Wicker celebrates the preservation of iconic Mississippi landmarks

Published 7:00 am Thursday, April 7, 2016

Imagine if Elvis Presley’s shotgun home in Tupelo had not been recognized as a famous site. Or if the legendary Biloxi Lighthouse had fallen into disrepair. Valuable pieces of our state’s history – not to mention U.S. history – could have been lost or forgotten.

Instead, our state has cultivated an estimable reputation for cultural and historic attractions, drawing international attention and creating a boon for tourism and tourism-related jobs. Based on recent data from Visit Mississippi, an estimated two million people came to our state last year primarily to see historic buildings and sites, spending hundreds of millions of dollars and supporting more than 10,000 direct and indirect tourism jobs. Overall, travel and tourism ranks as one of Mississippi’s top five industries.

National Register Recognizes More Than 1,400 Miss. Sites

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Fifty years ago, a pivotal piece of legislation known as the “National Historic Preservation Act” became law, inspiring a national effort for preserving culturally and historically significant places. Among the law’s initiatives was the establishment of the National Register of Historic Places and the list of National Historic Landmarks. The National Park Service is responsible for overseeing these designations and the nomination process. Today, Mississippi is home to more than 1,400 places on the National Register and 38 National Historic Landmarks.

Last year, I led a letter from Mississippi’s entire congressional delegation to the National Park Service calling for the addition of our State Capitol to the National Historic Landmark list. We highlighted the Capitol’s acclaimed architecture and craftsmanship, from the grand colonnaded dome to the stained glass windows created by Chicago artist Louis Millet. The nomination is still under consideration.

Other congressional efforts have been successful in ensuring that our state’s historic sites are protected. During the last Congress, I introduced a bill with Sen. Thad Cochran to add 10,000 acres to the Vicksburg National Military Park, including battlefield sites in Claiborne and Hinds counties. Our measure was signed into law as part of the defense authorization bill for fiscal year 2015. The added property encompasses several historic homes – such as the Shaifer House at Port Gibson and the Coker House at Champion Hill.

Social Media Highlights #MississippiMonday, #50for50

Each week, I try to feature Mississippi locations with interesting stories and history on my Instagram account, using the #MississippiMonday hashtag. The National Park Service has also launched a social media campaign to accompany the 50th anniversary of the “National Historic Preservation Act.” With the hashtags #50for50 and #Preservation50, preservation work will be featured from a different state each week. Mississippi is scheduled to be highlighted during the week of April 26.

There is still work to be done when it comes to preserving our cultural resources. For example, the home of Medgar and Myrlie Evers in Jackson is currently under consideration to be designated as a National Historic Landmark – a prestigious honor that I have supported and encouraged through legislation in the Senate. The Evers home is already designated as a Mississippi landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Since 1999, the Mississippi Heritage Trust has regularly released a list of 10 Most Endangered Historic Places to raise awareness about sites in need of restoration. This attention has helped save spaces that are meaningful to Mississippians and drawn people to our communities who may not have visited otherwise. Our continued vigilance will help ensure the survival of these landmarks for generations to come, building community pride and paving the way for future economic development.

By Senator Roger Wicker