What has happened to Columbus? Having grown up in Columbus during the 1940s and 50s, I remember it as a beautiful, peaceful and prosperous little city that was growing and envied by most other cities in northeast Mississippi. Columbus had Mississippi University for Women (then MSCW) and Mississippi State University 25 miles to the west. We had Columbus Air Force Base and a number of other businesses and factories that provided well-paying jobs for local citizens.
I received my education at Franklin Academy, Lee High School and MSU. After college in 1960, I left Columbus and was away for 30 years. Upon my return in 1990, I immediately noticed drastic changes to the city that I had left behind so many years before. Columbus was still a beautiful city, but had ceased to grow and prosper as one would have expected. Many downtown stores had closed, with some reopening along Highway 45 North. I particularly remember the beautiful homes and recall the cleanliness of the streets and homes with well manicured lawns. As I now drive along these old familiar streets I see houses in all stages of needful repairs, yards overgrown, trash piling up and streets often in dire need of repair. Driving along the streets in the south side of Columbus, I notice the same, or worse, conditions with unkempt yards, junk automobiles, and quite a few abandoned or dilapidated houses with many more in need of repairs.
I realize that I am talking about Columbus of 60 years ago, and I don’t know all of the reasons for the gradual decline of our beautiful city. We did lose several of our major companies in General Tire, American Bosch, Kerr McGee and several smaller ones. Another possible reason is the gradual increase in the crime rate and gang activities within our city. These certainly were possible factors and encouraged many residents to relocate to other communities such as New Hope and Caledonia.
One area that I can easily point out as a negative factor in future development is the Highway 45 North traffic straight through our main business district. Roughly 80 percent of our retail business is conducted along this corridor. The through-traffic consists of log trucks, 18 wheelers, double-wide mobile home transports, deliveries, gravel trucks, etc., and all must navigate along this approximate 1.5 mile corridor with countless exits and entrances to local businesses. There are eight-to-nine traffic lights along the way, but that does not prevent several serious accidents weekly along this stretch. Many local residents prefer to shop in Starkville, Tupelo or Tuscaloosa rather than negotiate the traffic problem, and few out-of-towners shop in Columbus for these reasons. The state of Leigh Mall also did not help these problems.
What became of the bypass which was discussed 20 years ago?
Through the tireless efforts of Mr. Joe Higgins, we have brought many high-paying jobs back to our community and, with great effort, we can help our city return to its rightful place among the elite in northeast Mississippi.
I love Columbus and wish only the best for my home city. The citizens of Columbus and surrounding areas can help Columbus even further by electing and supporting qualified, honest and capable leadership to all levels of local government.
Fred B. Hall