By Mickey Howley
The question comes up every now and then as to what is Main Street? How did it get to be an organization that focuses on downtown revival via historic preservation? How did 2,000 older commercial districts, like Water Valley’s historic downtown, become a part and why?
It started with the formation of the National Historic Trust in 1949. Legislation signed by President Truman got the National Trust started on its mission of saving historic places across America. It is hard to imagine, but historic houses, civic buildings, and even battlefields had no agency looking out for them.
One thinks about cities like Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore, or San Francisco as being historically preserved, but it was southern cities like Charleston, New Orleans, and Natchez that actually led the way early on. And these towns worked on preserving their historic core, for they knew then the key to the future lies in the past. It wasn’t always an easy sell. Why save that stuff? It’s just old. Knock it down. Well the philosophy of the Trust is if you lose the center and core of a place, the rest of it easily will fall apart.
By 1980 the National Trust saw a need for historic preservation and combining it with economic development in historic commercial town centers. They saw across the nation the expanding suburbs just gutting the life out of downtowns–big and small. Not only were suburbs draining towns of life, but somehow suburbia seemed to have no soul and not much character. For many it was a generic place to live. Nothing special. And so the Trust started the National Main Street program to bring downtowns back. Call it a self-help program, call it what you want, but it’s a system, a plan, a method, and sequence to bring economic vitality and a social vibrancy back to downtown. It is an economic development strategy by fixing what is already there, keeping the character of a place, and yet making it work in modern way. And Main Street also works because it is not a big brother help program, but all the effort, energy, members, and money come from the very place they are helping. And that energy and money is a multiplier. That’s why there are 51 towns in Mississippi that are Main Street program towns. It works well here, we’re a state of many small towns with folks who believe their place matters.
The Farmers Market did not have the early rush last weekend, the long weekend had folks still in bed or maybe even out of town. But around 10 a.m. the tomato-seeking multitudes made their way over to Railroad Park and there under the big magnolia were tomatoes. But not just any tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes with crazy names like Whopper, Taps, Wisconsin 55, Orange Strawberry and many others. And not only were they grown in Water Val-ley, they were vine ripened and pure organic. Not sprayed with insecticide, not hyped on fertilizer, not artificially protected by herbicides. Just pure, just natural, and my goodness did they taste great. The tomatoes will be back Saturday, it has been a late start for the market this year, but July and August look great. Saturday morning from 8 to 11 in Railroad Park.
See you there.