Traveling Hwy 49 South

Posted on April 23, 2012 by Dr. Jerry Rankin in Down Home in Mississippi

Teaching at William Carey University this spring has entailed commuting the 95 miles to Hattiesburg on Highway 49 South each week. This prominent highway that runs diagonally across Mississippi from Memphis to the Gulf Coast, is the primary thoroughfare for getting from Jackson to points southeast. I well remember the trek years ago when my family would visit relatives in that part of the state or take an occasional vacation to Gulfport and Biloxi. Hattiesburg, a little more than halfway to the coast, is the location of the University of Southern Mississippi and the largest metropolis south of Jackson.

The highway is punctuated with familiar towns and dated landmarks as well as a ubiquitous chain of flea markets and produce stands. At this season of the year, most rural gravel roads converging with the highway would have a pickup truck piled high with sweet potatoes being sold by a local farmer at the intersection. A few might even offer other vegetables, local honey and boiled peanuts!

I remember as a small boy being intrigued by the church with a milk-bottle shaped entrance and steeple just south of Richland. It is still there. On down the highway is Piney Woods School and farm, an historic boarding school for black students that dates back to the pre-civil rights era. When we cross Strong River south of D’Lo it brings back memories of Boy Scout camping trips there.

The highway diverges from I-20 out of Jackson and travelers have to tolerate the first 12 miles of congested metropolitan traffic until getting out of the suburban towns of Richland and Florence. After by-passing the smaller communities of Star, Braxton and D’Lo, one comes to the three big M’s–Mendenhall, Magee and Mt. Olive. These towns bring back high school memories of football and basketball games against these powerhouse teams in the southern division of our Little Dixie Conference. The Simpson County courthouse in Mendenhall is touted as the most beautiful in the state.

Collins is the largest town along the way, about half an hour out of Hattiesburg, with the Collins Zoo its most unavoidable landmark. We have never taken time to stop and see what kind of exotic animals are lurking behind that pink fence. We also pass through Sanatorium and Seminary. I don’t know that there is a seminary in Seminary, but Sanatorium was where TB patients were taken for quarantine and treatment years ago.

I have never counted so I’m not sure which would be most prominent on Hwy 49–the flea markets, fruit stands or catfish restaurants. There is at least one of each in every town and many points in between. We have shopped at them all and eaten at most which means taking a full afternoon to make what would normally be an hour and a half journey.

4 Comments on “Traveling Hwy 49 South”

  1. Don and Yvonne Miller

    Made us homesick for south Alabama!! Last time I was in Hattiesburg was just after Katrina with Florida Baptist Disaster Relief. We discovered that Main Street Baptist Church was not on Main Street. Some wonderful memories of good people in a tough time.

  2. Vickie Mascagni

    Love a good ole Highway 49 day!!!

  3. Vickie Mascagni

    So so so love a good ole Highway 49 day.

  4. Betty Jo Hudson

    So glad you guys ate at Mack’s On The River…..great food.

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