Though only one city has ever been my home, it doesn’t mean that I didn’t grow up, so to speak, in other places. My family never strayed far from the tried and true, so places were visited over and over again. Those places ended up feeling like an extension of our home. We’d explored them so much that after a relatively short amount of time, we knew these places like the back of our hands.
There were one time ventures to various other places like Disney World, St. Augustine, Colonial Williamsburg, San Antonio, Savannah, Sanibel Island, Destin, etc. However, those weren’t our typical excursions, whether to visit family or to stay on holiday. So, I thought I’d talk a little about all of the places where I grew up. But, first I’ll talk about my hometown.
This is the city that I was born in, and where I have always called home. My parents didn’t settle here until their mid twenties. They first lived in a trailer over by where the main movie theatre is now. That is where The Sister was born. Then they purchased a small home in a family neighbourhood. Eight months before I was born, when The Sister was still five years old, my family moved into our current house.
The Sister would go on to live in other places around town, as well as a stint in a completely different state and another country, but would end up moving back in here. However, I have never left. I’ve switched between rooms, but that’s the extent of my moving experiences. So, yes, my entire family all still live together in the only home that I have ever known. Most people think that it is weird, but as the house is quite large, it’s almost like we’re flat mates as opposed to all cooped up in a small house.
My parents needed more space in the purchase of their second home. This was too much space, but as we had lots of family friends, as well as relatives that would be coming to visit, it didn’t seem so vast. Also the price was exceptionally good, better than the cost of the size home they were previously in. Why? People thought it was haunted. I couldn’t tell you whether it was or whether it wasn’t, but we obtained a rather ginormous house because of it.
And while it’s still a benefit as we’re not constantly on top of each other, with a lack of family friends, relatives no longer living, and our parents nearing seventy, it is entirely too big to manage. But it is completely paid for and my parents do not wish to move.
When I was really young, Hattiesburg wasn’t all that different to how it was since the 1950s. My parents grew up near here, so while they didn’t move here until the early seventies, they had been visiting the area with their families.
The downtown area wasn’t as thriving as in the fifties and sixties, but it was not dead like it would be by the late eighties. Though some expansion had happened westwards into what is now considered midtown, that is where it stopped and most business was still done downtown.
While The Sister experienced life before the mall; with Woolworth, JC Penny and Sears all downtown, it wasn’t too much of a change by the time I arrived. The mall opened on the edge of the downtown area, and really midtown, where The University of Southern Mississippi is located didn’t have a whole lot there except things from the fifties and sixties for the college students. A petrol station, a hamburger joint, and a bank.
When I was a kid, we were always going downtown, and really midtown was just considered the edge of downtown. Everything west of HWY 49 that runs through the city was considered uptown and everything east of it was downtown. Now, as far east as Kamper Park and the Hattiesburg Zoo are considered midtown on the border of downtown.
Anyways, my dad’s business was just three blocks east of HWY 49, and there were two banks we would visit. The one a few blocks further east of his shop that is now closed and then the main branch that was in downtown proper. We grocery shopped in the downtown area, the mall was downtown, the electronics store where we purchased our colour console television as well as being the only “video” rental place, was also located downtown. I say “video” with quotes, because it was pre VHS. These were Video Discs, the precursor to Beta and VHS, and more similar to Laser Disc in sheer size.
If you wanted appliances you went downtown, if you wanted to visit the zoo and the park, you went downtown. So, there was still a rather lively downtown area that we were constantly venturing into on a day-to-day basis.
While my parents’ first home was situated in what is now considered mid-town and was on the east side of HWY 49, our current home is far west of that area; just west of HWY 59, and this area is considered West Hattiesburg or uptown, however when we moved here there was nothing here but a few homes, one lone petrol station and one blinking red light at the main intersection denoting it as a four-way stop.
We were outside of the city until the late 80’s when a few strip malls opened up across the intersection from where we live. You could rent movies, there was a craft store, a drug store, a second petrol station, a McDonald’s, and a grocery store. It was still isolated in relative wilderness, whereas now this is one of the busiest and most congested intersections in the entire city. Where the newest, major strip mall is that contains Target, that is where some family friends lived until the mid nineties.
