Tupelo in Jackson County is experiencing a strong growth pattern
Written by: Tracy L. Crain
Arkansas Democrat Gazette
Sunday, March 4, 2001

Thereís been a change in the population of Tupelo, located along U.S. 17 in Jackson County. It comes as a result of the small influx of neighbors moving into and settling alongside Tupeloís 208 residents.

Here, residents donate time to teaching children how to ride bicycles and the adults to drive motor vehicles.

Although probably best described as a small-scale culture shift, most residents area accepting of their new neighbors.

Ruth Patterson has lived in this small community her entire life. Both her parents and her grandparents grew up here.

When asked about the new residents, she describes them as quiet.

"I wave," she said. "They wave back."

Patterson believes thereís a lot to be said for the townís ancestry. "There are a lot of good people here, but there are also a lot of good people who have died," she said. "You just donít see too many people like the ones who have lived here."

Oscar Jones, 80, is one of the more well-known individuals living in Tupelo that Patterson appreciates.

"I see him all the time from my house sitting across the street in his car reading the newspaper," she said. "He knows everything about this town. He used to run the store, where he served as a banker, cashing all the checks in the area. He also worked as the postmaster."

The "old wood" store, as Patterson referenced it, served as a post office and general goods store for several years.

Jones, whose son operated it for many years after he retired, later sold the building and the post office was closed.

"Thatís when the government bought us a new post office," Patterson said.

The store, which burned about a month ago, was a great loss to the area.

"I can remember going there as a kid; purchasing a soda pop and a candy bar for less than a quarter," Patterson said. "We have to go to Newport, 16 miles away or Augusta, 13 miles away, to do our shopping. Thatís a long way to drive just for a loaf of bread."

Despite its lack of commerce, thereís a lot to be said for the quaint little town. There are rustic, historic buildings that line the heart of the community that reflect the labors of an earlier time; a time when farming was beginning to see a decline and the industrial revolution was peaking.

Pattersonís home is also a historic landmark; remnants of a time when there was a school in town.

"This house used to be the lunchroom. There were many a meal served here," she said.

The school, where Patterson once attended, closed down 25 years ago. The children in the area attend school in Newport today.

Along with the historic buildings and homesteads, Tupelo is home to an appliance store, four churches and a community center.

"We use the community center as a place to give benefits for the people who have cancer," Patterson said. "We also have a little playground for the kids. We just got it started last year. Itís fenced in by the old Church of Christ and has basketball goals and swing sets."

The playground, built from the donations of area residents, is the pride and joy of the townís community projects. "Everybody is real good about doing stuff to help the kids in this area,í she said. "Thereís always something going on for them."

For the bigger kids, thereís a reunion each year. "Every summer old people come together from way off to see people they might have not seen in years," she said. "Everybodyís friends here. When you are in trouble, they stand beside you. Itís the kind of place where you know all your neighbors and everybody loves everybody."

Perhaps thatís the reason why everybody always comes back home for the reunions.

"Itís a good town, but not as good as when I was growing up," Patterson said. "Itís getting bigger now. It used to be that kids could walk down the street and not worry about anything. Thatís why I let my kids grow up here."

She continued, "There are a lot of drugs and other social concerns. Many of our children have had had to move away to find employment."

When asked if he and his wife would ever consider moving, Gary Don, Pattersonís husband, said, "No, itís home to us. Although there is not much to do, itís a good place to live."

His wife continued, "When the chips are down, the people in this town are there for you. And, if you need anything, they are more than willing to bring you food or clean your house. People donít do that in the big city."

Tupelo is best described as an interesting community in the midst of a few growing pains. It is comprised of farmers or retired farmers who seem to have strong convictions and a deep sense of loyalty to their community, family, and friends.

(Tupelo is an excerpt from Road Trips; a weekly feature of small towns in Arkansas written by Tracy Crain and published by the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.)