In 1880, what is now Laurel's Historic District, was mile upon mile of virgin timber. However, after the New Orleans and Northeastern Railroad came through in 1881, economic development happened rapidly.
The City of Laurel was incorporated in 1882, with timber as the impetus. John Kamper built the first mill, which was small and primitive. In 1891, Mr. Kamper, near bankruptcy, sold the mill and extensive land holdings to Clinton, IA, lumber barons Lauren Chase Eastman and George and Silas Gardiner. The Eastman-Gardiner mill opened in 1893, employing the best technology and labor-saving devices of the day.
The Eastman-Gardiner mill was followed by the Gilchrist-Fordney mill from Alpena, MI, in 1906, the Wausau-Southern mill from Wausau, WI, in 1911, and the Marathon mill from Memphis, TN, in 1914. Following World War I, Laurel shipped more yellow pine than any other location in the world. The peak of prosperity was reached in the 1920s at which time the mills were producing a total of one million board feet of lumber per day--enough laid end to end to stretch 189 miles.
Laurel's Historic District today is a product of Laurel's timber era (1893 - 1937) and is considered the largest, finest, and most intact collection of early 20th century architecture in Mississippi.
The District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places both for its history and its wide variety of architectural styles--both with a high degree of quality and sophistication rare in the South and unique in Mississippi. The mixture of the beautiful residential areas with the abundance of trees, churches, and commercial areas also makes Laurel the best example of the City Beautiful movement in the state.
Historic preservation is ongoing as the buildings must not only be treasured, but protected and maintained so future generations may enjoy these architectural jewels.