In 1872 Pearl County was formed from land taken from Marion and Hancock Counties and was inhabited by a tribe of Indians called “Caesar” after their chief. New Settlers came from Virginia and North Carolina; their ancestors were from the British Isles. For financial reasons Pearl County was abolished in 1878. After it was abolished, Northern syndicates bought the virgin forest of the south and a railroad was built. Pearl River County, comprised of 828 square miles, was authorized by the Mississippi Legislature in February of 1880 and was made up of the same land formerly known as Pearl County. The county seat was relocated from Byrd’s Chapel to a tract of land along the railroad owned by an early landowner named “Poplar” Jim Smith. The seat was named “Poplarville”. His descendants still live in the county. “Poplar” Jim was so named for a stand of Poplar trees on his homestead property. The courthouse was built in 1918 and was inscribed___”Dedicated to all who love truth, justice, and thrift”.
Pearl County lasted only a few years because the building used as the Court House burned, and since the South had recently lost the Civil War, there was simply no tax-base with which to re-build. There was only one white land owner in the new county. His name was “Poplar” Jim Smith who had traded ten bushels of corn to Indians for his claim.
By act of the State Legislature in 1878, Pearl County was abolished and the area went back to Marion and Hancock Counties as it was before the county was formed.
Northern Syndicates later bought large parcels of virgin forest land in the area and with the coming of the railroad in 1884, it brought dynamic changes. Sawmills from Gainesville, Mississippi, which had used the slow Pearl River for transportation, were moved to Nicholson and other places north along the railroad to speed transportation of their products.
By act of the State Legislature in 1880, the county was again formed from portions of Marion and Hancock Counties. This time the single name “Pearl” could not legally be reused, so the word “River” was added by the Legislature to complete the name “Pearl River County.”
A site was chosen for the new county seat which was on the railroad. Since the land was owned by Mr. “Poplar” Jim Smith, the county seat was named Poplarville.
The first court house for Pearl River County was built in 1892.
The same year, a boarding school was also built in Poplarville which was the largest of any similar institution in the state.
In 1900, the town of Lumberton withdrew from Pearl River County and was annexed by Lamar County.
In 1908, Picayune, which was a part of Hancock County, was annexed to Pearl River County.
In 1909, an accredited high school was organized. In 1923, it was made a junior college and was named Pearl River Junior College. Through the years, this junior college has been one of the most prominent in the United States.
When World War I came, the area was buzzing with sawmills. Fortunes were made in the forestry industries. Citrus fruits, strawberries and other farm products were experimented with by a highly innovative and successful business family who lived in Picayune.
Although there was a drastic slow-down caused by the Great Depression of the thirties, World War II brought back high demand for lumber and other forest products.
After World War II, dairies, beef cattle and tung oil products played an important role in local economy.
In the early 1960’s, the National Aeronautical Space Administration (NASA) brought high technology to the area by building the “Mississippi Test Facility,” part of which extends into Pearl River County. This new test facility was constructed to test the first two stages of the Saturn V vehicles for traveling to the moon.
About ten years later, after the Moon Mission was achieved, the Mississippi Test Facility was renamed the “National Space Technology Laboratories” (NSTL).
The U. S. Navy, U. S. Geological Survey, Earth Resources Laboratory, Environmental Protection Agency are among the agencies which demand high technology. Scientists have moved into the area from all over the United States. Of the U. S. civil servants stationed at NSTL, one of eight has a formal education of PhD.D., many of which became residents of Pearl River County.