HED: Tupelo landmark to go back up soon
By Marty Russell
A Tupelo landmark will soon be returning to its place of prominence in the city.
The blue-and-white, arrow-shaped Tupelo sign that has pointed toward the city’s business district for about 60 years will soon return to its post at the city’s Crosstown intersection. The sign had been removed for safekeeping last year when construction work began on the intersection. It has been stored at the Water & Light Department while the work has been under way.
While there was some talk of not putting the sign back up after it was removed or replacing it with something more modern, Tupelo Mayor Jack Marshall said the original sign will be reinstalled.
“So many people see that as a traditional landmark,” Marshall said of the sign that reads “TUPELO” in red neon surrounded by a green neon border around the sign itself. The sign also reads “BUSINESS DISTRICT” and “FIRST TVA CITY.”
“We wouldn’t change it,” Marshall said. “The last time we took it down, we got besieged by calls from people who thought we needed it.”
The sign was last removed about eight years ago for some refurbishing work, according to Boyd Yarbrough of the city’s Public Services Department.
Built to last
While the sign touts Tupelo as the first city to receive electricity from the Tennessee Valley Authority, it was commissioned by the city several years after the TVA contract was signed in 1933.
“It wasn’t up at the time of the tornado,” Gilbert Lothorp, a longtime sign maker in Tupelo, said, referring to the 1936 storm that leveled most of the city. He said he thought the sign was installed prior to the start of World War II.
However, Louise Godwin, daughter of J.P. Nanney who was mayor at the time the TVA contract was signed, said she was told by the city’s Water & Light Department that the sign was erected on April 30, 1945, at a cost of $438.37.
Lothorp, 75, said the city purchased the sign from the Balton Sign Co. of Memphis, one of two bidders on the project. The sign is made of porcelain enamel, and Lothorp said neon lighting had just come on the market about the time the sign was created.
Both materials were built to last, he said.
“If you wanted something to last indefinitely, that’s what they put on it was porcelain,” Lothorp said. He said red is the natural color emitted by neon gas when current is passed through it and, unlike other colors of neon lights that use different elements, the red neon could also last a long time.
“Unless (the glass tubing) is broken or the transformer is overloaded, you can put it in and never look back,” Lothorp said of the red neon.
He said the arrow signs were popular in the late ’30s throughout the region, pointing out that towns such as Booneville and Okolona once had arrow signs bearing the name of the town and pointing to the business district.
“That was a fad that was going around then,” Lothorp said. But he said other towns’ signs didn’t last as long as Tupelo’s.
“They weren’t made of porcelain,” he said.
Yarbrough said the Tupelo sign probably will go back up in a couple of weeks. All that remains of the work at the city’s Crosstown intersection is for the Burlington Northern Railroad to move some electrical wires overhead.