Church was different. If you read one of my previous post, you’ll know that we did not attend church with dad all that much, but his church is downtown, on the southern outskirts. There is a Catholic church downtown, but one was built on the backside of USM for college students in the sixties, but by the seventies, families were allowed to attend, which is the church I grew up in. Both dad’s church and my childhood church now have expanded out west to the Oak Grove community area; mainly because this city grew too large and in such a short amount of time. So, now there are two Mormon churches and three Catholic one’s in town. Even Baptist churches have left downtown and moved out to West Hattiesburg or Oak Grove; either a complete move or an expansion.
While The Sister and I did both attend school from Kindergarten to 12th grade out in Oak Grove, it was only because we are in a different county from Hattiesburg and thus don’t fall under the cities jurisdiction. Which is nice and also not nice at times. It was only a tiny bit farther away to get to Oak Grove than the Hattiesburg Public Schools (which are lots of schools dotted throughout the city), so that’s not really an issue, but we aren’t included in the city’s garbage pick up, nor their recently included recycling pick up. We are also not allowed to vote.
We are governed by Hattiesburg City Council, but are not allowed to have any say so in who is voted in or what they do. We can not vote anything Hattiesburg City or County related. While we can vote certain things for the county that we are in, it does not include city officials, etc for the seat of that county in Purvis. We basically can only vote sheriffs, school superintendents, coroner and whoever falls under our county or area for state and federal government representatives.
Being on the border, also means that the police have no idea whose jurisdiction we fall into, so generally both the Hattiesburg Police and our counties Sheriffs are called on the scene. Once was for people stealing, another was the neighbour’s house where the door was open but no one was home, but most times it’s because people have auto accidents on our road. A lot. They always have. It’s because they fly through here and we’re at the top of hill that leads to a winding curve. People have slammed into the woods beside our house, flipped their cars on the guardrails, plowed right through the neighbour’s house on several occasions, ended up in the ditches, and once flew into our yard and struck our tree.
The county deciding, sometime in the nineties, to have the neighbourhood pay for the street lights wasn’t good. Apparently everyone figured the high cost per month was worth it. We were in charge of the main one that is needed for the main road. We opted out because it was too expensive. So, it’s our fault, but really they should never have had any of us pay. Now no one has to pay for it anymore, but the county took down the light pole at the edge of our property and that would cost them money to reinstall. They should just eat it and install a new light pole since it was all their decision in the first place. They shelled out quite a few dollars to reinforce the guard rail and put up massive, reflective arrow signs to tell people that there is still a curve. They still need a light.
However, being in the county means we don’t have to deal with all the red tape that the city folk do. We do not need a permit to have a yard sale, we don’t have to pay for that permit and permission, and we can have one for longer than a day. We are allowed to have a yard sale every day of the year if we wanted to. We also could open a business in our basement, which we did open a coffee house. That is not something that is even remotely allowed in the city due to zoning. But also there is no leash law in the county and that is troublesome, because dogs can attack you on the walking trail, and then those dogs would have to be put down, or the dogs can get hit more easily by cars. It’s no bueno for sure. We’re not allowed to sale or distribute alcohol in the county, unless it is a section that was overtaken by the city, but that’s not really an issue for us, as we’re not looking to own a bar. Ever.
Anywho. While I do live in the county and attended the county school I was never an Oak Grover. I remember skipping school with some girls, all of whom were highly familiar with all of the country back roads out there. I was completely lost. Though I set about to familiarize myself better with that area it is still considerably lacking. However, I knew every which way of Hattiesburg while those girls didn’t.
By the late 80’s, the downtown area started dying. It hit rock bottom about the mid 90’s. It has had a resurgence since the early 2000s, but it’s tricky. I know people who live out here that would like to go shopping and to events held downtown, but overall, the area is rather snarky. Downtowners stay downtown and detest anything to do with any other part of the city. Which I don’t buy, as you know they’re shopping at some sort of craft store and some sort of home improvement store. You know they’re coming up here, even though they claim that they don’t.
