought by the Carson’s who continue the long tradition of innovation and economic development of past owners by turning the Cedars into a premier bed and breakfast/wedding venue.