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William Harris Hardy (1837-1917)


Lauderdale Counties Movers and Shakers

A Lauderdale County Web Exclusive
by Bill White


William H. Hardy

Mover and Shaker: "An individual who has a dramatic impact on an organization or a series of events." (Dictionary of Business Terms, 3rd edition, by Jack P. Friedman, published by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.)


"He had been a captain in the Civil War and, like most... [used] his rank until he died... He was an attorney, an imposing, impressive man, being six foot tall... He was [said to be] the most eloquent speaker that Baptists had ever produced in Mississippi. He came to Meridian... an entrepreneur with the idea of establishing a railroad from New Orleans to Meridian... and everybody thought this was really a foolish idea because it meant you would have to build a bridge across Lake Ponchartrain, but Hardy thought it could be done and he did it. He... could spot the need of services when he came into a community and roll the funds to supply these needs. Consequently, when he came to Meridian we didn't have any gas lights, everybody had to have gas lights, so he set up a gas light company... Meridian, he felt, didn't have an adequate bank so he established the Meridian National Bank. He was outstanding as a Mason [and] became the grand master of Masons of Mississippi. He decided to build another railroad from Meridian down to the Gulf... About 80 miles south of Meridian he thought there was a need for another little town so he built a town and he named it after his wife... Hattie Hardy, he called the town Hattiesburg. When he got down to the coast... he needed another town so he built one and called it Gulfport."

--Reverend John Armistead, First Baptist Church Histories

"Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em."

--Shakespeare, from Twelfth Night (Act II, Scene 5)

If there were ever any doubt that W. H. Hardy would become a force to be reckoned with in East Mississippi, it would never have been found in the minds of the citizens of Lauderdale County. Hardy arrived in Meridian in 1872, with an idea for a railroad, a little influence and a big personality. He had a keen intellect that would carry him far in his chosen legal profession but more importantly for eastern Mississippi, he was, as Reverend Armistead has said, a true entrepreneur.

Hardy was born 12 February 1837 at Todds Hill, Lowndes County, Alabama to Robert William Hardy and Temperance L. Toney. Both parents were descendants of English and Irish emigrants that served in the Revolutionary War under Generals Green and Marion. Finishing his primary studies at Town Creek Academy, at the age of sixteen he enrolled at Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tennessee. After leaving the university, he went to Jasper County, Mississippi for a visit with his cousin, James Hardy. While there the local Methodist Church offered him $900 a year and a new building to start an academy. He accepted the offer and served as a school teacher while he continued his studies for law.

William Harris Hardy

Hardy taught school at Montrose, on the Southeastern edge of the Bienville National Forest, in Jasper County, Mississippi and, later, in the Sylvarena community, east of Raleigh in Smith County. Hardy was the founder of the Sylvarena Academy in Flowers, Mississippi. Although the organization lasted into the middle years of the twentieth century, he only taught there for one year. During this teaching period of about two years, he completed his law studies and passed the Mississippi State Bar in 1858 at Raleigh. He began his practice that same year also at Raleigh, Smith County, Mississippi and continued there until the beginning of the War for Southern Independence.

On 9 October 1860 he married Sallie Johnson and between 1861 and her untimely death in 1872 they had six children, Martha (Mattie) (1859-1927), Mary Willie (born 1863), Ellen Temperance (1865-1908), Thomas Robert (born 1865), Elizabeth (born 1869) and Jefferson Davis (born 1871). [U.S. Census]

During the onset of the hostilities of the war in 1861, Hardy organized a unit of volunteers from Smith County and was elected their Captain. The unit became H Company (The Defenders) of the 16th Mississippi Infantry. Captain Hardy served with distinction throughout the war years serving under a number of commanders including General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. He became ill in 1865, some sources say of a gastric ulcer and returned home. There appears to be no record of any injuries related directly to the hostilities as rumor has suggested. As his health permitted, he began to resume his legal profession and, as was the custom of the period, maintained his Confederate title of rank, Captain, for the remainder of his life. [Hardy, 105]

Shortly thereafter, Captain Hardy moved to Paulding, in Jasper County, southwest of Meridian, where he reestablished his practice. In 1868 he was struck, with the grand plan that would begin his rise to the highest levels of recognition in Mississippi history and assure his fortune.

