Back in the 70s, back in the days of gas rationing and the creeping understanding that the US’s dependency on imported crude oil was literally out of control; off shore oil rigs sprang up in Houston, Texas, like private schools in Memphis during the days of desegregation.
Hundreds of them sent blue collar working men and women flocking to the Houston area to cash in… literally. Jobs were plentiful and paid well, so why not? Boom Town – as Houston became known – had arrived.
Lafayette County already has its version of Houston (Oxford) and we swell and relax as the seasons change and as our UM students dictate. But what about our neighboring counties: Yalobusha, Marshall, Tate, Lee or Panaloa?
Well, one for sure – Yalobusha County – has firmly established itself as a North Mississippi Boom Town over the past two or three years, an undebatable fact as the small town of Water Valley and its fewer than 4,000 residents have rolled up their sleeves and plunged the area into a revitalization and restoration blitz.
The vigorous downtown development mission (Water Valley Main Street Association) perpetually works to improve the area, spur economic development and provide a plethora of entertainment opportunities for residents and its cousins from the north (Oxford).
Arguably, one of the most essential proponents of the Boom Town blitz is 10-year Valley resident Kagan Coughlin who has in the past few years dumped a tremendous amount of time, effort and resources into several ventures in the Main Street district (more on these below).
Art (and music) seem to be the conceptual themes with numerous studios and music venues popping up around the downtown area: Yalobusha Brewing Co., Bozarts, Yalo Studios and Gallery and Rip it Up (the newest studio in the Valley which is owned and operated by Oxford-based musicians Tyler Keith and Laurie Stirratt). Water Valley conveniently packages all of its art-themed residents and businesses into an annual event – an Art Crawl – which features approximately 20 “art studios” and 40 individual artists within walking distance of the downtown area.
Down the street from the galleries, new dining and drinking establishments have popped up as well.
The extremely popular Crawdad Hole (restaurant) opened in 2011 and features seafood and Cajun and Creole foods, definite favorites anywhere you venture in North Mississippi. The restaurant is handsomely housed in a former gas station and features boiled crawfish, shrimp, po’ boys, and – best of all – Yalo brew. The Crawdad Hole is open Thursday-Sunday and can be found on Facebook where they post weekly specials and other gems.
Ah… and what can you say about Yalobusha Brewing Co. that hasn’t already been said? AMAZING comes to mind – and delicious.
The production brewery – North Mississippi’s first, opened in 2013 in the vintage Hendricks Machine Shop – has now branched out into their version of a casual music venue complete with the flow of gallons of Yalo brew as well as North Mississippi’s best country, rock, bluegrass and blues music. The event – titled Brewery Tours Tasting and Tunes – has been a regular staple for just over a month, but is already being known as THE thing to do on a Friday evening in North Mississippi. Yalobusha Brewing Co. is located at 102 Main Street in Water Valley. Visit YaloBrew.com for more information.
B.T.C. Old Fashioned Grocery on Main Street is yet another Water Valley jewel that must be seen… as well as tasted (see photos and video below). The establishment, owned and operated by Coughlin’s wife Alexe Van Beuren and business partner/co-owner/chef Dixie Grimes, experienced humble beginnings in 2010 after a massive restoration effort, showcasing fresh produce and other basic staples supplied by nearby farmers. Today – while it still features fresh, local produce (some of which is donated by amiable Water Valley farmers… just because) – the iconic grocery has added hearty breakfasts and plate lunches to its repertoire including soups and sandwiches made to order by chef Grimes and staff. Need a vintage adding machine or Polaroid camera? Yep… you can find those in the iconic “grocery” store as well (along with other amazing relics and antiques from a humble North Mississippi bygone era). Just go and you’ll see for yourself because these written words can’t possibly do the place justice.
Reaching deep into its versatile genre art bag, Water Valley Main Street attracts history buffs in droves to the Water Valley Casey Jones Railroad Museum located across the street from the Yalobusha Brewing Co. Housed on the site of the former Illinois Central Railroad Depot, the museum is open Thursday-Saturday from 2-4 p.m.
Economically, The Valley is also booming. Even though the town is considered by many to be a community possessing a “quite charm,” it also attracts those who are interested in the purchase of affordable housing as real estate prices average far below those in Oxford (only a short 20 miles north).
Coughlin and Van Beuren have also embraced the real estate facet of the revival, opening the Blu-Buck Mercantile Hotel, Water Valley. These refurbished 2-floor studio-type apartments feature high planked ceilings (no popcorn on these babies), central (digital) heat and air, and ancient wooden floors perfect for young families, seasonal guests or even UM students willing to commute to Oxford. Again, the difference (other than a 20-minute commute) is a price tag that is fraction of what townhomes in Lafayette County (and more specifically, Oxford) go for these days. And, Coughlin says that your pups are welcome (unless – as in my case – that pup is a 200-pound Great Dane). “I’ll have to give that a little more thought,” Coughlin said.
Jobs and careers in the township are plentiful, fueled by such entities as BorgWarner manufacturing plant, Water Valley Poultry, Valley Tool, Mechanics Bank and Yalobusha General Hospital & Nursing Home, and of course, the Water Valley School District led by Dr. Michael McInnis.
New to the economic boom in Water Valley, Base Camp Coding Academy entered the picture last year and was founded by Glen Evans and (who else?) Kagan Coughlin. HottyToddy.com will pick apart the new academy in an forthcoming feature as it gets closer to opening its doors to a new generation of high school graduates.
An ambitious date of June 1 is planned by Base Camp Coding Academy to begin training the newest wave of coders expected to be released on Mississippi after an intense year of training.
“Water Valley is a place where folks are excited to welcome new people and pull them into the community,” Coughlin said. “If you want to start something here, it can be shocking to see the amount of support and well-wishing you receive. People genuinely want you to succeed because they’re nice, and because there’s a core feeling that everyone wants what’s best for the community, and they appreciate you for contributing.”
Well done, Mr. Coughlin. That about sums it up.
To infinity and beyond, Water Valley.
For more information about Base Camp Coding Academy, contact Kagan Coughlin at Kagan@basecampcodingacademy.org or Glen Evans at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jeff McVay is a staff writer and graphic designer for Hottytoddy.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.