Yes, it brings a tear to the eye to think of a wrecking ball slamming into the 1926 Water Works Building in Moss Point. But don’t break out your handkerchief just yet. Now known as the Moss Point Fire Station, the building has had a number of uses over the years, including its days as Moss Point’s City Hall. Back in July, the Moss Point Board of Aldermen voted 6-1 to demolish the historic structure. New Mayor Billy Broomfield stated that, rather than adding to the rich history of the structure, the multiple uses have destroyed its historical value to the community.
Enter Becky Jolly Wood. A former schoolteacher, Becky is on the newly formed Moss Point Historic Commission and a vocal advocate for the preservation of this charming structure. In response to the city’s decision to demolish the building, the Moss Point Historical Commission has voted unanimously to request that the city list the building as a local landmark instead. The group is also working to have the Water Works Building listed as a Mississippi Landmark.
In a poignant exchange with Becky about the state of historic preservation in Mississippi and the protection offered to buildings that are listed as Mississippi Landmarks (see Mendenhall Elementary), she lamented:
“I had heard towns were being allowed to tear down all kinds of things but I thought it was gossip and did not believe it until now. I did not realize the policy had changed. Do you know when and why it changed? If not, who should I ask? Is this something from Washington or simply a change in Mississippi? Is there a chance for 2 or 3 of our historical members to meet with the committee that makes the decision? Maybe I should get back in touch with the lawyers in DC who helped the city and us organize a Historical Commission. What if our society filed an injunction with the courts? Would that help? This change in policy is so sad for all historical groups because it means there is no need for any historical group in Mississippi to fight to save buildings now. The city will always have approval even when the building in question is listed in Washington as part of a Historical District. This is such heart-breaking news. I think some of our members will resign because city fathers who are in office for 4 years will be allowed to change the scope of downtown forever, any time they wish” (emphasis mine).
Representatives from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History have inspected the building and found it to be structurally sound. Since the announcement about the proposed demolition, the Mississippi Gulf Coast Railroad Club has come forward to request the building as a future home. With $100,000 in funding from Domino’s Pizza, the organization is willing to work with the city to restore the building and make it a place of pride for the community. With the $91,000 in FEMA funding that is available for use on the structure, and grant funding opportunities through the Mississippi Department of Archives and History Community Heritage Preservation Grant fund, why would the city continue down the path of demolition?
Only time will tell if the availability of funding for restoration and the impassioned pleas of the community will be enough to sway the City of Moss Point from its course. But, having dealt with many school teachers over the years, I would say the smart money is on Becky Jolly Wood and the Moss Point Historical Commission.