5 Star Stories: Senatobia, Mississippi, a thriving and growing community

Updated: May. 4, 2021 at 9:05 PM CDT
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SENATOBIA, Miss (WMC) - Just off Interstate 55 sits the seat of Tate County, Mississippi, a bustling town of 8,000 where for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years, many a traveler found respite on their journey.

“We’re the only Senatobia in the whole wide world. There’s not even a little crossroads named Senatobia, not even a small little town named Senatobia,” said Main Street Director Jamie Sowell.

It was 1834 when an early settler purchased land from the Chickasaw Nation for $1.25 an acre. That land later became the town of Senatobia. The name Senatobia is derived from a native word which means white sycamore, which is also a symbol of rest for the weary.

The weary being Native Americans on the trail to the healing water found in what’s now Hot Springs, Arkansas.

“That’s why you see sycamore trees in downtown, Sycamore Bank, and Sycamore Arts. We have lots of ways we incorporate that into our town,” said Sowell.

The uniquely Italianate Tate County Courthouse was built in 1875.

”We have one of the oldest functioning court rooms in the United States,” Sowell said. ”Our Tate County Courthouse is also home to Tate County Museum, so there’s some really cool stuff up there. People can come in and just tour the upstairs. Movies have been filmed there and it’s just beautiful. when you see it you’re going to love it.”

Today, Senatobia calls itself a Five Star City.

”The five stars means industry, citizenship, agriculture, recreation, and education, and I think we have just the right amount of all of those things,” said Sowell.

The tip of the education point is Northwest Mississippi Community College where students can earn associate degrees in 13 different fields.

”It’s a very welcoming place, very affordable and you get a high-quality education,” said NWMCC music instructor Saundra Bishop.

The campus, which also has student housing, is bursting at the seams and expanding with a new performing arts center under construction.

”It will be a home to our music majors and performing ensembles, but we will have a variety of guest artists and touring companies coming in to perform in the facility, and it’s going to be a great asset to this Northwest Mississippi area,” Bishop said.

Surrounded by agriculture on the outskirts of town is an incredible example of citizenship and industry.

”The Baddour Center is a residential community that serves adults with intellectual disabilities. The best way I could summarize it is that we support people to grow, to live in a community of 120 acres of a beautiful countryside where folks live, learn, work worship and play,” said Parke Pepper, executive director of the Baddour Center.

Throughout its 40-plus year history, Pepper says the center has also served as one of the city’s long-term large employers.

”People that I’ve grown to know now, my friends, business associates, acquaintances, people I go to church with, my kids go to school with, their parents, people you run into, they’re like, ‘Oh, I used to work at Baddour Center or I used to play t-ball or basketball at Baddour Center.’ My aunt or my somebody worked there and everybody has, if they’ve been here a while, has some connection to the center,” Pepper said.

Then, there’s Senatobia’s quaint but burgeoning downtown.

”I mean, even despite this pandemic and we were able to sell seven buildings in our downtown,” Sowell said. “Our historic downtown for a while was just kind of vacant and it was a ghost town, and all these families have now invested in our community and invested in downtown and they saw the potential and I really feel like we are on the upward trajectory. People are fixing up their buildings, people are investing in these old historic buildings that require some work, but they’re putting the work in. We have new boutiques, new coffee shops, and new ice cream parlors. We have all kinds of new things happening in downtown.”

Pharmacist Mollie Spencer and her husband started renovating a building on Main Street and Front Street about two years ago, turning it into the Community Pharmacy and Mac & Charlies Soda Fountain.

”My husband and I moved from Jackson, Mississippi which we love. He grew up there, but he even says just moving here, time slows down. Like we wanted to raise our kids here. We have two little boys and a little girl on the way, so that’s our most important thing, that time’s just slowed down. We get to enjoy it so,” said Spencer.

A downtown pocket park, which was once a vacant lot, is now thought to be the spark that kicked off revitalization efforts throughout downtown. The funds to build it came from the city’s annual Five Star City Fest.

“We don’t have a town square, but we do have two beautiful parks in our downtown and we just wanted a place for people to come and have lunch or have events in the evening. There’s is a great splash pad here. We wanted to have live music and just a gathering place in downtown,” Sowell explained.

Senatobia serves as a place to gather and deliver rest for the weary.

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