Jackson County

What happened to the expensive Hickory Hill sign in Gautier?

Gautier resident Darryl Jackson replaced the expensive, carved wooden sign with a replica banner and it was stolen too.
Gautier resident Darryl Jackson replaced the expensive, carved wooden sign with a replica banner and it was stolen too. klnelson@sunherald.com

The sign was expensive — carved and painted wood — set between two stone pillars.

Realtor Kenny Smith and the city together paid almost $10,000 for it, officials said. But what the sign said didn’t meet the approval of all of the community in that part of the city — north of Interstate 10, along Martin Bluff Road.

And within four months, someone had cut it down with what police called a Sawzall, a type of small electric saw that will cut through just about anything.

The large sign, 2 inches thick, had said “Hickory Hill Golf Community.” The pillars still stand at the I-10 service road and Martin Bluff Road. Hickory Hill is a couple of miles north on Martin Bluff.

This story, however, isn’t as simple as a police offense report. It involves people who feel disenfranchised.

Darryl Jackson, a Gautier resident living in Hickory Hill and disturbed about the vandalism, replaced the wooden sign with a temporary banner that replicated the sign, except this time it had a big red arrow pointing toward Hickory Hill. This week, somebody took it too.

Police are investigating, but there has been no arrest in the case.

Is there disrespect?

Some say the sign offended the Martin Bluff community by declaring the area Hickory Hill. Some say there is no Martin Bluff community — that Hickory Hill swallowed it long ago. But what really matters at this point, Gautier Councilman Casey Vaughan said, is whatever goes back between those pillars would best be vetted by the whole area and a compromise reached.

Otherwise, there’s little hope of keeping a sign there.

Vaughan is proposing a town hall meeting at 6 p.m. Oct. 17 in an area church. He said the city needs to work on the sign design until everyone is satisfied.

The issue is basic. There once was a Martin Bluff community that began in 1846. When the federal government bought land for the Sandhill Crane National Refuge several decades ago, it obtained Jacques Martin’s in a land swap that gave him back what once was the Martin Bluff community — land south of Interstate 10 along the Pascagoula River. The community also stretches north to just south of Hickory Hill golf course and resort, a Gautier historian told the Sun Herald.

Jackson said he proposes a new Hickory Hill sign include the words “Martin Bluff Community, est. 1846.”

But even that might not do it, others said.

Some believe a Hickory Hill sign has no place in Martin Bluff.

Jackson said, “I think if a man wanted to put up a $10,000 sign to advertise his golf course and the city says, ‘OK,’ then he could put it anywhere he wants.”

Approaching the city

Realtor Smith is part owner of the golf course and paid most of the sign’s cost.

He approached the city with the sign idea to replace a haphazard community board. The idea, Jackson said, was to route visiting traffic off the interstate up Martin Bluff Road and north. There wasn’t an official vote for the sign and the city did pay for part of it, so there’s a catch there for the community as well. They say it’s a city sign and should be official. Two people have addressed the City Council to say they have Martin Bluff supporters.

Motorist Mike McLaughlin, however, passing the sign Wednesday, stopped to say, “It’s a shame. You get something nice in Gautier, why does someone want to take it away?”

Jackson also said Martin Bluff hasn’t been a community for at least 40 years. He has a second banner planned and he said this time, it will position the arrow indicating Hickory Hill is actually in a different location.

Jackson plans to pay for that one too, until a GoFundMe.com account can be set up to replace the wooden one, hopefully with the right lettering. The cost is estimated to be $3,500.