Located in southeastern Mississippi and named for congressman, secretary of the interior, and US Supreme Court justice Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar, Lamar County was founded in 1904. While for much of its history the county has been rural, the northeastern part of the county has become part of the Hattiesburg metropolitan area. The Wolf River flows through Lamar County. The county seat is Purvis; other towns include Lumberton and Sumrall.
Southeastern Mississippi was a prominent area for the timber industry, which, along with the expanded railroad system, brought people to the area in the late 1800s. In the 1910 census, Lamar County had a population of 11,741. Seventy-eight percent of the county’s farmers owned their own farms, while the remainder were tenants or sharecroppers. In 1930 Lamar County’s population was 12,848 and was 78 percent white. As in many parts of the state, Baptists and Methodists dominated church life in Lamar County.
Lamar County’s population changed very little through 1960, though the concentration on agriculture and timber had given way to a more diverse economy. In a county of 13,675 residents, only 14 percent of working people made their living in agriculture. Twice that number were employed in manufacturing, primarily in the timber, furniture, and clothing industries, and Lamar County was one of the Mississippi’s leading producers of petroleum, ranking fifth in the state’s mineral wells and with three functioning oil wells. The Baxterville Field, where oil was discovered on the border between Lamar and Marion Counties, was one of the state’s earliest successful wells.
Notable events in Lamar County’s history include a major tornado that struck Purvis on 24 April 1908, killing eighty-three people and destroying the railroad depot and other structures. In 1964 and 1966 the US Department of Energy and the Advanced Projects Research Agency conducted underground nuclear detonations at the Tatum Salt Dome, an endeavor known as Project Dribble. Journalist and novelist James H. Street was born in Lumberton. Lillian McMurry was born in Purvis and went on to become an important figure in the blues, owning Trumpet Records and recording musicians in Jackson.
Significant population growth began in the 1970s, and by 1980 Lamar County had a population of almost 24,000, 50 percent more than in 1960. By 2010, like many Southeast Mississippi counties, Lamar County had a majority white population and a small but significant Hispanic/Latino minority: Lamar’s population of 55,658 was 77 percent white, 20 percent African American, and 2 percent Latino/Hispanic. With a 300 percent increase in size since 1960, the county’s population had undergone the third-largest proportional expansion in the state during this period.
- Mississippi State Planning Commission, Progress Report on State Planning in Mississippi (1938)
- Mississippi Statistical Abstract, Mississippi State University (1952–2010)
- Charles Sydnor and Claude Bennett, Mississippi History (1939)
- University of Virginia Library, Historical Census Browser website, http://mapserver.lib.virginia.edu
- E. Nolan Waller and Dani A. Smith, Growth Profiles of Mississippi’s Counties, 1960–1980 (1985)