They also are highly territorial and while they say they want people frequenting the area, they also really don’t. They will, for the most part, snub you if you’re not up to scratch. They also are sketchy with advertising, and most of the time you only hear about something after it is over.
When I was kid though, things weren’t really like that. I suppose because there wasn’t all that much outside of downtown. My mother would take The Sister and I to all sorts of plays at the Saenger Theatre. It’s even where our dance recitals were held. The post office down there was the only one until about 1989. The library has always been downtown, even though they have a new one and have expanded to two nearby area’s, they’re still down there. There weren’t any banks out this way; the closest one’s were on the edge of what was then downtown, though now is considered mid-town. The few restaurants we had were down that way.
I will admit that the downtown people have really done a lot to make the area snazzy again. The mayor even had a lot of nice street lights installed. I do think his main concern should have been with the sewer, but still it was really nice. Buildings that were falling into a derelict state have been saved.
One is the old Ross or America Building at the corner of Market and Front Street. It was never much to look at in my lifetime, and by the mid-late 90s it was in terrible disrepair. They were apartments. The paint was peeling, the pipes were rusting. It is really what you imagine a sort of tenement hovel to be in the dodgy, less polished part of New York City or something. Only the first three floors were “livable”. The other two floors had no electricity, holes in the floors, windows busted out.
But everyone went there and braved the mildew and the dark unknown to gain the roof. It afforded a spectacular view of our tiny city and a place to be alone. I remember on a few occasions meeting tenants of the building on their roof top and being invited back to their apartments. This is starting to sound weird and sketchy, but it wasn’t. Pretty much they just showed us the slum they were living in without ever saying it was a slum, saying it was nice to meet us and that was that. Most people I think that lived in the building were college students. The ones we ever met were at any rate.
I’m sure the building’s owner wouldn’t have been too thrilled knowing that teenagers were trooping up to his roof top, but nobody else ever seemed to care and it seems like it was some sort of long-standing tradition with Hattiesburg kids in the teen to twenties range to get to the top and just hang out. Though now they are luxury lofts up top, with an art space and a boutique store on the lower floor. You can’t gain the rooftop now unless you live in one of the luxury flats.
I’m sure current or past residents older than I could remember the “good old days” when everything was polished and new downtown, but I don’t remember that. I remember it being a little rough around the edges and dingy, and now I see it as a lot lovelier.
The train depot still has the same architectural foot print that it’s always had, but all of it was basically unused and falling apart except for the tiny portion still allotted towards train travel. The city was granted funds to revitalize the train station in the 2000s. It looks wonderful, except that only that same small portion is still in continual use as the passenger and ticket area for Amtrak. The other portions are rented out, so that’s a bit sad, but I suppose I can see the logic in that, since train travel is not a big thing here anymore.
Also sad is that I’ve only ever used our train station once. In first grade we had the best school field trips. One was taking the train up to Laurel and eating lunch in the park before the return train trip. I did travel by train another time, to get to Washington, D.C., however, we boarded the train in Laurel on that occasion.
Another thing that’s had a bit of a spiff-up is the Saenger Theatre. One of my first times in it, was on another first grade field trip. I know I’d been in it before, mainly for dance recitals, but this was the first time without my parents and only one of the very firsts for even being there. I don’t remember what we saw or did, I really only remember sitting directly below the balcony and being happy to be there.
It was not in too bad of shape when I was really young. It had gone through a tough time since it’s opening in 1929, but I believe in the seventies they started doing work in it after it had been abandoned. However, by the late nineties in was in really bad shape. The Sister and I were no longer participating in dance classes and our mother hadn’t taken us to see anything in a while, so I’m not sure if those things were even still happening. But there was a local newspaper directed towards everything music and younger people in their twenties called The Wag. They decided to have a two-day music fest with all the local bands.
I think it might have been a disaster. While I wasn’t there through the entirety of those two days, I was there for most of it and well… not a lot of people attended. At all. I purposefully sat in the balcony, so as to not have people bothering me and because I hadn’t been up there in a very long time. I could see everything that was happening below and it was just sort of dead. Besides the music fest being dead, so was the Saenger. It was looking pretty beat up by this point; rather old and tired. It made me sad.
