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SPECIAL | Hattiesburg celebrates 125 years

At the Crossroads
Af ter 125 years,
all roads
- and railroads -
lead to Hattiesburg’s
continued g rowth

T TEXT BY VALERIE WELLS


ARTWORK COURTESY HISTORIC HATTIESBURG DOWNTOWN ASSOCIATION
The right timing created Hattiesburg 125 years
ago. If the timing had been slightly off, the near-
by community of Monroe might have become the
dominant city in the region instead.
“Hattiesburg is a victim of circumstance, a
consequence of geography,” said historian
Andrew English.
He remembers crossing the bridge from Petal
into Hattiesburg one day when he was a boy.
His father told him this was the spot the Leaf
and Bouie rivers came together and that the first
name of the community was Twin Forks. The
Monroe Road in Forrest County.
What Monroe lacked was two railroad lines
crossing.
The Twin Forks community became Gordon’s
Station, a stop along the tracks. It was smaller
than Monroe, but a savvy businessman from
Meridian had a plan in 1880.
William Hardy was sitting under an oak tree
near Gordon’s Creek when it hit him like Isaac
Newton’s apple that this would be a perfect spot
for a city. Perhaps it was more than a dropping
acorn that gave him the idea. A city between
story fascinated English and he started asking Gulfport and Jackson could be profitable.
why. “While resting, Captain Hardy spread a map
Through a lifelong pursuit of local history, he of Mississippi on the ground and studied the
discovered Monroe on the other side of the surveyed line of the New Orleans and North
rivers. Eastern Railroad.,“ the Hattiesburg Historical
Soon after the Choctaw Cession of 1830, white Society says in its literature. “He drew a line
Americans started settling the Piney Woods. Just through the virgin pine forest and intersected
a little northeast of present day Hattiesburg, sev- the New Orleans and North Eastern Railroad
eral veterans of the War of 1812 created the com- where the city of Hattiesburg is now located.”
munity of Monroe. Close to it was Gen. Andrew The city was founded in 1884. Hardy named it
Jackson’s famed military road that cut through for his wife, Hattie, who never visited the city.
this area to New Orleans. The memory of the Trains and lumber created a bustling economy
road and the community is still there on Old in Hattiesburg in the late 1800s. It also brought

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Old photographs and postcards depict life the way it
was in Hattiesburg’s early years.

Opposite, the original Hattiesburg High School was


built around 1921 on Main Street. The building,
which was abandoned years ago after serving as the
Hattiesburg School District’s headquarters for years
after the new high school was built on Hutchinson
Avenue, was gutted by an arsonist’s fire in 2007.
The brick shell remains and architect Larry Albert is
heading up the city’s effort to rebuild it for use as
an arts center with the University of Southern
Mississippi.

Top left, horses and buggies were the main source


of transportation when this photo was taken in front
of the M.L. Thompson Sales Stable in 1912.

Left, horse-drawn carriages line the unpaved Main


Street in this view taken in 1906.

Below, the 500 block of Main Street was bustling in


the 1940s, with the Kress 5 and dime store on the
corner and the Merchants Cafe on the bottom floor
of the Bufkin-Cadenhead bulding. The Albert &
Associates architectural firm is now located in the
renovated building.
Top, traffic was certainly a lot lighter downtown in the trouble. It was a wild west town, English
late 1920s or early 1930s, as this hand-tinted post card contends. Gunfights, murders and illegal
shows. This view of Main Street is looking north from the
activity were rampant.
Front Street intersection. The Kress store and Bufkin-
Cadenhead building are on the left. The Sarphie’s jewel- One notorious example was the famous
ry store sign can be seen on a building across the steet. Sullivan-Kilraine fight at Richburg Hill, the
last heavyweight bare-knuckle champi-
Bottom, Main Street in the early 1900s, looking south onship in the nation. It was illegal and
from the Pine Street intersection. Note the trolley tracks attracted thousands to Hattiesburg in July
in the middle of the street. When a portion of North
1889.
Main Street was dug up and repaved in the 1990s, some
of the old tracks were discovered. The tower of Bay “The crowd was restless and the situa-
Street Presbyterian Church is visible in the distance. tion was ugly,” English writes in his new
book, “Ringside at Richburg.”
“Many fight fans were armed with
revolvers and some of the spectators were
known toughs from Meridian, New
Orleans, St. Louis and Louisville.”
Monroe, however, never had such a sen-
sation.
Because of the railroads and the timber,
Hattiesburg continued to grow. South
Mississippi College - now known as
William Carey University - opened in 1906.
Mississippi Normal College - now called
the University of Southern Mississippi -
opened in 1910.
During World War I and World War II,
Camp Shelby just south of Hattiesburg
became a large training base for soldiers
headed overseas. Thousands of National
Guard troops from around the United
States have trained at Camp Shelby before
heading to Iraq in recent years.
Beginning in the 1970s, the same decade
that saw desegregation in Hattiesburg
schools, the city started expanding west-
ward, with dozens of shopping centers and
subdivisions popping up in the Oak Grove
area. Hattiesburg, the county seat of
Forrest County, gradually annexed parts of
the city that had leaked over into Lamar
County.
The main street in town named for
Hardy cuts a straight line through town
from Gordon’s Creek in downtown to the
now annexed portions of Oak Grove. It’s a
physical timeline of the city’s development.

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