LUCEDALE, Miss. (WKRG) — WKRG News 5’s Hometown Tours visits Lucedale, Miss. on Nov. 10. We’ve produced several stories looking at different aspects of the city and George County.
The establishment of the town in 1901 actually predates the establishment of George County, Miss. in 1910. Industrialist Gregory Luce, for whom the town was named, was expanding his lumber business and exporting timber and turpentine by steamship and later by rail with the acquisition of the A & M railroad which later became the Mississippi Export Railroad.
“The rail history between the Luce family–Mississippi Export Railroad as it’s called now in George County–is 101 years old, and it has been vital to this area’s development,” said Ken Flanagan, George County Community Development and Communications Director.
Since the town was first established in 1901 — it’s been a relatively rapid growth.
“I moved here 80 years ago and at that time practically all the streets were still dirt streets. I watched that, I watched them develop a sewer system. I’ve just watched a lot of good things happen to the city of Lucedale,” said Dr. Dayton Whites.
Dr. Whites practiced medicine in Lucedale for decades and served as mayor for almost a decade. He said despite humble beginnings, Lucedale continues to thrive.
“We have something like permits for around 5 thousand homes within a 10-mile radius of downtown Lucedale, plus the whole county is growing,” said Whites.
There have been some bumps in the road for that growth. The main road through town is Highway 98 — known for a time as ‘bloody 98’ for its reputation for deadly traffic accidents. But many remember making a rest stop here.
Whites said, “We’ve seen people from Oklahoma and Texas that say, ‘You’re from Lucedale–is that where the Coffee Shop, Coffee Pot is?’ and we’d say ‘Yeah.”
The iconic shop burned many years ago — and then came a bypass around the town. Some in town lobbied for the four-lane bypass, which could have meant a slow death for the town–but it didn’t.
“We’ve got a new part of town that’s developed but the downtown–the history part of the town, the downtown, is still unique,” said Al Jones, the former head football coach at George County High School and now an alderman.
Jones taught math and coached football for more than 30 years. He said it’s the generational roots that are maintaining the charm of the community.
“Matter of fact, I’m volunteering at the high school right now and I’m coaching some of the kids of people I coached when I was here,” he said.
The homegrown industries centered on lumber and the railroad have spurred more growth that has kept those generations working and thriving here for decades.
“Now, 101 years ago, it’s interesting–they were doing timber and cutting trees and that’s what was being railed in and out of here. And then it kind of transformed into steel and heavy material, aggregates and that type of thing–and now because of the world we’re in has turned back into agriculture in the form of wood pellets,” Flanagan said.
Lucedale and George County’s latest development is a three-mile rail spur supporting the George County Industrial Park with an investment that not only supports the existing businesses there but holds promise to attract new ones.