By Floyd Ingram/Chickasaw Journal
Editor’s Note: This is the 11th in an 18-part series about Northeast Mississippi downtowns.
HOUSTON – They call it The Square.
There are many towns in Northeast Mississippi built on a square but few rival the beauty and visionary design of Houston.
“Houston’s downtown was laid out by our founder, Mr. (Joel) Pinson, who was also a surveyor,” said Joyce East, executive director of Historic Hometown Houston. “The square is flanked by 94-foot-wide streets and the adjoining streets are 64 feet wide. I can’t think of any other downtowns in our area that are so well laid out and so neatly designed.”
The Square also sports a landscaped and manicured lawn that is the site for such community events as the Easter Egg Hunt, the July 4th Homecoming, fall pep rally, Christmas Parade and the vote tally board for all county elections.
Streets surrounding The Square were resurfaced two years ago under a city paving project and are still smooth and shiny black. Historic Houston designed and painted two marquees on the streets to proclaim loyalty to Houston schools and the community’s heritage.
And The Square is also the commercial center of the community. A clothing store, bridal gown business, hair salon, two banks, two credit unions, a title company, drug store, health services business, gas station, barber, a Certified Public Accountant, restaurant, financial planner and several law offices face The Square.
Moving up town
Silly Whispers is one of the newest businesses in town and moved to its location on the north side of The Square in November.
“We came to Houston because we were seeking more store traffic and we’ve found it downtown,” said Linda Stevens, co-owner of Silly Whispers. “We’ve got a bank on one corner of our block and a drug store on the other corner. We have people drop off a prescription and come shop with us while it is being filled. We also have people do their bank business and then stop by here.”
And Stevens said store traffic ramps up when court is in session.
Circuit Court Clerk Sandra Willis summons between 70 and 100 people to court every other month and said lawyers and those doing business at the courthouse eat at downtown restaurants and can be found shopping at local stores.
“Circuit Court brings the largest number of people, but court goes on all the time,” said Willis. “We’ve even had lawyers bring their wives with them and she goes shopping while he’s in court.”
But the courthouse is not the only government entity downtown. Houston City Hall anchors the southern side of The Square and the Houston Post Office is on the northwest corner.
One of the most dynamic additions to downtown has been the renovation of the Colbert Building on The Square. Mike Colbert took two old buildings and has extensively renovated and modernized one to house his title company. The property sports a free-standing staircase, wood floors, natural brick interior walls and a second story porch with ornamental wrought-iron posts. Plans also call for a coffee shop downstairs.
Colbert has yet to say what he plans to put into the corner building other than to say he wants it to compliment his offices.
And the larger Houston downtown area was recently nominated for listing on the National Historic Register.
More than 70 properties have been identified as falling in the area to be included on the National Register. The properties range from homes and businesses to professional offices and government institutions.
“We think this is a great opportunity for Houston,” said Bill Gatlin of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. “We will have good documentation of the historic resources and it may create some economic development opportunities.”
Buildings officially listed on the National Register are eligible for both state and federal tax credits.
Highways to Houston
Houston, like most small towns, has seen many retails stores move along the major traffic arteries of Highway 15 and Highway 8 that intersect at the southwest corner of The Square.
Car dealers, grocery stores, furniture stores, Trace Regional Hospital, churches, a veterinary clinic and building supply business can be found on Highway 8 that runs east and west in Chickasaw County. The north/south Highway 15 corridor sports several used car lots, fast food restaurants, a bed-and-breakfast inn, an auto parts house, auto body shop, optometrist, branch bank and radio station.
Houston became the 47th Main Street City in the state in 2004. Officially titled as Historic Hometown Houston, Houston’s Main Street Program operates under the umbrella of CDF Charities Inc., and is partners with the Chickasaw Development Foundation.
“The goal of Main Street and Hometown Houston is to organize, develop programs, promote and find economic resources,” said East. “If our community lacks anything or our businesses downtown feel we lack anything, we want to step up and help.”