Long, strange journey of Highway 11

Published 7:00 am Friday, September 11, 2015

highway 11 horz WEB

By Jesse Wright

Picayune Item

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Only a century ago, travel in Pearl River County was hard, rough stuff. 

For years in the 19th century, county roads and bridges were maintained either by private men, who owned the land and could charge a toll, or by cooperation through shared labor and costs.

The book, “Pearl River County History Vol. 5,” is a collection WPA worker interviews and documents from the 1930s collected from this area. Volume five is dedicated to transportation and war, and lest anyone assume the pairing is mismatched, early travel in Pearl River County, until well into the 20th century, was treacherous. 

An unnamed Pearl River County resident, listed in the book only as “an old citizen,” said this, “A man was once peddling gophers from this section to the coast, as he was driving them over the Hobolochitto Creek Toll Bridge, owned by Kimball, he found that he would have to pay toll of 5 cents per head for them. He decided to swim them across, which when he attempted to do this, the results were that the gophers drowned.”

But Pearl River County would not be cut off for long from the rest of the country. In the mid-1920s, when the federal government first began funding a federal highway project, the county was selected for a southern US Highway. That meant federal dollars would be used to pay for all the latest road construction equipment, and it also meant county residents would have a good road, dependable bridges and a connection with the larger outside world. 

The road they built was Highway 11. Highway 11 wasn’t the route for public transportation—that would have been the rivers—and the railroads and the dirt trails that predated the highway, but the highway was the first more or less direct route from Pearl River County to New York City and all points in between, and it brought buses and tourists and commerce and things not really seen before in the county.

In 1926, the Free Press, a county weekly newspaper, reported of the highway, “Within a year it will be possible to drive your car over a nice, hard surfaced highway in going from Poplarville to Picayune in Pearl River County, where a few years ago, travelers going down this road through the dense pine thickets, were obligated to carry an ax in their wagons (at the time) to cut a tree, which might have chanced to have fallen across the road.”

The highway followed what had been known as the Poplarville-Lumberton road. According to minutes from the county board of supervisors, this road was declared a public road in 1890, the same year the county was formed, although in its early days it was hardly a road in the modern sense. 

According to “Pearl River County History Vol. 5, “It was formerly a mere winding road, where goats and hogs lay, and had to be run off before a wagon could pass. The streets of Poplarville were formally in the cow pen of Poplar Jim’s.”

Highway 11 was known regionally as Jackson Highway, and it proved to be no small thing for the county. 

Again, from a 1926 Free Press story, “A few years ago, a team of horses, a plow, a split log-drag and a few shovels constituted the bulk of road making and maintenance equipment. Today, modern road machinery including tractors, graders, scrapers, steam shovels, sump wagons and other heavy machinery is practically on par with equipment used for railroad construction and maintenance.” 

Just three years after they built the highway, in 1929, the first bus line, the Old South Coaches company, set up shop. This is according to E. Haschal Hyde, who was the ticket agent for Greyhound. The Old South Coaches company didn’t last, but in July of 1930, Greyhound opened a stop in Poplarville. 

Hyde recalled the first tickets he sold were on July 21, 1930 to New Orleans for $2.05, to Hattiesburg for $1.25 and to Picayune for .60 cents.

Thirty years after they built the highway, NASA came.