Hardy had an idea for a new railroad line between Meridian and New Orleans and put into action the preliminaries by commissioning a survey and developing a business plan for the project. In 1870, his plan and survey nearly complete, the New Orleans and Northeastern Railroad was born. He became General Counsel for the company. In 1872, Hardy moved to Meridian, to promote and raise funding for the effort.

Unfortunately, the financial crash of 1873 made funding difficult to obtain and, although he continued his efforts to generate support, the project had to be shelved until the crisis had passed. It would be seven long years before the project would again see the light of day and obtain the necessary commitments to proceed.

Hattie Hardy

Perhaps on a promotion trip for the project or just a brief respite from the rigors of his law practice, Hardy was in Mobile, Alabama in 1874 when he met the lady that was to become his second wife, Miss Harriet Levicy Lott. Miss Lott, known as "Hattie" by her friends, was educated at the Barton Academy in Mobile. She was described "as a sweet-natured, beautiful woman with blond hair and blue eyes." [Redlands] Born on 20 February 1848 to a prominent Mobile family, Hattie was 26 years old at the time of their marriage on 1 December 1874 in Mobile.

Being well schooled in the social amenities, Hattie brought a slice of Old Mobile culture to the upstart town of Meridian. She worked to improve the social environment of the city organizing a literary society called the Fortnightly Club. It became one of the oldest women's organizations in the state. [Redlands]

In addition to performing her motherly duties for Hardy's six children, Hattie and Captain Hardy increased the size of their family by three additional children, Lamar (1879–1950), Toney Arnold (1884–1978) and Lena Mai Hardy (born 1888).

As the financial troubles began to recede in the 1880, Hardy began again the process of developing the needed funding and commitments, and three years later in 1883 he had the pleasure of having his decade long dream realized as rail traffic began to roll along the line of the New Orleans and Northeastern Railroad. Of his accomplishment it was reported "The construction of this railroad was one of the greatest works of public improvement ever constructed in the state." and that it had "...put millions of dollars worth of property on the tax rolls where there were only hundreds [before]."

A few years earlier, during a survey trip in 1880, Hardy had stopped for lunch, it is said, and while studying a map, determined that a town was needed. He marked his map on what would become the city of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, named after his wife, Hattie.

Later, as construction proceeded southward, Hardy established the city of Laurel, Mississippi in 1882 as a site providing further access to the pine rich forest of Mississippi. According to one account, Hardy felt that he needed another town between Hattiesburg and Meridian. He turned to one of his surveyors, a Major Whinery, made a mark on a map they were studying and said that another town was needed, he would name it "Whinery." The Major, astounded at the selected location, replied that there was nothing there but a laurel swamp. To which Hardy might have said "Alright, we'll call it Laurel. We'll find another spot for Whinery." [Clarke, 256] But, "What's in a name?" the bard wrote, whether Capulet or Montague -- Laurel or Whinery -- would her lovely, oak-lined streets or her beautiful old homes be any less attractive? Likely not, it seem reasonable that she would still be a charming and gracious southern lady. Nonetheless, the name Laurel does roll better from the tongue...

To be fair, there is also a story crediting the naming of the town to German immigrant John Frederick Kamper. After having built a sawmill in the area, he is said to have turned thumbs down on the name Kamperville in favor of the name of the beautiful bushes growing in the area, Laurel.

As Reverend Armistead has said "...everybody thought this was really a foolish idea..." but to Hardy it was just another challenge. This foolishness was, of course, the 21 mile bridge across Lake Pontchartrain and its approaches. The bridge included some 15 miles of bayou on both the north and south approaches to the lake and a 6 mile span over Lake Pontchartrain itself. One can only imagine what Hardy must have felt, in November of 1884, when he road the first train across the new bridge.

As the national economic environment continued to boom, so to did the local economy. Meridian, like a great American eagle, was perched upon the beginning of a time of prosperity that would go down in the history books as the "Golden Years" of the Queen City.

