Refurbished houses a source of pride for pair

TUPELO – A pair of renovated cottages perched on a prominent curve of downtown’s Chestnut Street represent, to some, the future of historic Mill Village.
Pretty and pert in their fresh coats of paint, the one-story homes bear no resemblance to their former lives as dilapidated crack shacks behind Calvary Baptist Church.
Their transformation took two years and tens of thousands of dollars. It will require much more of both to rehab Mill Village, which once was the center of Tupelo’s cotton industry, but residents there say the two houses show what’s possible.
“I am hoping that people will be able to see that this area can be revitalized,” Mill Village Neighborhood Association President Jane Carruth said while attending an open house for the two structures Wednesday.
The two-hour event drew dozens of residents and city officials who wanted to see first-hand the results of the renovation process. It was hosted by Keith Henley of Coldwell Bankers Tommy Morgan Realtors.
Henley is working with San Francisco-area residents Pati and Don Simon, who bought the houses from Calvary more than two years ago for $1 and are now selling them. The Simons discovered the properties while visiting Tupelo.
“I saw Mill Village and thought, ‘Wow, this place was great,’” Pati Simon said. “The city had condemned a lot of the houses, which were charming but in pretty bad shape. So, I determined that the city was really serious about getting into the mill area and doing something.”
The Simons bought three houses and had them relocated from Magazine Street to South Green Street behind the old Blue Bell building. There they sat while workers laid the foundation for their new spots on Chestnut. And finally, they were moved to their current locations.
Pati Simon said the relocation process took a year longer than originally expected and added to the renovation expense, but she and her husband were committed to the project.
They hired Tupelo contractor Larry McMahan to renovate two of the three houses, and they’ll start work on the third as soon as they sell one of the completed units.
“They turned out really well, and that’s because of Larry,” Pati Simon said. “He’s just wonderful. So, I hope that the city goes in and follows through. I hope they get serious again on really extreme code violations.”
Simon lauded the municipality for its efforts to rid the neighborhood of crime and improve its infrastructure but said the momentum has weakened lately.
Henley hopes the newly renovated homes will re-energize the movement and said he already sees some examples.
“The progress is becoming contagious,” Henley said during the open house. “People in at least two nearby properties are starting to make improvements to their properties.”
Outside a house across the street from one of the cottages sat a pile of construction debris, evidence of an ongoing renovation by an inspired neighbor.
And on Church Street, just couple blocks to the west, several houses also boast newly remodeled looks after a recent wave of new investment to the area. The activity coincides with the city’s decision two years ago to designate the neighborhood a Local Historic District.
Despite the designation and the investments, the area has a long way to go. Neighbors still complain about drug deals and code violations. They’re also anxious for more commercial development.
But most recognize the progress that has been made.
“To see these homes renovated and redone gives you a sense of pride,” said City Council President Fred Pitts while visiting one of the Chestnut Street structures. “It shows how far an area can come from a few years ago to today. It makes a big difference.”

Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.

Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal