Leaving New Orleans I headed for the markedly smaller town of Meridian, Mississippi. A big part of this trip has been learning how to understand and talk about drastically different communities, and for Meridian the most natural way to approach that is to talk about the buildings I visited.
The Train Station
Meridian might have had more hype pre-arrival than any other city on this trip, largely due to its train station. Some years ago the city invested a relatively small amount in the renovation and expansion of the train station and it has reaped incredible benefits. More than that though it was one of the first communities to re-prioritize its train station and take advantage of its natural position as a transit center. It now serves as much more than that and hosts several different city offices, railroads, and simultaneously special events. You'd think all these different applications would severely overwhelm the space but its designed in such a way that all these different roles blend together seamlessly.
Originally built in 1915 city hall is a beaux arts building that was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. During the 1950's it underwent many modernization's (think dropping ceilings to host huge HVAC systems and subsequently destroying intricate plaster-work) which cost the building a considerable amount of its beauty. Thankfully it began a restoration project in 2006. The project ultimately took almost 6 years, much longer than its original estimated timeline. However, while I don't live there touring that building I was inclined to believe the extra time was worth it. Unfortunately the truly stunning building that came out of the restoration effort was never inhabited by its biggest champion, Mayor John Roberts Smith. I should mention that this was just part of a much larger tour given by Ken Storms who worked for the city during this period of major investment in public projects under Mayor John Roberts Smith. He was a totally unique and invaluable tour guide because he worked on so many of the buildings we toured (if you're reading this thank you Mr. Storms!).
Alright so this building hasn’t even really broken ground yet but it goes on this list because of the awesome people working on it. Sometimes a project can survive on the passion of the people involved and that was absolutely the case with this. One day soon though you won’t need to rely on the vision of the staff to revel in the totally awesome nature of their project. Ultimately the center will become a place to explore the incredibly diverse history of the arts in Mississippi and celebrate some of their more famous exports. The drawings look amazing but I think Faith Hill advocating for investment in the project is really what sent it over the edge. Also the guy heading the project? He was the producer on Gladys Night and the Pips "Midnight Train to Georgia" which is not only a song I have always loved but became my theme song for varying legs of this trip so meeting him, felt like a good sign. At the very least it was an opportunity for me to act super uncool and fan-girl it up, which while super embarrassing is always fun. The best part about the whole facility though? It's going to be right next to the train station.
Music, unexpectedly, featured very heavily in my visit to Meridian. I got told just a few days beforehand that I was going to get the opportunity to see Three Dog Night at the meticulously restored opera house. Now you have to understand how excitedly this news was relayed to me and how totally confused I was, see I had absolutely no idea what Three Dog Night was. I am very happy to report though that while I didn't know the band I knew many of their songs. Even if I hadn't known their songs the concert would have been absolutely worth it just to see the inside of the opera house.
Special Mention: Bonita Lakes Okay so they aren’t technically a building but the lakes are an incredibly beautiful recreation area and community resource with extensive bike trails. Unfortunately I wasn't able to bike there because of the heat but I am definitely planning on coming back.
Meridian was, for me, a lesson in what can happen with a consistent vision and political will. Many of the buildings I visited and the restoration effort in general was lead by one man. I always advocate for a bottom to top approach however in this instance I did see how much can come from having those in leadership positions really believe in a new city vision. Lucky for me that vision in Meridian was centered around the train station, which meant I got the chance to visit :)