Town of Anguilla turns 100, looks to new growth
Published 12:00 am Monday, September 15, 2003
Aurther Strong Jr. and the Pearl Gospel Singers along with Anguilla Mayor Emma Cooper Harris, at the microphone, sing a hymn before the unveiling of the design for a new municipal complex in Anguilla Saturday.(Melanie Duncan Thortis The Vicksburg Post)
[9/14/03] ANGUILLA Men, women and children of all ages crowded the streets of this small Delta community Saturday to listen to gospel and blues music, eat hot dogs fresh off the grill and show their community pride.
About 100 residents and former residents were out in full force to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the town’s founding and see plans unveiled for a renovated $337,000 municipal complex.
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“People have let our town die for 30 years,” said Mayor Emma Cooper Harris. “And right now we’re trying to restore it.”
Along with paving roads and trying to bring retail shops to the town, the city received a grant from the Delta Regional Authority to restore a 100-year-old building to its original design. When completed in 2004, it will house the mayor’s office, the police department, a small museum and library. It will also serve as a community center.
Harris said she and other city officials want the town to be a model for the Mississippi Delta.
The Mississippi Delta is the fertile farm land next to the Mississippi River from the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis to what is known as Catfish Row, now Mulberry Street, in Vicksburg.
“The economy in the entire Delta is poor,” said alderman and vice mayor Russell Stewart. “And anyway we can try to make something good and positive, I think, is a step in the right direction.
“We want to make the area look attractive and make it something our residents can be proud of.”
Longtime resident Clemiteen Hollins, 73, agreed that the town where she’s lived since 1927 needs to be rebuilt.
“We don’t have no kind of grocery or dry goods store,” she said, noting that most residents drive to Belzoni, 30 miles away, or Greenville, 50 miles away, for basic supplies.
But the mother of 16 children she reared in the town of 907 has no plans to leave.
“We have a lovely time here with Christian love and we try to live in a nice town,” Hollins said.
Elizabeth Dennis drove from New Orleans to see the changes in her hometown.
“This is something we needed to do,” she said of the revitalization of the town’s former main street. “We’ve all gone different places and we need to bring it all back home.”
Bringing it home was a big part of the day entitled, “Bringin’ the Gospel and Blues Home.”
“We plan to bring gospel and the blues back to its roots, which is the Mississippi Delta,” Harris said.
And on tap to help bring down the house in his own way was blues man Johnnie Billington.
A Delta native, Billington is a blues artist who teaches children in the Delta the basics of blues.
He compared the revamping of Anguilla to the revitalization of Memphis’ Beale Street in the 1980s.
“They were demolishing Beale Street and we didn’t want them to,” Billington said. “Someone finally listened. It’s very important to keep history alive.”
The building at Holland Street and Old Rolling Fork Road was built in 1903 and was the town’s first bank. In later years it served as a supermarket and dry goods store, called Kline’s Mercantile.
Plans for the two-story and almost 7,000-square foot structure call for the original hardwood floors to be refurbished, the high ceilings to be in view again and top-floor windows to be used again.
A hand-operated elevator remains inside along with original shelves from the dry goods store. The elevator and original rolling ladders will be part of the museum’s exhibits.
David Dillard, the Ridgeland architect charged with renovations, said construction will begin this year and is hoped to be completed next year.