Undaunted by the distinction of his railroad accomplishments, Hardy turned to other projects for which he perceived the need. He organized the Meridian Gas Light Company providing inexpensive fuel and, in the days before the wide spread use of electric lighting, illumination to the businesses, streets and residences of the area. As if that weren't enough, he created the Meridian National Bank along with several other business enterprises all contributing to the Golden Age of the Queen.

Sadly on 18 May 1895, Hattie Lott Hardy died at her home in Meridian, without ever having visited the site of what would become one of Mississippi's great cities and home of Mississippi Southern University, Hattiesburg.

In the interim, in 1887 he became president of the Gulf and Ship Island railroad and is credited with establishing the city now known as Gulfport. Some reports state that it was his intention to build the railroad all the way out to Ship Island but this plan was eventually dismissed as not feasible. In the end, a channel was created from the island to the shore, where, Hardy felt he needed a supporting town, he created one and called it Gulfport.

His interests next turned to politics and he was elected to the State Senate by the residents of Lauderdale County, he served in the Mississippi Senate in 1895 and during the 1896-1900 session. As one might expect, Captain Hardy was an enthusiastic and busy Senator. In the Mississippi Senate, in addition to representing the citizens of his district in their legislative needs, he served as the chairman of the committee on railroads and the committee on finance. Always active and deeply involved in all of his pursuits, he was also a member of the committee on public lands and the committee on public works.

So impressed by his past accomplishments and activities in the legislature were his peers that they created a new county from a portion of the existing Perry county and named it Hardy in his honor. Unfortunately, the bill fell before the governor's veto and was not enacted into law.

In 1899 Hardy moved his law practice to Hattiesburg, where nearly five years after the death of his much beloved Hattie, he would meet and marry his third wife, Ida Viola May. The new Mrs. Hardy eventually gave birth to three sons for the Hardy family, William Harris Jr. (born 1901), Hamilton Lee (1903–1975) and James Hutchins (born 1905).

A few years later in 1905, Hardy was appointed as circuit court judge first for district two in Mississippi, then the Coast District in 1906, where he served until his retirement in 1909.

A memorial to one of the pioneers of Mississippi:  The unveiling of a bust of the late W. H. Hardy.  Designed by Leo Tolstoy, Jr,, Russian sculptor, erected in Gulfport.  In the group, from left to right:  Governor Theo Bilbo, Miss Michelene Hardy, Lamar Hardy and Senator Pat Harrison.  Photo courtesy New York Times, 20 January 1929.

On 17 February 1917, at the age of 80, Judge William Harris Hardy died of a heart attack. He is buried in Gulfport. On 19 February, 1917 his obituary appearing in the New York Times, indicated that he was survived by his two sons Lamar and Toney both important Corporate Lawyers in New York City.

In January of 1929 the life of Judge William Harris Hardy was commemorated by the placement of a bust, designed by Russian Sculptor Leo Tolstoy, in Gulfport. The ceremony was attended by Governor Theo Bilbo, Miss Michelene Hardy (Granddaughter of Judge Hardy), Lamar Hardy (son of Judge Hardy) and Mississippi Senator Pat Harrison.

According to a popular etymology dictionary, the expression "movers and shakers" originated in 1874 and that sounds just about right to include one of Meridian's first movers and shakers, William Harris Hardy.

Works Cited

Clarke, Hewitt. Thunder at Meridian. Spring,Texas: Lone Star Press, 1995.

Fike, Claude E. “William H. Hardy: An Extraordinary Life,” The Hattiesburg Story: 100 years of Growth. Hattiesburg: Hattiesburg American, 1982.

Hardy, Toney. No Compromise With Principle. New York: American Book-Stratford Press, Inc., 1946.

Hardy, W. H. "Recollections of Reconstruction in East and Southeast Mississippi." Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society Volume 4 (1902): 105-132 (See biographical sketch footed on 105 and 106)

"Other Fortnightly Clubs in U.S." Redlands Fortnightly Club Web Site. 9 Feb 1998.

United States Census Bureau: 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900 and 1910 U.S. Federal Census.

Page Last Updated:   Friday, 04 November 2016

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