What began in 1977 as an experiment with the National Trust for Historic Preservation to save three Midwestern downtown cities has grown to become a national movement of which Mississippi Main Street is very proud to be a part.
Since 1980, thousands of communities throughout the nation have joined the Main Street program and applied its Four Point ApproachÔ in Organization, Design, Promotion and Economic Vitality with successful, lasting changes. Downtown development plus historic preservation is an economic catalyst!
The Mississippi Main Street communities are an excellent example of how the innovative framework of the Main Street approach helps communities preserve their unique heritage while building a vibrant commercial district. From small, rural towns to large, urban districts, the Main Street model has proven to be an effective economic development engine for a town or city of any size.
The following case study of Baldwyn, Miss. demonstrates the power of the Main Street method of downtown revitalization through historic preservation.
With a population of just 4,000 in the hills of Northeast Mississippi, Baldwyn might sound like a sleepy little Southern town. And, 20 years ago, it might have lived up to that perception. Driving downtown, one would see a pretty desolate street with many shuttered storefronts.
What has occurred since then has been described by Baldwyn residents as a “revival.” Led by dedicated downtown merchants and business leaders, and the help of the Baldwyn Main Street Chamber, downtown is now flourishing.
“The chamber is actively working to aid the historical district, school system, business and industry in promoting and growing our beautiful community,” said Lori Tucker, Director of the Baldwyn Main Street Chamber. “We offer networking opportunities, promotional listings, façade grants, festivals and events, scholarship opportunities and co-op advertising, just to name a few.”
By the end of 2015, of the 40 storefronts that exist down Main Street and the side connector streets, only six were vacant, with two of the six being in the midst of renovation, and two others slated for renovation in the near future.
Baldwyn’s downtown renovation began in the mid-1990s when Baldwyn native Earl Stone remodeled the first buildings, 101 and 103 West Main. Following these, additional historic buildings were bought and renovated for new use, including The Old Post Office Restaurant, an antique and fine furniture store, and an art gallery. Stone and his son Gary began renovating additional buildings with the vision to see Baldwyn come alive again.
Some of Stone’s renovation work includes the restoration of the building that is now home to the Blonde Pistol Boutique, as well as the Kirk Hardware building, which is now the home of Blue August, an elegant meeting space in downtown.
Restoring these historic buildings takes time and a significant amount of attention to detail in order to do it well, while following the guidelines of the Federal and State Preservation Tax Incentive programs administered by the National Park Service (NPS).
The strict guidelines in historic renovation set forth by NPS are in order to maintain as much of the original look and feel of the historic buildings as possible. Photographs and documentation must be submitted at each stage of construction, from when it’s considered for renovation to what it looks like when it is stripped down, and then when it’s being built back up in an effort to maintain historical integrity. The rehabilitation work often takes more than a year on each building.
Currently, renovations are underway for 104 and 106 West Main Street, with plans for this space to house a 1930s-era hamburger shop, with the original soda fountain from Tom’s Drug Store as its centerpiece. Cabinets in the restaurant will house some of the collection of history of Baldwyn, including old literature, pictures and signs.
The goal is for the soda fountain and restaurant to generate enough revenue to support the housing and display of the historical collection. The upstairs of the buildings will feature apartments.
“Baldwyn has numerous unique historical assets, such as a Main Street divided by split county lines, historic buildings, homes and façades, MS Final Stands Interpretative Center, a community theatre, a cultural arts studio and all the outstanding people that call Baldwyn ‘home,’” Tucker said.
There is still work to be done in Downtown Baldwyn and the surrounding area, but the bulk of the restoration work has been done. The result has been an increase in economic vitality as well as civic pride.
Redevelopment has occurred both on and off Main Street. Businesses have expanded and more buildings have been renovated. Parking has become a “problem” in that there are many times when a parking space is hard to find. This spells success for Main Street!
With all the success and momentum, Tucker wisely notes, “It is up to us to tell our story and capitalize on that.”
- Jeannie Zieren
View more photos of Baldwyn in MMSA Town Albums.