Mississippi’s Community Heritage Preservation Grant Program breathes life into places that bring people together.
By Amanda Wells
The town of Hazlehurst, Mississippi was once just a small station along the railroad. Over time, Hazlehurst grew into a flourishing agricultural and industrial center. When the New Orleans, Jackson, and Great Northern Railroad was completed in 1858, the town grew quickly before experiencing several Federal raids during the Civil War under the command of Benjamin H. Grierson, who recognized the importance of Hazlehurst as a shipping center. He burned most of the commercial buildings and destroyed railroad tracks.
Hazlehurst incorporated in 1865 and got to work rebuilding businesses and churches. In 1872, Hazlehurst was named the seat of Copiah County. By the 1880s, Hazlehurst’s economy was boosted thanks to the new truck-farming industry. This wealth was evident in the commercial buildings and residential areas built during the time. At the beginning of the 20th century, the truck-farming industry was booming and new businesses were taking hold in the town, resulting in much construction.
In 1907, the Craftsman-style Millsaps Hotel was built and served as the center for community life the bustling downtown. Hazlehurst was positioned as a major produce shipping center and the community was thriving. Other towns took note and competition for shipping and farming became steep. The Great Depression took its toll, and Hazlehurst experienced an economic downturn.
Abandoned and neglected, the Millsaps Hotel sat vacant for many years. One of the few remaining railroad hotels in the state, the hotel is on the National Register of Historic Places and has been designated as a Mississippi Landmark. The hotel was in poor condition, with large holes in the roof causing accelerated deterioration. In 2013, the Mississippi Heritage Trust listed the building as one of Mississippi’s 10 Most Endangered Historic Places.
The Calling Panther Heritage Foundation stepped in, raising money to restore the hotel to its former glory to become a cultural arts center. With widespread community support for the restoration efforts, the Millsaps Hotel was awarded a $176,160 Community Heritage Preservation Grant to replace the roof and repair the porches and windows in 2013, which was matched by $35,232 in local funds. With an additional Community Heritage Preservation Grant of $110,160, which was match by $22,032 in local funds, the exterior restoration was completed in 2017. Since that time, the Calling Panther Heritage Foundation has continued to raise funds to complete the interior renovation.
Since its inception in 2001, more than $42 million has been awarded to 270 projects through the Community Heritage Preservation Grant program. This program helps to restore and interpret historic structures that have been designated as Mississippi Landmarks, like the Millsaps Hotel.
The Community Heritage Preservation Grant Program was started in 2001 and has been funded by the Mississippi Legislature for 12 years. This grant program provides much-needed funds for the restoration of schools, courthouses, and other Mississippi Landmark properties in Certified Local Government communities. Since its inception, the Community Heritage Grant Program has funded 270 restoration projects in 108 communities. The total grant funds allocated to the program are approximately $42,164,865, which was matched by approximately $12,466,552, or 22.8% of the total investment in Mississippi’s historic places of approximately $54,631,417. Grant amounts range from $4,000 for the stabilization of the Governor A.S. Scott Monument in Greenwood Cemetery in Jackson to $1,000,000 for the restoration of the Old Wesson School, which was listed as one of Mississippi’s 10 Most Endangered Historic Places in 2001 and is now a thriving community center. The average Community Heritage Preservation Grant is approximately $156,166 and generates a local match of approximately $46,172. In addition to funding, grant recipients benefit from guidance and technical support from the knowledgeable staff of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History in the restoration process.
“Preservation of history protects the past for the future,” says Jeff Smith, Chairman of Ways & Means for the Mississippi House of Representatives. Smith has been an ardent supporter of preservation programs in the state. “Our children and grandchildren should remember Mississippi from the past as well as the present.”
Update on the 2019 Mississippi Legislative Session:
SB 3065, which has been sent to Governor Bryant for his signature, allocates $5 million dollars for the Community Heritage Preservation Grant Program. HB 1646, which has also been sent to Governor Bryant for his signature, allocated $2 million dollars for the Mississippi Landmark Grant Program. In addition to funding for these grant programs, SB 3049 allocates $250,000 for the Isaiah T. Montgomery House in Mound Bayou.
This is huge win for preservation. Please thank your state senators and representatives for making resources available to save the places that define Mississippi.
To read the Spring 2019 issue of Elevation