Hernando Courthouse Square Historic District
The Hernando Courthouse Square Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2011, The Gombach Group.
The Hernando Courthouse Square Historic District is composed of eighteen buildings and one outbuilding which face the historic courthouse square of Hernando on Highway 51 South, Losher Street, Caffey Street and West Commerce Street. The Hernando Courthouse Square District's character is commercial.
The buildings of the Hernando Courthouse Square District were constructed over a period beginning around 1890 and ending in 1940. The most significant building in the Hernando Courthouse Square Historic District is the DeSoto County Courthouse. A Neoclassical building, it was built in 1940. There are other significant commercial buildings, including the buildings at 2564 Highway 51 South, 330 West Commerce Street, and 315 Losher Street. Hernando Courthouse Square is an excellent example of the central courthouse square town plan, which appears in several Mississippi towns.
The area around the Courthouse in Hernando, located in DeSoto County, is locally significant for its architecture and in the area of community planning and development because it represents the early twentieth century development of the town of Hernando. It has been the seat of government of DeSoto County since 1836 and is a good representation of the "central courthouse square" town plan which is also seen in several other Mississippi County seats. Hernando is locally notable as the best concentration of early twentieth century commercial architecture in the county. While the town of Hernando was founded in 1836, the period of significance for the Hernando Courthouse Square Historic District is 1892-1947 because many of the original commercial buildings were frame structures which burned over the years.
DeSoto County was formed in 1836 from land ceded by the Chickasaw. The town of Hernando, originally named Jefferson, was also founded in 1836. There is some speculation that the town may have originated as an Indian trading post, and therefore predates the forming of the county. However, there is record of the donation, by Edward Orne, of 40 acres to be used as the county seat. In 1836, this land was laid out with 172 lots surrounding a public square.
Transportation in Hernando developed steadily. In 1839, the United States established a mail route from Holly Springs to Hernando. In 1852, the state chartered a company to build a plank road from Panola to Memphis, going through Hernando. While this was originally called the Panola DeSoto Plank Road, it was later changed to the Memphis and Hernando Plank Road. In 1856, the first train ran through Hernando, on the Mississippi & Tennessee Railroad, which linked Memphis to Grenada, Mississippi. There was even a steamboat route developing in nearby Helena, Arkansas. All of this progress would come to a grinding halt with the start of the Civil War.
In 1863, Hernando was occupied by the Union troops. Many of the town's original buildings were destroyed in this time period. Hernando would be overrun many times by the Union troops before the war was over. But by 1867, Hernando was rebuilding.
The commercial center of town was originally located off the courthouse square, along East Center Street. The first street to develop as a commercial entity was Westbrook Street. Then the north and south sides of the courthouse square seemed to develop simultaneously. By 1903, all four streets around the courthouse had commercial buildings on them. The original intent of the courthouse square design had finally been fulfilled.
Hernando was primarily an agriculturally based town. The major crops grown in the surrounding area were cotton, corn, wheat, tobacco and cattle. Because of this fact, and the fact that the transportation boom never picked up in Hernando again, the town did not have a big building boom. No real industry developed in Hernando. Rather, most residents became truck farmers because of the proximity of Memphis.
It might be this fact that has allowed Hernando to save much of the early twentieth century historic resources of its downtown. The courthouse square is still laid out almost the same as it would have been in 1836. Hernando has managed to overcome the hardships of occupation, county division, and the loss of many of its citizens to yellow fever, in order to become an enduring small town. The architecture of its downtown exemplifies this attitude.
The most prominent building in the Hernando Courthouse Square Historic District is the DeSoto County Courthouse built in 1940. This building, designated as a Mississippi Landmark in 1985, is a good example of the continuation of Classical Revival taste in public buildings into the 1940's, but it does reflect the shift away from the Neo-Classical to the eclectic "Colonial" interpretation of Classicism that was widespread in Mississippi in the 1930's. The DeSoto County Courthouse is the most notable public building and the main architectural landmark of Hernando. There are several notable commercial buildings, including the two-story building at 2564 Highway 51 South, the oldest structure in the Hernando Courthouse Square Historic District.
Slow but steady growth as a commercial center continued into the early years of the twentieth century, resulting in the gradual replacement of commercial buildings. The oldest surviving commercial buildings in the community, located around the Courthouse Square, dates to the 1890's. There was never a particular boom period in the town's growth, until after World War II, so the commercial area remained small, centered around the Courthouse Square.
DeSoto County, Mississippi. "Agriculture," WPA Records. Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Jackson.
DeSoto County, Mississippi. "Formation," WPA Records. Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Jackson.
Sanborn maps, 1892, 1903, 1909, 1915, 1925.
Scott, Mildred M. "19th Century Hernando." Genealogical Society of Hernando.
† Jennifer Opager, Lea Stamm and Deborah Wise, Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Hernando Courthouse Square District, DeSoto County, Hernando, MS, nomination document, 1997, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.