(submitted by & photos by Gerald & Tammy Westmoreland)
The area that would eventually become Hattiesburg was occupied by the Choctaw Native Americans, who had been in the region for hundreds of years. Their indigenous ancestors had communities for thousands of years before that.
During European colonization, this area was first claimed by the French. Between 1763 and 1783 the area that is currently Hattiesburg fell under the jurisdiction of the colony of British West Florida. After the United States gained its independence, Great Britain ceded this and other areas to it after 1783. The United States gained a cession of lands from the Choctaw and Chickasaw under the terms of the Treaty of Mount Dexter in 1805. After the treaty was ratified, European-American settlers began to move into the area.
In the 1830s, the Choctaw and Chickasaw were forcibly removed by United States forces by treaties authorized by the Indian Removal Act, which sought to relocate the Five Civilized Tribes from the Southeast to west of the Mississippi River. They and their slaves were moved to Indian Territory in today's Kansas and Oklahoma.
Hattiesburg developed at the confluence of the Leaf and Bouie rivers. It was founded in 1882 by Captain William H. Hardy, a civil engineer. The city of Hattiesburg was incorporated in 1884 with a population of approximately 400. Originally called Twin Forks by the indians and traders in the area and later called Gordonville, the city received its final name of Hattiesburg from Capt. Hardy, in honor of his wife Hattie. Hattiesburg is centrally located less than 100 miles from the state capital of Jackson, as well as from the Mississippi Gulf Coast, New Orleans, Louisiana, and Mobile, Alabama.
In 1884, a railroad—known then as the New Orleans and Northeastern—was built from Meridian, Mississippi, in the center of the state, through Hattiesburg to New Orleans. The completion of the Gulf and Ship Island Railroad (G&SIRR) from Gulfport, to the capital of Jackson, Mississippi, also ran through Hattiesburg. It stimulated a lumber boom in 1897, with interior pine forests being harvested at a rapid pace. Although the railroad took 20 years to be developed, the G&SIRR more than fulfilled its promise. It gave the state access to a deep water harbor at Gulfport, more than doubled the population of towns along its route, stimulated the growth of the City of Gulfport, and made Hattiesburg a railroad center. In 1924, the G&SIRR operated as a subsidiary of the Illinois Central Railroad but lost its independent identity in 1946.
By 1885 the city had a population of 2000 and was located in Perry County as Forrest County had not yet been formed. In 1893 a fire wiped out most of the buisness section, but rebuilding began immediately.
Hattiesburg gained its nickname, the Hub City, in 1912 as a result of a contest in a local newspaper. It was named because it was at the intersection of a number of important rail lines. Later U.S. Highway 49, U.S. Highway 98 and U.S. Highway 11, and later, Interstate 59 also intersected in and near Hattiesburg.
The region around Hattiesburg was involved in testing during the development of weapons in the nuclear arms race of the Cold War. In the 1960s, two nuclear devices were detonated in the salt domes near Lumberton, Mississippi, about 28 miles southwest of Hattiesburg. Extensive follow-up of the area by the EPA has not revealed levels of nuclear contamination in the area that would be harmful to humans.
Throughout the 20th century, Hattiesburg benefited from the founding of Camp Shelby (now a military mobilization center), two major hospitals, and two colleges, The University of Southern Mississippi and William Carey University. The growing metropolitan area that includes Hattiesburg, Forrest and Lamar counties, was designated a Metropolitan Statistical Area in 1994 with a combined population of more than 100,000 residents.
Although about 75 miles inland, Hattiesburg was hit very hard in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina. Around 10,000 structures in the area received major damage of some type from the heavy winds and rain, as the hurricane tracked inland. Approximately 80 percent of the city's roads were blocked by trees, and power was out in the area for up to 14 days. The storm killed 24 people in Hattiesburg and the surrounding areas. The city has struggled to cope with a large influx of temporary evacuees and new permanent residents from coastal Louisiana and Mississippi towns to the south, where damage from Katrina was catastrophic.
In 2011, the Hattiesburg Historic Neighborhood District was named one of the "Great Places In America," to live by the American Planning Association. Places are selected annually and represent the gold standard in terms of having a true sense of place, cultural and historical interest. The twenty-five-block neighborhood has one of the best collections of Victorian-era houses in Mississippi, with more than ninety percent of the houses substantially renovated and maintained. The Hattiesburg Historic Neighborhood District [HHND] was Hattiesburg's first recognized historic district and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. It is also part of an Historic Conservation District and protected by Historic Hattiesburg Design Guidelines.
Hattiesburg is home to the African American Military History Museum. The building opened as a USO club in 1942 to serve African Americans serving at Camp Shelby, as local facilities were racially segregated. It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This building is the only remaining USO club site in the United States. It has been adapted for use as a museum interpreting African-American military history. Exhibits show their participation in all the major wars and the founding of Hattiesburg: exhibits include the Revolutionary War, Buffalo Soldiers, World Wars I and II, Desegregation, Korean War, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Global War on Terrorism, You Can Be A Soldier, Hattiesburg's Hall of Honor, and World Map. The museum is dedicated to the many African-American soldiers who have fought for their country.