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Tiny Tupelo: Mini cityscape a staple of Oren Dunn museum

December 21, 2018

TUPELO, Miss. (AP) — It’s hard to get a sense of what the Tupelo of yesteryear looked like if you weren’t around to witness it firsthand.

With age comes growth and change, and Northeast Mississippi has seen its fair share over the past 80 years.

While photographs serve as historians on areas that have seen major change, they lack the immersive experience to let you truly appreciate what Tupelo once was.

If you’d like to take a stroll down memory lane and be reminded of the first TVA city in a simpler time, look no farther than the Oren Dunn City Museum.

While a treasure trove of memorabilia, artifacts and antiques await you once you pass through the gates, one of the true gems of the museum’s exhibits is a sprawling model of 1940′s Tupelo in the center of the main structure.

Boyd Yarbrough acts as curator for the set, which was originally conceived and constructed at the Oren Dunn Museum more than 25 years ago by Bill Lyle and Bill Carroll.

“The theme that was set for it was always to show the way of life in Tupelo in the late ’40s and early ’50s,” Yarbrough said.

Many of the iconic Tupelo landmarks were built from scratch, including the Lee County Courthouse and the original North Mississippi Medical Center, the hospital on the hill.

“The train station and the Carnation plant were another kitbash project,” he said. “Some of the other homes were kits, although we did do some work to change windows and shapes and stuff to configure what they might have looked like downtown in that time.”

Yarbrough said a lot of the painstaking work that went into the creation came from photographs and recollections of those who were citizens at the time.

“The two Bills’ knowledge of the downtown area was a huge part in this,” Yarbrough said of Lyle and Carroll’s work on the set.

It’s been dismantled, moved, rebuilt and rewired multiple times, but the model remains one of the gems of the museum.

“At one time it was put away and stored for 8 or 10 years, actually,” Yarbrough said. “But it needed to be seen. It’s like rebuilding history. I enjoy that part of it; daydreaming of Tupelo in that era and the stores and businesses and economy back in that time.”

Yarbrough said he’s been a fan of railroad sets since he was a young boy, so the model of the city is right up his alley.

“Just watching the train go through is fun for me,” he said.

A sign at the front of the set serves to help with any misconceptions for those who are eagle-eyed observers.

“This train model represents Tupelo in the 1940s,” the placard reads. “The downtown area lies to the left. Behind that is where the current BancorpSouth Arena sits. Mill Village sits to the right with the ‘Hospital on the Hill’ on the far right. The area with the Ferris wheel is the Fairpark District and to the right of that is the Private John Allen Fish Hatchery.

“The train display is only a representation of the area and some areas have been condensed.”

“We wanted to take in the major components of downtown and do some consolidation to make it fit into the size that it needed to be,” Yarbrough said of the condensing. “I came in on the tail end of the construction of it but have enjoyed getting to be a part of it.”

Take a trip back in time with the Tupelo railroad set at the Oren Dunn City Museum Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.

For more information, call (662) 841-6438.

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Information from: Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, http://djournal.com

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