While they did change a few things in the foyer area’s like switching the women’s toilet area completely and doing more of an Art Deco theme. This place was originally a sort of dialed down fancy opulence and not the very bold Deco that it is today, but it doesn’t bother me. It’s alright. I’ve never been in the balcony since they redid the Saenger in the 2000s, so I’m not even sure if they’ve redone that area or not, but they probably did. The upper foyer area, as well as the theatre itself are basically the same, just in spit spot condition and no longer dilapidated.
I’ve seen this little town grow too big for its britches in such a short amount of time. The city abandoned downtown, moved past mid-town and built up our area and beyond; they are still wanting to land grab even further west, past Oak Grove and into the small community of Bellevue. I remember going to get my very first cat when I was ten. It took us twenty minutes to get out to Bellevue and it was nothing but country. Now, it’s hard to find even a small stretch along that route that doesn’t have a business.
In high school, the only thing major that was west of me was Walmart. It really wasn’t bad, traffic wise, but as someone who slept in as late as possible and then wanted to get all the way out to her school this wasn’t an option for me. When The Sister was in high school she could take the major road west, without fear of cops or traffic. Oak Grove road was just on the other side of the highway to me, but lots of Oak Grove students living along that stretch, so there were parents and buses. Fourth Street was on my side, and was the easiest and quickest route to school.
Old houses and buildings that I had taken photo’s of in the nineties were demolished. My dad’s old shop was torn down to build a Good Will, because they too moved out of the downtown area. Any back area’s were quickly discovered by drivers, so while the main thoroughfares are clogged, so are the back ways. We even have helicopters and live traffic reporting now. Which, I suppose is needed, but still freaks me out. This is something only for L.A., right?
But to any down points, there have been good ones. I’ve mentioned the Saenger theatre and the America Building, but they’re not the only places. A corner lot downtown near this 1920s grand castle looking funeral home was a church that burnt down a long time ago. It’s always been a vacant and unused parcel of land. Since the late 90’s/early 2000s, they turned it into a park. It’s really quite lovely. They show films there in warmer months, have mini festivals, yoga, and a farmers market.
The old, unused railway tracks that run from downtown, up between Fourth and Sevenths Streets, have been taken up and paved over to make a walking, biking, nature trail; called the Long Leaf Trace or The Rails to Trails Program. These were never passenger rails, only cargo, and hadn’t been used since the sixties. It runs through several communities out towards the west, and is just a tad over forty miles. The site is a little weird, but from there you can see photo’s of how pretty it is, as well as all the info about it. The site states that from my area to USM is not completed, but it is. It has been for several years now. They’ve been working on stretching from USM more towards downtown, which most of that is completed now as well.
We have a nice little visitors center on HWY 49 N. We never had a visitor’s center before. I will say that I don’t like that everything is so Hattie-centric though. The guy who basically founded the lumber community here, and later parts of the town was Captain Hardy, whom our main thoroughfare is named after. His wife’s name was Hattie. There is one photo in the archives that may or may not be her, and a line that says that Hattie was Hardy’s wife, yet this town has run rampant with it. Hattie says this or Hattie says that. I believe in Hattie. I’d rather that our very cheesy city mascot were Yancy the Yeti or Alfred the Alligator or Mort the Mongoose or something other than this Hattie person, but oh well.
I also don’t like that all the hipster kids want us to be hamburgers. No seriously. No one’s really certain what to call people from Hattiesburg. I’ve always said Hattiesburgian, as did other people I knew/know. But no one’s really cared much until now. They want us to be Hattiesburgers and there are even hipster T-shirts with hamburgers on them, with a moustache. Yes, I am rolling my eyes, though you can’t tell. Right now there is a voting contest to see what we’ll be officially called. I’m absolutely serious. Apparently now that voting is finished, someone cited a 1908 newspaper publication where we referred to ourselves as Hattiesburgans. It’s better than burger, I think. I quite liked the option of Hattiesburgonian, because that’s so far removed from my every day. Needless to say that beyond Hattiesburgers or ‘Burgers, I was also not thrilled with H-towners, Hatts, Burgonians, or Burgonites.
