My late father-in-law was a veteran politician who first took the stump in 1951 during a run for the Mississippi House of Representatives. At rallies across George County, he sang promises that if voters would send him to Jackson, he would bring them home a good road leading straight to the Gulf Coast.
Darwin M. Maples recounted the story to me years ago saying he had no idea during his campaign how large a promise he had made.
What we know today as Mississippi Highway 63 was once a straight but narrow and rugged road leading from George County to Jackson County. It was called Lampton Road and cut through parts of the Lampton Lands of Mississippi.
These lands were owned by the Lampton Realty Company of Magnolia, a company that not only owned 26,000 acres in George and Jackson Counties, but also six banks, large mercantile establishments, and cotton mills. In 1911 this property was offered for sale at $50 to $100 an acre. An impressive 48-page publicity booklet encouraged folks to buy choice farming acreage in an ideal climate and guaranteed them a “good home, good water, and good road.”
Perhaps in 1911, the road was something to brag about; however, by the 1950s it was something to avoid. Most Lucedaleans traveled to Moss Point on a crooked route that passed through Agricola and Hurley. Regardless of its curvy layout, it was a better route than the straighter Lampton Road. Lampton Road had been the first paved road in the county and had developed potholes and large spaces where the blacktop had eroded.
Therefore, my father-in-law ran his legislative campaign on the platform to get Lampton Road improved. When he got to Jackson, he introduced a bill proposing to have the road placed under the state highway system and to have it rebuilt and maintained. He was told he first had to gain approval from the Southern District Highway Commissioner who subsequently told him the system already had too many roads under its helm. Luckily, the new legislator was placed on the Appropriations Committee. Furthermore, the highway commissioner needed assistance reissuing highway bonds. By his second year in state government, my father-in-law had learned the process around the capital and made it clear he would okay the bonds when the commissioner accepted Lampton Road.
That is how the new Mississippi 63 developed. My father-in-law’s bill also stipulated that the road would be straight throughout George County all the way to the Jackson County line. Motorists who travel that route may recognize that just past the county line into Jackson County, the highway begins to curve. Lampton Road was put under the highway system and old Mississippi 63 was renamed Mississippi 613. The new road stopped at Plant Daniels until circa 1980. Jackson County legislators originally fought running it all the way to Bayou Cassotte because they didn’t want to hurt businesses along the route through Moss Point. Today, hundreds of shipyard and refinery workers use this highway to get from George County, Greene County, and other northern counties to Pascagoula. A few hundred more drive to various other jobs in Jackson County.
My father-in-law never again ran for the legislature. Yet six years after he left the State House, he was elected Circuit Court Judge for the 19th Judicial District. He spent three decades driving up and down what was once the old Lampton Road. Ironically, no one benefited more from its improvement than Darwin M. Maples.