Daughters of Confederacy group files lawsuit against City

By HASKEL BURNS,

The City of Hattiesburg has chosen representation in a civil action filed against the city by the Nathan Bedford Forrest Chapter #422 of the United Daughters of the Confederacy regarding the proposed demolition – or relocation – of a house on South 17th Avenue used as a meeting place for the UDC.

After convening to executive session during Tuesday’s Hattiesburg City Council meeting, council members voted to retain Ridgeland attorney Holmes Adams, along with city attorney Randy Pope, for the suit that was filed Feb. 14. Pope said the city-owned house – which is in the southeast quadrant of Kamper Park, near the Hattiesburg Zoo – had previously been determined by an engineer to be structurally unsafe, and should therefore be demolished or relocated for safety reasons.

Upon hearing of the city’s intentions, the UDC filed an injunction against the city in Forrest County Chancery Court, saying that demolition or any construction or alteration of the chapter house would constitute irreparable damage for which there is no adequate legal remedy.

“There are two things – first, the house is in bad shape,” Pope said. “The other thing is, we are planning to expand Kamper Park to the south; we want to provide more playgrounds and that kind of thing.

“The (Hattiesburg) Convention Commission is buying up houses along there, and it’s right in the way.”

Pope said the city is not necessarily insistent on demolition if another option can be found.

“I think if we could figure out a way to move it somewhere, (we could),” he said. “I don’t know what that would cost, and I don’t know where you’d put it. But we’re not bound and determined to tear it down; it just doesn’t need to be in that location.”

The UDC, which is being represented by Hattiesburg attorney Michael Barefield, started Kamper Park from a 40-acre tract of land that was given to the group in 1902 by John Kamper. Six years later, the organization deeded the land to the city.

In 1913, a home was built for a park groundskeeper. The house became the UDC’s chapter house in 1942, and Chapter #422 has met in that location once a month since then.

In an attempt to get the house designated as a historical landmark – which it currently is not – the UDC has submitted an Application for Landmark Designation to the landmarks administrator of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. If that status is granted, Mississippi Code 39-7-22 would prohibit demolition of a potential landmark by a public entity until approved by the MDAH.

“We don’t have any plans to bulldoze it any time soon,” Pope said. “We’ve got to get through these hoops with Archives and History before anybody can do anything.”

Pope said adverse possession – a legal principle under which a person who does not have legal title to a piece of property acquires legal ownership based on continuous occupation of the property – does not apply in this case, as that principle does not run against the state or any political entity.

“So let’s say they built it in 1913 themselves, and they’re the only ones who have met there, and they’re the only ones that have ever done anything to the house,” he said. “It still doesn’t belong to them. It belongs to the city, because they deeded the entire 40 acres to the city.”

The suit is expected to take some time, as the process with Archives and History is usually a lengthy one.

“They’ve submitted a request asking that it be put on the landmark status, so we’ll have to submit something in response saying it shouldn’t be, and we should be allowed to either demolish it or move it somewhere,” Pope said. “Our concern is also, frankly, they only meet there once a month, and yes, the floor could fall in.

“But you’ve also got little kids playing in that park. If part of that building should fall on a child, and we know about it, we’ve got some responsibility for that. So we can’t just not do anything – we have to do something.”