Speaking of us expanding too rapidly, ten years ago I couldn’t meet people who’d even heard of Hattiesburg, much less have driven through it. Now, I can’t meet people who don’t think they’re experts on the city because they’ve driven through a couple of times or lived here for a year, or were residents twenty or so years ago. Those people still think of this place as the po-dunk-ville they remember, so don’t believe us when we tell them what has changed or that they can’t get to such and such from so and so way now. They do what they always did and then exclaim “Woah! This town has really changed! It was difficult getting to such and such…” Yeah, no shit, we tried to tell you that but for some reason you know more about this town that you haven’t even been to in fifteen or twenty years, than we do who still live here.
There was one girl, we were caravaning with her on a trip. She leaves our house and goes to the main red light and is sitting in the straight lane, yet we wanted to be turning left to gain the highway. We tell her politely that she’s in the wrong lane. Perhaps she doesn’t know. She was snappy and waspish claiming she lived here for two years while attending the university so she should know what she’s doing. She should, true, but she didn’t, but some how it was all how dare we!
Since 1978, those lanes have never changed. They’ve changed considerably with in the last few years, but back in 2006, they were exactly the same as they’d always been. She was here in the mid – late nineties, which means she can’t understand arrow signs apparently. She was claiming that this was always a straight/left turn lane. We’d lived here for twenty-six continuous years, having this as our red light. She was here for all of two years, not a native of the area, and hadn’t been back in the past ten, yet we were idiots.
That shit, man! That type of things just burns me up. I would never have wished her to wreck, but it’s drivers like her that cause them. Turning left while straight lanes are trying to do their thing! But I so wish a cop would have pulled her over that day to tell her that she was wrong in the moment and had always been wrong. Acting like we don’t know our own town AND putting all other drivers/her own passengers in danger! What the hell, lady?! What the actual hell is wrong with you?
I wonder if half the wrecks now at that intersection aren’t her popping up for a visit and being her old arrogant and well, let’s face it, stupid self.
Also, where driving is concerned, it’s always been 25 MPH in school districts during certain times of the day. It still is. They used to have these make-shift tire rims with wooden signs attached that they’d shimmy out into the road everyday and back out again during those times. On Hardy Street they installed a red flashing light into the area and it turns on during the times that school children will be crossing. They have also finally installed permanent signs in the middle of the roads where any schools are.
I think this is a fine idea. They still have the crossing guards there and there are motorcycle cops patrolling the area, because people still do not wish to slow down. Which would be ridiculous to me to begin with, but I remember once, at that Hardy Street crossing, where a kid on a bike was mowed over by a truck. It was terrible. I think he was OK, as the truck was on big tires, but still he was pretty banged up.
However, what I don’t like in concern with speed limits and school crossings is for USM on the back side at fourth street. There is student crossing across Hardy Street at red lights. The speed limit is always 35 MPH. On Fourth Street, however, they have taken this long stretch and made it 15 MPH every single day of the week and from 6 AM until 11 PM at night. I don’t know of anyone who has been hit, thankfully, though it has come close to that as people will not go 15 on that road and do not wish to stop and wait for the students at their cross walks.
USM should have used their budget to build a sky way crossing instead of funneling it into their renowned rose garden, the new fabulous entrance or towards football. I can get on board with the first two, as those are nice and all, but really a sky way for students to cross safely, not almost be hit, and not have everybody else continually driving 15 would have been fantastic!
The University and the main hospital have expanded quite a bit, which both have its positives and negatives. The hospital is gaining job opportunities as well as specialized practices for women’s health, cancer, diabetes, etc. But they are eating up the north-eastern edges of the Thames neighbourhood. Even if they haven’t torn down your home, the ginormous hospital is also now your only view.
While my family always loved traveling through the University when I was a kid, it was also a time period when that was actually feasible. My mom took the route as a short cut as well as for nostalgic purposes. By the time I was enrolled in 1999, there were too many pedestrian students and too many cars zooming through the interior of the campus. So, it actually is a nicer campus without cars in the interior.
