by Jack Gurner
WATER VALLEY – The city makes a fairly good first impression on first time visitors. However, there are definitely some areas in the community that need improvement, according the First Impressions report presented Tuesday night at the Courthouse.
Julie Jordan, project manager for the Mississippi State Community Action Team MSCAT), presented the report which was the result of a recent visit by a team of volunteers. Seven people from Itawamba County participated in the exchange program where people from one Mississippi city visit another.
After the visit, each team member filled out a report listing the positive things they found and also what they believe are challenges to social and economic growth. Information gathered from the volunteers is complied at Mississippi State.
First Impressions is operated statewide by the MSCAT in conjunction with Mississippi State University Extension Service. The Water Valley Main Street Association arranged local participation through Steve Cummings of the Yalobusha County Extension Service.
The first challenge to the team of visitors was to get information about Water Valley using the Internet. Using the “Google” search engine, they were unable to find anything specific to the town or the county that appeared to have been developed by community leaders, according to the report.
“There is a really interesting site that tells the story of Casey Jones and the Water Valley Casey Jones Museum. But, we didn’t find much else about Water Valley that would help visitors feel welcome or provide what would be considered genuine community information,” the team members said in the report.
The “Five Minute” Impression
After arriving for their visit, the team took a five-minute drive through town without stopping and the following reactions were noted: “Water Valley is a very lovely and historical town. It is home to the largest crappie, the largest catalpa tree, Casey Jones Railroad Museum, Crawford Sports Complex, and the Watermelon Festival.”
“As we approached Water Valley, the imbedded stones in the hillside spelling out Water Valley impressed us. Water Valley is a very interesting town due to the murals on the buildings downtown, beautiful antebellum homes, historic Turnage Drug Store, and beautiful city park. We noticed the football stadium and National Guard Armory and Water Valley Civic Auditorium.” The team also commented that there are a lot of churches.
One team member said, “We noticed an abandoned lot with numerous old gas pumps that need to be cleaned up. The Oak Ridge Cemetery is very well maintained. We also saw another park that had tennis courts. The agricultural crops, including cotton and corn, seemed to be flourishing. It was also noted around town and at the Crawford Sports Complex that the grass had not been mowed.”
The visitors made the following observations when they came into Water Valley using the major entrances: Approached from Highway 7, north entrance: This is a very pretty entrance with a sign for Water Valley, but the hillside was not mowed. Approached from Highway 7, south entrance: This entrance also has the Water Valley sign in stones on the hill. It is not as attractive as the north entrance sign. However, it had been mowed.
“Actually, when you are traveling from Oxford, it is the typical green Yalobusha County Line with a sign underneath that said ‘Water Valley City Limits.’ There is no visible landscaping here,” one team member said.
Approached from Highway 32 East: This entrance has a “Welcome to Water Valley” sign with all the civic organizations and school accomplishments listed. While this entrance is very neat, it could have been improved by landscaping.
Downtown Business Area
“We love the downtown area, especially the city park and the veterans’ monument. It is beautifully landscaped with benches, planters and sidewalks. We were told that the bandstand is the gathering place and that a variety of bands played on Friday nights in the spring. We also were informed that a farmer’s market was started there this year. The town has done a good job of landscaping around the railroad tracks and incorporating the depot (museum) into the downtown area,” one of the team said.
In the downtown area, most of the buildings are attractive, some with beautiful murals. There is a variety of unique shops downtown. The historic-style lampposts in the park areas add to the appeal and we would encourage using more of these throughout town. The vacant storefronts were fairly well maintained on Main Street, the report notes.
Some communities use murals in the storefronts of empty buildings to improve the image until renovated. The backsides of the buildings are very visible along a side street and are a real eyesore. One team member commented “Some of the signage was a bit junkie.”
The trashcans in the park area are nice, but the (blue) rubber trashcans in other parts of the downtown area are not attractive. The flowerpots along the sidewalks are nice and look well maintained. The community might consider adding some trees.
There are several multi-story buildings downtown in Water Valley. Many small towns in Mississippi are encouraging the development of apartments in upper levels of downtown buildings.
Variety of Shopping
There is a good variety of shopping available. However, we did not see a “clothing” store. There is what appeared to be a nice antique shop, a couple of flower shops, a huge furniture store, and Sartain’s Hardware Store, which has a large variety of items, including a Red Flyer wagon. Sartain’s also boasts a beautiful mural on the storefront. Turnage Drug Store is also a “must see” due to the working soda fountain and great collection of gift ideas! Turnage’s seems to be the gathering place for locals during the day, the report continues.
“The renovated Water Valley Courthouse built in 1913 is just beautiful, but you can not easily tell where the actual front entrance is due to the location of the parking area,” one team member said.
The visitors weren’t able to find any pay phones, according to the report, but they did find a drinking fountain and restroom at the courthouse. The park was very nicely landscaped; the downtown sidewalks had well-maintained planters of flowers, but the courthouse may need more landscaping.
“We had no problem finding parking and the only parking location where you had to walk any significant distance for services was at the courthouse,” said one of the volunteers.
The schools are adequate in size and the community seems to be proud of their schools. We did not see any temporary classrooms. The schools are generally well maintained, but need some landscaping. One wing at the elementary building didn’t look “neat” from the outside. We also noted Faith Christian Academy, a private school. The official guide to Water Valley boasts of the EAST Lab, which is Environmental and Spatial Technology Lab. It is the only program of its kind in the state of Mississippi.
The Davidson Elementary School, which serves K-6, seems to be combined with middle school; has a very good playground, but could use a little landscaping. The team also noted that signs are need to direct people to the school.
In concluding the report, the visitors were asked to report the five most positive things that they observed about the community:
• Friendly residents
• City Park and Veteran’s Memorial Monument
• Crawford Sports Complex
• Variety of churches
• Neat and clean housing project
They were also asked to comment on the five biggest obstacles/challenges Water Valley:
• Lack of industry
• Getting young people to establish homes
• Lack of restaurants
• Backside of vacant buildings on main street
You can also link from the Mississippi State site and read reports from other towns including Coffeeville at: First Impressions Reports
The Herald also received a mention in the report. The team commented that the editor (David Howell) of the hometown newspaper, North Mississippi Herald, was very informative and knowledgeable of Water Valley.