William H. Hardy

William H. Hardy

William H. Hardy (1837-1917) was the founder of Hattiesburg, Mississippi; Laurel, Mississippi; and co-founder of Gulfport.


Born in Todds Hill (in Lowndes County, Alabama) on 12 February 1837, W.H. Hardy attended Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tennessee for three years, withdrawing before graduation due to contraction of pneumonia. Following his convelesance, Hardy agreed to a cousin's proposal to start Sylverana Academy, a boys' primary school affiliated with the Methodist Church in Jasper County, Mississippi. During his year at Sylverana, Hardy read law, and when he departed Jasper County in 1856 for Raleigh, Mississippi, he was able to easily pass the bar. In 1858 and opened his own law practice. In 1859 he met and in 1860 was married to Sallie Ann Johnson with whom had six children (Mattie, Willie, Ellen, Elizabeth, Thomas, and Jefferson Davis) before her death in 1872. [ [http://www.lib.usm.edu/~archives/m380.htm M380 Hardy (William H. and Sallie J.) Papers ] ]

Civil War Service

In 1861, Hardy joined Company H of the 16th Mississippi and served under General Stonewall Jackson; a gastric ulcer necessitated his discharge and return to Raleigh in 1865. [No Compromise With Principle]

The New Orleans and Northeastern and Alabama Southern Railroads

In 1868 Hardy became involved in a plan to build a railroad from Meridian to New Orleans: the New Orleans and Northeastern Railroad. He later became General Counsel for the company, although his legacy with that road centers on two things in particular: Hardy's engineering work to construct the bridge spanning Lake Ponchartrain and his efforts to secure funding once the road went into receivership during the economic Panic of 1873.

In 1870, Hardy worked sporadically with his brother-in-law and board of directors member, Milton Lott, on the narrow-gauge Alabama Southern Railroad. Hardy's work there ended in much the same way as his involvement in the NO&NE, he eventually secured partial funding from the British banking house of May before departing the road and ending his official involvement in 1873. [9, 13 May 1868 and 17, 25 August 1870 letters to Sallie Johnson Hardy. McCain Library and Archives, University of Southern Mississippi]

Hardy's increasing involvement in the day to day operations of the NO&NE, eventually as that road's General Counsel, necessitated a move to Meridian in 1873. While on a business trip to Mobile, he met Hattie Lott; they married in 1874. Hattie moved to Meridian soon after; she had three children (Lena Mai, Lamar, and Toney) with Hardy before her death in 1895.

Early Involvement with the Gulf and Ship Island

The coup Hardy achieved in overseeing completion of the Ponchartrain Bridge and securing funding to complete the NO&NE brought a measure of regional fame; railroad men (and those who wanted to be) throughout the Magnolia State courted him for their boards of directors. In 1880 Hardy joined longtime railroad financiers and fellow Confederate veterans William Falkner and Wirt Adams to revive and revise the lapsed charter for the narrow gauge Ship Island, Ripley, and Kentucky Railroad. With Fallkner's support, Hardy accepted the presidency of the Gulf and Ship Island Railroad in 1887, pending revision of that road's line to "some point on the Gulf of Mexico," and its change to standard gauge. An apocryphal tale says that while involved in surveys for the New Orleans and Northeastern Railroad, Hardy came up with the idea of a north-south railroad from the coast of the Gulf of Mexico to Jackson, Tennessee. While Hardy did not devise the entire line on his own, he did make several important changes to the lay of the line: he changed the terminus and route to cross his NO&NE at a point he named "Hattiesburg," in honor of his wife. Hardy determined Mississippi City, Mississippi, was too far east of the natural deep-water harbor protected by Ship Island and proposed a new city at the revised terminus, Gulfport, Mississippi. [William Harris Hardy Papers, University of Southern Mississippi]

Throughout his long involvement with the Gulf and Ship Island, Hardy lobbied investors and financiers throughout the north, west, and Europe to bring their capital to his project; eventually, the reality of Reconstruction economics got the best of him. Hardy's questionable use of the state's convicts, under the lease of Jones S. Hamilton, brought his first dose of bad press; a state commission tasked with investigation of the convict lease system revoked the company's lease in 1888. Also in that year, two of the road's most vocal supporters (William Falkner and Jones Hamilton) were involved in politically-motivated assassinations. The final blow came with a financial collapse; Hardy's efforts to secure fianancing could not counter a wholesale panic, and the Gulf and Ship Island went into receivership in 1896. [William Harris Hardy Papers, University of Southern Mississippi]

Public Service

Although the road changed hands to Joseph T. Jones, Hardy remained involved as a board member until 1899; his election to the Mississippi State Legislature in 1895 kept him in Jackson enough to make involvement with the railroad less possible. While in Jackson, Hardy met and married his third wife, Ida V. May, with whom he had three children, William H., Jr., Hamilton Lee, and James Hutchins, before his death in 1917. In 1905, he served as circuit court judge for the second district (covering south-central Mississippi); when the district split in 1906, he remained as judge for the newly-created coastal district until his semi-retirement in 1909. For the next eight years, Hardy maintained law offices in Gulfport, Mississippi with his son Toney.

Hardy died of a heart attack at his home in Gulfport, Mississippi on 17 February 1917.


William Harris Hardy is memorialised in at least two Mississippi sites: prior to Hurricane Katrina, a 1929 bronze bust stood to the southwest of the Gulfport Public Library building; a state historical marker in Hattiesburg mentions his involvement in creating that city. As late as 2002 a marble bust and life-size portrait stood in the Gulfport Courthouse. He founded and named three Mississippi cities: Gulfport, Hattiesburg, and Laurel. In his capacity as railroad president, he was involved in platting all three of the cities he named; roads in each are named for members of his family: Hardy Street (that city's main East-West artery), Toney Lane, and Mattie Street in Hattiesburg, and Toney Drive in Laurel.


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