Hattiesburg Historic Neighborhood: Hattiesburg, Mississippi
Recognized for its Southern charm, the picturesque Hattiesburg Historic Neighborhood retains many of the bucolic features that helped shape this urban treasure 127 years ago. Streets are lined with mature oaks and crape myrtles, sidewalks connect houses, and porch sitters wave to children on their way to school and engage passersby in conversation.
Neighborhood is bordered by Gordon's Creek to the north, Williams Street and the abandoned Kansas City Southern rail line to the east, Hall Avenue to the south, and the Illinois Central and Norfolk Southern rail lines to the west.
The neighborhood has one of the best collections of Victorian-era houses in Mississippi. It was founded just a few years after Captain William H. Hardy, sent by a rail company to survey the area, was struck by the region's lush forests. He established Hattiesburg as a timber harvesting and shipping center. Originally part of the 1884 Kamper-Whinery Subdivision, the neighborhood was expanded when the E. Katzenstein and Maria Mars subdivisions were platted in 1896 and 1897.
While a sense of neighborliness has long distinguished this community, today it is known also for its activism. The Hattiesburg Historic Neighborhood Association (HHNA), in an attempt to stabilize the neighborhood, has purchased and renovated several properties, including a former school that is now a condominium. Efforts to protect the neighborhood's character have led HHNA to seek redress both at city hall and in the courts.
While Hurricane Katrina devastated much of Hattiesburg's tree cover, this neighborhood fared better. The regular replacement of aging trees left the canopy in Hattiesburg Historic Neighborhood largely intact. Water oaks, initially planted along every street and right-of-way, were afforded protection, along with all other trees on private property, when the area was declared a local historic district in 1986.
The neighborhood's esprit de corps was never more evident than in the aftermath of Katrina. Residents — some of who worked in or owned downtown restaurants — opened freezers to their neighbors. Others transformed patios and porches into open-air dining halls.
Defining Characteristics, Features
Emphasis on natural environment
- First homebuilders plant water oaks along streets and rights-of-way and on private property
- Bay Street, designed as wide boulevard with double rows of watermelon-colored crape myrtles, restored in 1997; modified median is abundant with flowering trees, planted by HHNA
- Local historic district status (1986) prohibits homeowners from removing or altering trees without evaluation by city arborist and review by Historic Conservation Commission
- The 3.2-mile-long Gordon's Creek Linear Park, under development, will connect neighborhood to Leaf River, large city park, zoo, and Longleaf Trace, a 43-mile rails-to-trails project
- Walthall Grounds, site of school repurposed as condos, named state landmark (1988); dedicated as permanent green space. HHNA develops, implements landscape plan (1998)
Planning and preservation
- Neighborhood's 450 structures sited across 23 blocks (115 acres); city's first neighborhood added to National Register of Historic Places (1980); slightly larger area receives local historic district designation (1986)
- More than 90 percent of houses substantially renovated or continuously maintained
- HNNA sues city to require public notice of zoning change requests (1981); settlement calls for posting of conspicuous signs on properties when zoning modifications proposed
- HNNA partners with city to update zoning (1989), eliminating inappropriate multi-family zoning of large, significant houses to prevent intrusion of misplaced commercial and businesses uses
- Residents participate in Hattiesburg Comprehensive Plan 2020 initiative (1998-2000) to ensure inclusion of neighborhood's goals, objectives
- Colonial and Classical Revivals dominate district, along with Queen Anne cottages. Italianate, Mission, Tudor, Late Gothic Revival, International Style, and Art Moderne
- Bungalows, found throughout, used to fill in early open spaces. Juxtaposition of large and small houses enhances district's continuity, character and range of pricing options (sale and rent)
- Most houses on raised piers, feature wide covered porches — some that wrap the entire house — and tall windows and doors; original houses constructed from irreplaceable virgin pine timber
Walkable, close to downtown
- Developed on flat terrain using a traditional grid (1884), neighborhood within easy walk of downtown and train depot
- Wide, well-maintained sidewalks throughout neighborhood
- Traffic calming circles on Walnut Street (1997) and reduction in lanes from four to two on Bay Street (1997) enhance pedestrian safety, encourage foot traffic
- Town Square Park connects neighborhood to historic downtown; hosts events, farmers market
Engaged residents, institutions
- HHNA formed and hosted city's first neighborhood public event — Victorian Candlelit Christmas — to draw attention to home renovations (1976). Neighborhood hosts annual Thanksgiving Potluck, Downtown Crawfish Jam, Night Out Against Crime
- System adopted to report housing code violations; code officer meets periodically with HHNA.
- HHNA purchases and restores properties to stabilize neighborhood; instrumental in redevelopment of former Walthall Elementary School as condominiums (2010)
- Sacred Heart Catholic School, first desegregated school in city, purchased abandoned property (2010) in neighborhood for high school expansion