Off the beaten path and hidden alongside the Strong River is the little town of D’Lo, Mississippi. It is doubtful many outside of central Mississippi have even heard of it. Yet there was a time when this tiny hamlet of less than 400 souls made national headlines and was featured in Life Magazine. What could have once brought such exposure to a place bypassed by Mississippi State Hwy 49 and time? Thankfully, for the proud citizens of this town 30 miles south of the state capitol of Jackson, it wasn’t a scandal but rather something so memorable that a monument is proudly preserved there to this day.
Legends surround how a town came to be called D’Lo, and none of the locals are convinced one way or the other. Located in the heart of millions of acres of prime timber at the turn of the 20th century it was inevitable that when the Finkbine Lumber Company built a million dollar sawmill there in 1916, the area was bound to boom. Within months numerous buildings, commercial and residential, popped up. It wasn’t quite a gold rush, but pretty close to it. At its peak, D’Lo was the largest town between Jackson and Hattiesburg and boasted two large YMCA buildings, a movie theater, a furniture store. ten grocery stores, three appliance dealers, a dry cleaner, ten gas stations, seven butcher markets, five cafes, three auto shops, a boat building and cabinet shop, a machine shop, a bank, three pharmacies, lighted basketball courts, professional basketball and baseball teams, and a newspaper.
There were numerous churches, a three story brick school building with well over 500 students and a modern three story hospital. Before the beginning of the Great Depression, the town’s population soared from a few hundred to 5,000 in less than ten years, making it the second largest milling town in the country. Like the boom towns of the Old West however, things couldn’t last. By 1930, most of the once seemingly endless miles of prime hardwood were gone; the mill closed down and by 1940, D’Lo was once again less than 500 souls and sure to be forgotten forever.
But the little town was not forgotten. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and our nation called for action, the men and women time and fortune had left behind rose to the occasion. Of the 400 official residents of D’Lo, 150 went off to war. That means 38% of its residents volunteered for service. And that is when Life Magazine showed up. By percentage, the nearly deserted mill town had sent more of its citizens off to war than any other town in America.
Life Magazine sent a reporter and a photographer to feature the little town that refused to die. Except, of course, if was to die in faraway places like New Guinea, and Iwo Jima. and France. The magazine dubbed it “the flightiness town in America” ensuring that, while D’Lo’s glory days might be past, it would not be forgotten. There are still a few of that last great generation who left D’Lo to fight in the War still living in the area. Like the great hardwoods that once graced the area, they have fallen to time and age and soon will only live in the memories of those that follow them.
In spite of the passing of its heroes, what this little town did in our nation’s time of peril should always be remembered. It was a selfless time when men rose to the occasion and headed off to places most had never even heard of before. In a day of bad news at every turn, perhaps this piece of news from the past can help us all to remember the things that have made this nation great.