Interstate follows old U.S. 51 bypass route
It's not the Waterworks Curve, it's the GM & N Railroad Curve
Wednesday, March 26, 2014 1:00 PM
The infamous so-called "Waterworks Curve" on I-55 in Jackson was actually created for a very good and logical reason.
The Interstate Highway system was not brought into being until 1956 and work on it did not get underway locally until 1960 or so.
In the early 1950's, the Mississippi State Highway Department was given the job by the legislature of building a U. S. Highway 51 bypass around Jackson. At this time U. S. Highway 51 traffic went along what is now called Terry Road up to Capitol Street, along Capitol to State Street, and along State Street on to the north.
(The east-west U. S. Highway 80 bypass, the one running south of Battlefield Park, had been completed before World War II.)
The new U. S. 51 bypass would run through the Pearl River bottom east of the Fairgrounds and on north through undeveloped country to tie in with the existing U S. 51 just north of County Line Road.
When the bypass planners reached the point that is now called the "Waterworks Curve," an overpass was needed to get over the then existing Gulf Mobile and Northern Railroad, and thus the curves were needed.
When Interstate 55 was built through Jackson, this U. S. 51 bypass was one of the few sections of U. S. 51 to be incorporated into I-55. Few changes were needed, and the overpass at the railroad was kept in use.
The GM&N RR had been gone long enough by the mid-60's that not many people remembered it. But it had ben an important player in earlier years. As late as the early 1950's, the railroad's passenger station was still located down the hill from the Old Capitol. To the south, the railroad ran down the western side of Pearl River to Monticello, Foxworth (across the river from Columbia), and Bogalusa on into New Orleans.
To the north, the railroad crossed the Peal River just above Jackson and went on to Tuscola, Lena, Walnut Grover, Sebastopol, Union, Ackerman, Pontotoc,and New Albany on into Jackson, Tennessee.
This GM&N RR was the route of the first Diesel -powered streamliner in the state and was called the Rebel.
The GM&N used the L&N RR track across Lake Pontchartrain into New Orleans. The L & N passenger station was located right on Canal Street. You could catch the Rebel in Jackson about 6 a.m., be in New Orleans before 10 a.m., and step right out the front door of the station onto Canal Street. Catching it back north at 5 p.m., you could be back in Jackson in time for a late supper.
In the summer of 1960, when construction of the dam at Barnett Reservoir was begun, the rock that was used for the facing of the dam came in on the railroad.
The railroad had several names during its existence. At one time, it was merged into the Mobile and Ohio Railroad that ran up and down the eastern side of the state through Meridian and Tupelo. It then became the Gulf, Mobil, and Ohio Railroad. A bus line was then created to haul passengers, since the rail passenger service had been discontinued.
So the name "Waterworks Curve" is a misnomer. The curve was there as the approach to the U. S. 51 overpass over the railroad. The old railroad roadbed, now covered with brush, is still visible beneath the overpass.
The Jackson waterworks plant is still there, visible from the overpass and so it gets the blame for the bad curve.
But by rights the "Waterworks Curve" should be called the "Railroad Overpass Curve." It was not put there on a whim or by some engineer's foulup as some suspect. It was put there for a good and logical reason.