Hattiesburg Historic Neighborhood (HHN), is located south and southeast of Historic Downtown Hattiesburg, and west of the Leaf River. Within its borders is a smaller area that is the area listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). HHN is a well-maintained, 23-block area comprising approximately 450 structures within 115-acres that is remarkable because of its size, cohesiveness, compactness and the high percentage of architecturally significant structures.
Hattiesburg Historic Neighborhood presents a showcase of the development of a timber town in Southeast Mississippi. The neighborhood, founded in 1884, retains much of the appearance it acquired during its historical development by founders of the city. The condition of the district’s structures ranges from fair to excellent. Very few houses are vacant and beginning to deteriorate. Some descendants of those founders have continued to maintain several of the homes in this area. While a number of residences were always well maintained, acquisition and restoration of key houses since the early ‘80’s ignited the revitalization of HHN.
In 1980 the neighborhood was listed with the National Register of Historic Places as the Hattiesburg Historic Neighborhood District. This was the first area in Hattiesburg to receive that recognition, closely following the registration of Hattiesburg Historic Downtown District. Registration of North Main Historic Neighborhood District, The Oaks District, Downtown District Expansion and Parkhaven District followed. Since the formation of the Hattiesburg Historic.
Neighborhood Association in 1976, over 90 percent of the houses have either been substantially renovated or continuously maintained.
A dominant feature of the neighborhood is the dense tree canopy punctuated by pocket parks and the larger, park-like lots. The trees have always been a distinguishing feature as the first homebuilders and owners planted water oaks along every street and right-of-way as well as additional trees on their properties.
Protection and replacement of trees as a planned activity started at the beginning and continues today.
The designation of HHN as a local historic district also has protection of trees on private property in addition to protection of significant landscapes: homeowners cannot change or remove either without review by the Historic Commission and evaluation by the City Arborist.
Hattiesburg Historic Neighborhood Association was organized in 1976 by homeowners, who recognized the need to protect themselves from inappropriate changes to structures and green space. They wanted to draw attention to this large collection of houses that showcased the Piney Woods and railroad history of the city, being threatened by actions from city and business officials. One of their first actions was to hold the first candlelighting as a local observance of the nation’s bicentennial and to draw visitors to the area to see its potential.
One constant and immediate threat was to protect the neighborhood from absentee property owner zoning changes for inappropriate commercial use or modify larger historic homes for multi-family use. City officials could change zoning at an owners’ request with the only notice to the public being fine-print legal notices in the newspaper.
In 1981 HHN sued the City to require posting of conspicuous signs on the property itself when zoning changes were proposed. The City conceded in a settlement, and consequently, HHN was able to send representatives to all City Planning Commissions meetings when neighborhood changes were being considered. HHN action provided valuable citizen input that prevented all such inappropriate changes in the following years.
In the years to come, other organized neighborhoods, especially historic districts, took up the same policies. In 1988-89 HHN provided input to city planners and to the Planning Commission in the City’s revision of the zoning map. HHN sought to keep the primarily residential character of the neighborhood and to have existing use be validated with zoning law. The new map was adopted in 1989, making unnecessary the constant trips to Planning Commission meetings to fight inappropriate changes.
Today residents of the neighborhood include descendants of the city’s first families as well as newcomers of all ages from retirees to newlyweds. The neighbors remain united in their objectives of preserving the architectural integrity of the neighborhood, attracting new residents and informing area citizens about the historic significance of the neighborhood and the importance of the revitalization and preservation of its houses.
Early founders of the neighborhood who where historically prominent citizens who built houses and resided in the neighborhood include: Dr. T.E. Ross (416 Bay Street) owner of the Central Business District’s Ross Building and a founder of Methodist Hospital; J.P. Carter (502 Court Street) owner of the Central Business District’s Carter Building, president of First National Bank or Commerce and city alderman 1889; George Komp (122 Short Bay) owner of Komp Machine Works; W.M. Conner (106 Short Bay) local merchant, developer, alderman 1888, and mayor of Hattiesburg 1889-90; J.S. Turner (500 Bay Street) local land owner, lumberman, alderman 1899-1900 and organizer of the First National Bank of Commerce; W.W. Crawford (301 Court Street) founder of the South Mississippi Infirmary; F.B. Woodley (415 Walnut Street) superintendent of schools; Abner Polk, (730 River Avenue) alderman 1899-1900 and liveryman; Michael Rowan (401 Bay Street) roadmaster for the New Orleans and Northeastern and Mississippi Central Railroads; Paul B. Johnson Jr. and Sr. (Bay Street- house no longer there) Governors of Mississippi.
In 1995, the Hattiesburg Historic Neighborhood Association purchased the Walthall school and grounds from the Hattiesburg Public School District. The Neighborhood Association created Walthall Foundation, Inc., a 501(c)(3) entity, to own and operate the building and to provide for its future use and development. The Foundation made improvements to the building and grounds and worked with a number of tenants. The Foundation subsequently deeded the property to Interaction Factory for development of a hands-on children;s science and art museum.
When the Walthall Foundation again received the title to this property in November of 2005 after the Interaction Factory became inactive, one of the first actions by the Walthall Board was to develop goals and objectives for the Walthall School property. The Board concluded that continued ownership and operation of this facility was beyond the scope of their resources and desires for ongoing management. In 2006, Walthall Foundation sold the property to Walthall Development, LLC for the development of condominiums that would maintain the Mississippi Landmark status of the building and National Register status as required by law.
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