Historic preservation in Mississippi began in the prehistoric era with the continual care of ceremonial mounds by native Mississippians. Contemporary preservation is still best seen through stewardship of the historic environment by individuals and the public sector. (Michelle Jones, Historic Preservation, Mississippi Encyclopedia, July 11, 2017, retrieved from http://mississippiencyclopedia.org/entries/historic-preservation/)
In 1980, the Certified Local Government Program was established through an amendment to the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. One aspect of the new program was that like the preservation of the ancient ceremonial mounds, it depended on local caretakers.
The CLG program permits local governments that have established their own historic preservation programs–meeting both federal and state standards–to participate directly in the national historic preservation program and processes. (Mississippi Department of Archives & History, Certified Local Government Program)
A few weeks ago, Malvaney reported on the most recent of the CLG grants for Mississippi, which–as usual–sent me off on a mission with questions that needed answering, at least for my curiosity: When was the CLG program in Mississippi begun? Who was the first? How many have been created, consistently on the list, removed, and added through the years?
No one will be surprised that Natchez may have been the first CLG. In 1985, Natchez, Vicksburg, and Columbus were the only Mississippi towns that had historic foundations–a necessary precursor to qualify for a Certified Local Government designation (Ron Miller, Natchez Historic Foundation, cited in Jane E. Allen’s “Fund-raising drive begun in Natchez,” Clarion-Ledger, July 28, 1985, p. 20). The closest I could get to an answer of who was first was the May 19, 1985 news item indicating only two cities applied and were qualified:
Natchez just recently was approved by the state for a certified local government grant of $26,000 for preservation activities in the city under this program. Only two cities applied for any of this money and were qualified to receive it–Natchez and Meridian, both of which have National Register historic districts and local preservation review boards. (William R. Hony, Greenwood Commonwealth, p. 26)
That seems to imply either 4 cities were qualified under the historic district/historic foundation commission rule, or that Meridian was not then qualified even if they applied. Come on official historians and preservationists out there, I need an answer to this burning question!
Mississippi Department of Archives and History staff traveled throughout the state, presenting workshops and meetings to help local communities understand the opportunities and requirements. By 1988, Biloxi and Hattiesburg had been approved as CLG communities, and a year later, a total of six cities were qualified for the Certified Local Government program. There were 13 total Mississippi cities with historic preservation ordinances (The Yazoo Herald, Historic Preservation Week is May 14-20, May 13, 1989, p. 7). MDAH Director Elbert Hilliard reported
…in the past year the state has made progress in the field of historic preservation…[and cited a need for] increased awareness of the importance of preservation…organizing and taking measures to protect historic sites and structures…
Other cities soon followed the six in 1989, and by 2004, the list was at 41 communities.
In 2009, Malvaney noted 53 CLG communities in Mississippi, many of which had also received funding through the Community Heritage Preservation Grants, and included an impressive 17-page list of CHPG projects from 2001-2007. Beginning with the blog’s history in 2009, Malvaney has documented the CLG awards each year. In 2010, 60 Mississippi communities were qualified, but by 2019, we are back down to 53. Fourteen cities listed on the 2010 list are no longer a CLG community, but 10 cities have been added over that time period for a net loss of 7 in the past 9 years.
The Mississippi Department of Archives and History Comprehensive Plan for 2011-2016 noted the important role of the Certified Local Governments in maintaining historic property information, along with local historic societies and preservation organizations, the National Park system, Forest Service, and university historical collections, but added:
…there is still a need for more widespread awareness and appreciation of historic resources among the general population of the state. In particular, there is a need for more books and other published information that pull together the scattered sources and analyze the wide variety of information about Mississippi’s cultural resources.
In the next post, I will explore a couple of specific town examples under the heading of “appreciation of historic resources among the general population of the state.”