The main road that frames the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi and stretches west from downtown – first through college-town neighborhoods, then past modern suburbs, and ultimately into endless acres of pine forest – is called Hardy Street.
The street is named after Captain William Harris Hardy, a civil engineer who breathed life into a couple rutted dirt roads in 1882 by bringing the railroad through and making the region a hub for transportation and timbering. Only thing was, the burgeoning town needed a name. Turns out Capt. Hardy had a wife back in Meridian, who was as Southern and gentile as a magnolia blossom, and her name was Hattie. And a town was born.
Over the decades since, Hattiesburg has become an oasis in south Mississippi for students and their educators. Entrepreneurs have taken the Southern culinary scene by storm. This city is the heartbeat of health care, and a community of folks who won’t stop until anyone moving into their silver years is engaged, healthy, and has a myriad of learning opportunities.
Favorably situated just 90 minutes by interstate from New Orleans, and the pristine gulf coast beaches of Alabama, Hattiesburg is built on three community pillars: military, education, and a sprawling medical system that provides care to a 19-county region.
While the university itself offers broad continuing education programs, some of its faculty and graduate students also teach at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), part of a nationwide network of centers that offer intellectual and cultural experiences for people in their retirement years. Located on the Southern Miss campus, OLLI boasts 176 annual classes, from beginner arts and crafts to expansive learning field trips to Mackinaw Island, the Biltmore Estate, and even an architectural dig in Scotland.
Thanks to the earnest vision of a handful of local physicians more than 50 years ago, Forrest General Hospital and Hattiesburg Clinic are today a national-class network of four hospitals, eight regional clinics, a sparkling Orthopedics Institute, a new Hospice House, and 60 satellite locations. If the greater Hattiesburg statistical area correctly has a population of 150,000, then likely one of every 16 people in the region works in the health care industry. Suffice to say, you’re in very good hands in the Hub City.
Complementing those two pillars is a bundle of community leaders who throw challenge on their backs and mold it into progress. Among them are Rob and Craig Tatum, real estate entrepreneurs whose great-great-grandfather was a former mayor of Hattiesburg.
Recent projects of theirs include The Claiborne, a top-of-the-line independent-living and assisted living/memory care community offering every possible amenity to its residents. In downtown, the duo has transformed two century-old buildings into stylish residential lofts. And, in the burgeoning Midtown District, they just opened Hotel Indigo Hattiesburg, a luxury property that is part of the InterContinental Hotel Group.
Says Rob, “For generations, Hattiesburg has been very good to our family, so our goal now is to spare no expense in giving back to the community. If there is an extra dollar to be spent to ensure quality, we will spend it.”
Certainly the most visible of Hattiesburg’s community leaders is 36-year old Mayor Toby Barker, a former state legislator whose youthful exuberance is contagious. Mayor Barker recently established the first Director of Customer Service position, a unique role, indeed, for government.
The city’s culinary credibility is embodied largely in the native soul of Robert St. John, a nationally acclaimed restaurateur, author of 10 books, a Cooking Channel celebrity chef, and owner of five local restaurants, including Tabella, Crescent City Grill, and Purple Parrott (where the bread pudding is heavenly), all located in midtown near the Southern Miss campus.
And, there is much more to recommend Hattiesburg for a visit or longer. A certified retirement community, Hattiesburg was ranked one of the “8 Tax Friendliest Towns” in America. And, its 25-block downtown Historic Neighborhood District has one of the best collections of Victorian-era houses in Mississippi and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Also on the National Register is the Saenger Theater, opened in 1929 and a rare example of a vintage Art Deco-style vaudeville and movie theater. Downtown is also said to be home of the first guitar riffs of rock and roll and boasts a live music scene that some say rivals Austin, TX.
The Hattiesburg Zoo is regarded as the #1 tourism destination in the state and houses 100 animal species, plus interactive educational programs, a High Ropes Adventure Course, and train and carousel rides. The city has also reclaimed 44 miles of historic rail line and transformed them into the Longleaf Trace, a 10-foot-wide paved trail for biking, hiking, bird watching, and more.
You just might even run into gun-slinging Super Bowl champ and legendary Southern Miss quarterback Brett Favre at the hardware store. He’s the kind of hero you could name a town after. But, the gentile, magnolia blossom that is Miss Hattie has a much nicer ring to it.