Monday, January 19, 2009

No.7: Hotel Tupelo

The Hotel Tupelo was THE hotel in Tupelo in the 50s and 60s (and before). All the civic clubs met there and formal events were held there. It was the only place in Tupelo with an elevator until the new four-story federal building that housed the post office was built in the 60s. The THS Key Club met at the Hotel Tupelo when I was in high school. I remember one meeting when one of our members found a cooked cricket among his green beans. After that we started meeting at the Rex Plaza and other locations. This was an ad photo from The Album, the very original name for the THS annual. Note that WTUP broadcast from the upper floor of the Hotel. You may remember that WTUP was the young folks' radio station and WELO was the grown-ups station - except of course if you wanted to listen to Tupelo athletic events. Jack Cristol was the voice of the Wave on WELO and Wallopin' Wayne Coleman broadcast the games on WTUP, Top Dawg Radio 1490. Wallopin' Wayne was a better DJ than play-by-play announcer.

The Hotel was torn down and a new five-story BancorpSouth (formerly Bank of Mississippi, formerly Bank of Tupelo) headquarters was built on that site. BancorpSouth is a major regional bank with branches all over the Southeast. The post office in the federal building that was built in the 60s is now a branch with the main post office on Thomas Street in West Tupelo. WTUP and WELO are still on the air, but both have a very small audience now.

BancorpSouth Bank, located on South Spring Street, where the Hotel Tupelo once stood

No.6: Homecoming Parade

Back in the day, the Tupelo High School Band led the way for each year's Homecoming Parade through Downtown Tupelo. (They still do.) Each class constructed a float by covering someone's truck with a chicken wire frame stuffed with toilet paper. I remember working on our sophomore float at the Coca Cola Bottling Plant.

High School students met for pep rallies in the gym on the afternoon of home football games, and sometimes for big basketball games. Each class would sit together in sections of the bleachers. At one point in the pep rally, the sophomore cheerleaders would lead the sophomores in a cheer, the juniors cheerleaders would lead the juniors, and the senior cheerleaders ... You get the idea. A group of teachers would decide among themselves which class had out-cheered the other classes and the winner was awarded the "spirit stick."
For homecoming, the pep rally had the added feature of the presentation of the homecoming court.

No.5: Downtown Tupelo

McGaughy's, a women's department store, was one of many retail establishments in downtown Tupelo when my generation was growing up. Other women's stores included Westbrook's, Pryor's and several others that came and went during my childhood. Men shopped at MLM and Hinds Brothers and of course, Reed's and Black's were department stores for the entire family. As a child, Woolworth's and Ben Franklin and Marlin-Cook's were some of my favorites. Amazingly, there were three jewelry stores next door to each other on Main Street (Dreyfus, Riley's, and Brasfield's), as well as Martin's and Estes Jewelry elsewhere downtown. And there were a number of shoe stores like the Corner Shoe Store, Lyle's, and several others. I always wanted Red Goose shoes because you could get a prize-filled egg with each purchase, but most of my shoes, other than tennis shoes, were Buster Browns from Reed's.

I remember fondly our annual Christmas shopping experiences Downtown, where Christmas music could be heard over speakers throughout the Downtown area. We bought bath powder for our mother at TKE Drug Store and socks or handkerchiefs for our dad at any one of the department stores. Those were simpler times. I don't suppose malls had even been thought of at that time, at least not yet in Memphis or Birmingham.

Today, there is very little retail shopping in Downtown Tupelo other than Reed's and MLM. Tupelo Hardware is still where it was, but all of the others mentioned above have long since departed. Downtown Tupelo is still a vital area with very few vacant buildings, but much of the old retail space is now filled with various business and professional offices.

No.4: Tupelo HIgh School

Tupelo High School moved to this site on Varsity Drive on the north end of Lee Acres in 1961. This early picture dates to the time when my generation was in high school and shows just how sparsely developed the area still was in the late 60s. The Civic Auditorium had been added by our time at the high school.

Before we were in the 10th grade, they removed the permanent walls between some of the classrooms and inserted folding walls to allow for "team teaching." I remember Mrs. Robinson teaming with Mr. Murphey for geometry, Miss Yerby teaming with Mrs. Stepp for sophomore English, and Mr. Richardson teaming with Mr. Horton for biology. Large group biology lectures were done in the air-conditioned rooms at the back of the Auditorium.

Coach Waite and Mr. Shelton were the drivers' ed teachers in the "classroom" behind the curtain at one end of the gym. When we moved from the simulators to the real cars (complete with brakes on both sides of the front seat), I had Mr. Shelton. Coach Waite's drivers got to go to Bill Bates Grocery for ice cream cones, but we just drove around and around in Lee Acres, giving hand signals to slow down or turn.

Tupelo High School moved to its current location on Cliff Gookin in 1991. If you live out of town and haven't seen that campus, you'd be amazed -- lots of buildings arranged around a quadrangle. It looks more like a junior college campus than a high school. The football stadium is on site, and it is much larger than the old Robins Field venue. But it will never have the ambiance of the old field.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

No.3: Milam Junior High School

This old postcard shows Tupelo High School and Milam Junior High School in the 50s. By the early 60s, the "new" high school was constructed in the north end of Lee Acres on Varsity Drive, allowing the junior high to expand into both of these buildings. By the time I arrived at Milam, the transition was complete. The sixth and seventh grades were housed in the old junior high building (left side of photo), and the eighth and ninth grades were housed in the old high school building. All the elementary students from Church Street, Joyner, and Rankin attended Milam, and those from Lawhon stayed at Lawhon through the ninth grade.

I remember being thrilled as a sixth grader to have the opportunity to attend pep rallies in the auditorium (Emma Edmonds Auditorium?) for the Milam Ripples football team. It seemed very grown up to go to a school with a football team. The high school played in the old Big 8 Conference and Milam played the junior high counterparts from several of those schools. Our big rivals were Columbus Cook and Columbus Caldwell.

No.2: Church Street Elementary School

Church Street Elementary was one of only four elementary schools in Tupelo when I was a child -- the others being Joyner, Rankin, and Lawhon. Joyner was my alma mater. When I started there, Joyner went through the fourth grade, but a fifth grade was added before I was that old. Mary Frances Beard (Miss Mary) was our principal. Looking back, I remember her fondly. At the time, however, she seemed a rather imposing figure because of the rumor of her "electric paddle." No one wanted to be sent to Miss Mary's office; that's for sure. The principal's office was also where the volunteer moms performed the annual ringworm check in Miss Mary's dark closet with the aid of an eerie purple light. I never knew of a case of ringworm in those days, but we figured it must be awful because they kept checking us for it.

No.1: Where Tupelo Babies Were Born

Many of my generation began their lives in Tupelo at the Tupelo Community Hospital which looked as it was pictured in this postcard from the 1950s. You'd never recognize the place nowadays. The structure shown above is now completely enclosed (but still existing, I think) within a series of more modern building additions that have taken place through the years. It is one huge place now, and still growing. Don't bother trying to look it up in the phone book as the Tupelo Community Hospital, either. It was renamed the North Mississippi Medical Center years ago to reflect its more regional footprint. To see what it looks like now and to read a description of what our little community hospital has become, check out the link below: