CLAYTON VILLAGE — In 1954, Lewis Roberson moved here to work as a janitor at Mississippi State University. He found himself among fewer than 100 people.
“Everybody had to haul water,” he recalled on Monday, sitting on a sinking couch in the living room of his house, at the hilltop on Wilkins Road. The water came from a well at the university, he said.
Things have changed since then — many more people have become his neighbors, for one thing — and he played an integral part in making water more widely available in the area, which is a few miles east of downtown Starkville.
He and two other men established the Clayton Village Water Association in 1968. He did physical work, he said. He remains involved to this day, as a member of the association”s board.
The area has not changed much, according to some longtime residents and a 1970s MSU student”s master”s thesis on land use in Oktibbeha County at the Starkville Public Library. But in the next few years, it may change more, and more quickly, than ever before.
Advocates for growth of Clayton Village include Orlando Trainer, the county”s District 2 supervisor. He spent years living here with his father. Now he owns that property, he explained as he drove around the area Monday in his official county pick-up truck.
The implementation of one idea, he said, is holding back a wealth of other development of Clayton Village: incorporating it as a town or city.
As it stands now, Trainer explained, Clayton Village is an unincorporated portion of land in Oktibbeha County, neither able to take advantage of the benefits of being within Starkville city limits nor able to stand alone as a separate entity in the county. And so sales tax dollars in Clayton Village wind up in the state”s purse.
But if Clayton Village were to become a town — which would not be hard, Trainer said; it meets most if not all the criteria — its people could reap the benefits of enhanced infrastructure like a sewer line, which could give way to a kind of growth spurt.
“You got the elements of a town,” he said, driving east on Highway 182. “You got a car dealership, you got a hotel, a bank. … Of course, then you got Highlands Plantation there.
“It just kinda needs to be cleaned up.”
It has looked the way it does for a while, according to the thesis Luceille Liston Mitlin submitted to MSU to receive her master”s in geology and geography in August 1975. In the thesis, entitled “The Historical Development of Land Use in Starkville Mississippi, a Small University City,” Mitlin shows there was not much in the area in her days on campus.
“The seven-tenths-of-a-mile-long strip on the south side of the highway in Clayton Village (unincorporated),” she wrote, “includes three gas stations, two small groceries, a restaurant, a motel, two motorcycle sales rooms, a trailer sales lot, an automobile show-room (closed), an antique shop, a carpet-sales room, several trailers and trailer parks and a residence permitting overnight camping.
“The north side of Highway 82, East, in Clayton Village is commercial for only about one-tenth of a mile. A trailer sales lot and music, carpet and craft shops are here.”
And the status of the area as a mobile home magnet dates back to 1960, when the first parks set up shop: Sarge”s, El Camino and Well”s Bros., according to the thesis.
One gets the sense the place hasn”t changed much. Trainer reckons one or two businesses have moved in since he left four years ago. And longtime resident James Williams of El Camino Mobile Homes said last week, “I”ve seen it change a little bit in a length of time, but it ain”t changed much, mostly for the worse.”
The place has been in the news lately, because people have been exploring the possibility of revoking the resort status of the Highlands Plantation, which allows residents to drink beer, unlike other places in the county outside Starkville.
The issue is just one manifestation of a culture clash between longtime residents and transient young students.
The difference is stark when taking the first right off Highway 82”s Clayton Village exit, onto Ruth Road.
First, there exists a small house with faded red paint. It seems to shrug at its shabby appearance. Windows are jagged. Most of the planks of wood that once comprised the porch are split in two, pointing downward.
The porch swing is broken. Empty glass and plastic bottles are strewn amid the grass around the house. “Antiques,” the side of the house reads in white paint five wooden slats tall. The electric meter is missing.
On the other side of the Highway 82 overpass a quarter-mile down Ruth Road is the construction entrance to Highlands Plantation, on which rows of newish cookie-cutter houses stand out amid manicured bright green grass.
The apartment complex was established in 2003.
Over 200 houses were built at the Highlands in the last year and a half, said Jay Bradley, who has lived there for a year.
Bradley, who is president of Highlands Plantation Homeowners” Association and co-owner of Cowbells Sports Grill, which is on Highlands property, is another advocate for the growth of Clayton Village. He believes a sewer line would bring untold growth to the area.
“That would be the No. 1 key for Clayton Village to (work) like it should,” he said last week. “It could definitely be an asset for the community.
“…I know there”s a lot of hotels and a lot of things like that committed to Clayton Village on Ruth Road if we get a sewer system. A lot of the things could come from the sewer system.”
Trainer agrees. “I”m thinking it”s critical,” he said, referring to a sewer line.
Bradley would not mind seeing Columbus and Starkville closer than they already are, and one way to bring the idea to fruition is to expand Clayton Village, to the east of Starkville, eastward toward Columbus.
Trainer said next steps include allocating money for a sewer line and getting people in Clayton Village on board for such change.
“It”s kinda like, ”If you build it, they”ll come,”” he said.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.