They also expanded onto the Union so now have more eating and book store area’s for the students. They invested funds in the theatre department. Of course all the old theatre kids miss the way it was, The Sister included. A tiny WWII era barracks building as the main area, with design workshops scattered throughout the campus, storage underneath the stadium and using the music students’ theatre. But, it is nice that the new building is all-inclusive, with a black box, an arena and a thrust theatre, as well as classrooms, workshop area’s and storage.
The University is also almost finished with the new building for medical students and just completed their bigger and better health clinic. I visited the old one, it was super super tiny. They’ve also invested in better family housing, though I liked the look of them when my mom visited someone in the early eighties, but they were old by that time as well, and incredibly small. Also newer dorms for students, which is nice.
Also, there was only one large dorm for the sorority girls. It was considered, in Mississippi, to be a brothel if more than a certain amount of girls shared an actual house together. So, each sorority has an actual house in a certain area now, just like the fraternities do, instead of the very tiny and very outdated building all of the sororities were forced into. But, it does mean they keep taking over land on Fourth Street, along the HWY 49 service road, and to the west into neighbourhoods. But, I suppose that’s just how things need to be.
There is still a huge problem with parking on campus for commuters not living on the property. Closing the interior took parking away, and the new parking garage at the back of campus, didn’t really help. It merely supplied about the same amount of parking as what was taken away, but it is a nice start. Perhaps the parking lot next to it should also be a parking garage, that would help.
They will also lose the parking they have across Hardy Street, as this area is going to be a new midtown development with a hotel, restaurants and shopping. Seems nice enough, but also, won’t it just clog up the traffic in that area even more than it already is. Honestly, they’ve not expanded the roads enough to withstand all the traffic in the city as it is. They’ve done some improvements, but they are still lagging far behind with the demand.
In conclusion, I want to still love my city, and there are nice things to love about it, but overall I’m not really all that satisfied with what it’s turning into. Downtown is snazzy, but a bit waspish. They want people but don’t want to really accept people. The art council only chooses the same type of art to display over and over again, even importing non local art work to show off, rather than actually showcasing local artists.
It’s growing and there are good and poor points about that. They don’t want to worry with parts of the city that they actually own, and instead want to keep expanding west until they hit Columbia 30 miles away from us. It’s growing too quickly and in quite a shambled and haphazard way. It sometimes feels like there are Chimps running all of the details of the city. I’m thinking Chimpanzee’s might actually do a better job.
They keep expanding outwards and building more and more apartments to house all of the people who want to live here, but won’t fix anything like lane widening or infrastructure first. If they keep cramming people in the way that they are, the city will explode, and not in a good way.
They’ve kept outdated stop lights and times. So there are stop lights every mile, when now with the amount of people, this should be lessened. Also the main road has a go time of five to seven or ten minutes, yet the streets that meet it get two minutes, thus causing a whole lot of congestion on these side roads as well as that traffic merging onto the main roads.
Basically they are trying to be L.A. or San Antonio or Atlanta without the space or the adjustments. They just want to grow to gain tax revenue which they should turn around and invest in the city, but somehow aren’t actually doing that.
I really, really like things about my hometown. I even like that Yoga is no longer considered scary, that there is a Target, various ethnic cuisines like Cuban, Thai, and Indian now and that coffee houses actually stay in business. Basically our town is turning into the capital, Jackson. Back in the eighties and nineties we liked traveling to the big city to shop and eat at all the cool places, but knew that it was too overcrowded and cramped for our tastes. We wouldn’t want to live there, though visiting was always OK. Now we’re in it and well, we don’t want to be. We want to be like most of the people who invade Hattiesburg on a daily basis. The people in the outlying communities who get to enjoy all the fun things without dealing with the mess on a day-to-day basis.
I think that if I were to leave and not come back, that I would be OK with that, which sort of makes me sad, but at the same time also feels a bit freeing. I remember people always wanting to run away because there was nothing to do here. There’s still not really anything to do here, but it is a large city by this state’s standards, and now I’m the one who wants to flee because most of the time it just gives me a headache.