Hattiesburg celebrates city hall’s 100th anniversary

(Photo source: WDAM)
(Photo source: WDAM)
Published: Jan. 19, 2023 at 12:00 PM CST
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HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) - On Thursday, at 10 a.m., Hattiesburg Mayor Toby Barker released a video proclamation declaring the 100th anniversary of the Hattiesburg City Hall building, located at 200 Forrest Street in downtown Hattiesburg.

To commemorate the occasion, content featuring the history of the building will be shared across the City’s social media channels throughout the following week. The celebration will end with a special reception on Thursday, Jan. 26, starting at 5 p.m. at city hall.

Former elected officials, past and present city employees and the general public are invited to attend.

“We commemorate this day, Jan. 19, 2023, as the 100th anniversary of Hattiesburg City Hall, and we encourage all citizens and visitors to honor the contributions of past local leaders like Mayor Batson, Mayor W.S.F. Tatum and others who gave the best of their talents and energies to our community, to remember that City Hall was the seat of local government that belongs to all people of Hattiesburg and to share in the excitement of our beloved city’s future,” said Barker.

“We know there are many more chapters in our story to write for generations and centuries to come,” Barker added. “We hope our neighbors, friends and those who have a tie to this incredible building choose to join us on Thursday, Jan. 26, as we take a look at the past, revisit memories of those who have come before us and use it all to be excited about the future.”

- History of the current city hall

As early as 1915, the Hattiesburg Civic Improvement Committee of the Commercial Club began discussing the need for a new city hall building. The first city hall, which was a two-story brick building at the corner of Forrest Street and W Pine Street – in the current location of the Forrest Towers building, was constructed in the late 1890s.

Due to the aggressive growth of Hattiesburg in the years leading up to World War I, many community members saw the urgent need for a larger and more modern building to serve residents.

In November of 1920, the City passed a bond issue that included the construction of a new City Hall at the cost of $100,000.

After meeting with several prominent local architects, officials chose Hattiesburg Architect, Robert Lee, to design the building. By September of 1921, Lee was ready to present the nearly complete plans for the city hall to the city commissioners.

Mississippi Department of Archives and History documents describe the building as:

With a lot of excitement about the plans, a local newspaper, the Hattiesburg American, described the sentiment as follows:

“’(it) will be one of the finest municipal buildings in the state. The people of Hattiesburg are greatly interested in this new building and the appearance of the City will be markedly changed at the corner of Forrest and Front streets when this building is finished.’

Aside from being one of the finest and most expensive buildings in Mississippi, this city hall will be the most conveniently arranged public building in the South…having the fire department, jail, and police force in one building. The second floor, which will be occupied by the city collection department, will be arranged in bank form with separate windows for separate collections. From the jail to the courtroom will be a stairway so that prisoners can be brought to and from a trial without being seen by the public. The dominating feature of the new building will be the modern equipment and absolute convenience.”

In December of 1921, a Hattiesburg American article cited that C.O. Eure won the bid for the job of building the new municipal building and was slated to begin soon.

In January of 1922, Mayor T.E. Batson stated to the paper that plans were also being made to improve the appearance of the corner, opening the alley between the city hall and post office (old federal building), widening Forrest Street by ten feet and paving Forrest and Front Streets.

Unfortunately, by the spring of 1922, Batson became ill and passed away on July 1 due to complications from Bright’s disease.

A Hattiesburg American editorial shortly following the death of Batson stated:

It was decided that Batson’s name would be placed on the dedication stone along with Commissioners McAuley and Estes. These dedication stones are still located on the entryway of the building to this today.

W.S.F. Tatum was soon elected mayor, and his administration would be the first to occupy the new city hall.

On November 2, 1922, the original project’s team took another blow when the contractor, Eure, passed away unexpectedly from stroke complications. The building was mostly finished, but, like Batson, Eure would not survive to see it to completion.

On January 19, 1923, Mayor Tatum, Commissioners Estes, McAulay and city staff officially moved into the building and adopted Ordinance #703 designating the building at 200 Forrest St. as the Hattiesburg City Hall.

Despite the short distance, Tatum led a parade of sorts from the courtroom of the old city hall to the courtroom of the new city hall. During his speech, he urged the occupants of the new building to keep it in its present spotless condition and to request all who entered to respect it as the temple of the city.

(Photo source: WDAM)
(Photo source: WDAM)

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