Some time back, officials from the Hattiesburg Convention Commission acquired the vacant pad across from the African American Military History Museum on East 6th Street, with the intention of displaying various military vehicles and other equipment.
However, the acquisition of that equipment didn’t pan out as hoped - until Don Moeller, a Georgia physician, paid a visit to the museum in January and inquired about putting his collection of 13 rare military vehicles on permanent display at the museum. Those vehicles will soon be housed in the Moeller Military Vehicle Museum, which will be located on that vacant site as the newest addition to the 6th Street Museum District.
“We looked at it and said, ‘Wow, this is exceptional,’" said Rick Taylor, executive director of the Hattiesburg Convention Commission. “This is such a great gift that he’s willing to give, and also, we feel like it will help jumpstart other donations of the same type.
“(Moeller) wants to put this on permanent loan to preserve that collection; he wants kids to be able to crawl on them, to get in them. This fits with our plan that we were actually working on, at a slower pace, and all we required was a building."
Although commission officials had originally planned to house outdoor vehicles at the site, the pristine condition of Moeller’s vehicles will require them to be placed in a building. In fact, one of the vehicles - a very rare military ambulance - must be displayed in a climate-controlled facility.
“We’ve met with the neighborhood association, and they obviously don’t want, in the middle of their residential area, a big industrial, factory-type building,” Taylor said. “So we’re in the tail end of the process of identifying a metal building that will present very well., and we have some prototypes that we think will fit.
“We’ve already been working on design, and we’ve got some contractors that have been working with us. We’re a little bit down the path from the planning side of that."
in addition, the slab’s large size will allow officials to build a trailhead to the Longleaf Trace, across from where the trail ends at East 6th Street. The vehicles are expected to take up approximately 40 percent of the building, which will leave room for future growth.
Officials also plan to build a large courtyard at the current site of the outdoor movies on the other side of the museum.
“So that will allow the movies to continue, but it won’t be a drive-in anymore; people will have to park and walk in,” Taylor said. “We are going to add restrooms in this metal building, and we’re going to add a small food service location so that events can be held amongst the military vehicles, if that’s what someone wants.
“Or, out on the court deck, if they want to do something outside, or some combination thereof, (they can). We’ll see this as an annex, really, and we’re certainly going to recognize Dr. Moeller’s gift that really jumpstarted this plan that we have and moved it to action.”
Officials are currently in the planning stages of the project, with hopes to finish the museum by late next year.
“This one is going to be on the front burner, because Dr. Moeller has been very patient with us,” Taylor said.”We intend to go to bid on that at the start of the new fiscal year.
“I don’t know how long it takes to build a metal building, but I would anticipate that we’re looking at about 12-14 months from the first of October, which is when our new fiscal year will start.”
In addition to the African American Military History Museum and the Moeller Military Vehicle Museum, the Hattiesburg Convention Commission also manages the Hattiesburg Zoo, the Hattiesburg Pocket Museum, the Lake Terrace Convention Center, the Saenger Theater, the Lawn at Lake Terrace, the Eureka School Museum, the Oseola McCarty House and Smith Drug Company.