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Gingham Tree Honors Historic Dorsett Motel

Dorsett Motel is spotlighted as this year’s Gingham Tree print, painted by esteemed local artist Gina Havard Skinner.

Located at 5135 Main Street, Dorsett Motel opened in 1964. It sits next door to the George County Times and across the street from Go Church. The motel was built on property formerly owned by George County Times founder Lucious Sellers.

The motel is a two-story block building housing 20 rooms with exterior entrances. The second story has a deck and at one time had seating with a table and sun umbrella for guests. The original structure also had a small apartment for the operator. The apartment encompassed rooms 109 and 110 and had one bedroom and a combination den-kitchen with a door opening to the lobby of the motel.

Motel guests were largely travelers on U.S. Highway 98 when that route passed through downtown Lucedale overlapping with Main Street. Guests came from all across the United States and some from foreign countries. In the motel’s heyday of the 1960s and 1970s several celebrities slept there including numerous country music singers, actor and comedian Andy Griffith and Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Jake Lindsey. However, a four-lane highway bypassing downtown opened 1988 reducing traffic flow through downtown and therefore reducing the number of out-of-town travelers needing nighttime lodging in downtown Lucedale. Some regular guests continued to stay at the motel such as railroad crewmen, construction workers, salesmen and utility crewmen who came to assist during hurricanes. 

Until last month the motel continued to be called Dorsett Motel. It was named after Jett Dorsett, Jr., who built and established the motel. The same year Dorsett opened the motel he married Joyce, his wife of 58 years. Joyce worked as a news reporter for the George County Times. In their early years of marriage, the couple lived in the motel’s small apartment. About four years later they built a home in town where they raised their son, Jett Dorsett, III and daughter Jane Dorsett Lever.

Dorsett managed the motel during day hours. His son also worked there on Saturdays and after school. They hired managers to work the night shift. Whoever managed the desk also worked the telephone switch board. Guests could talk on their room telephone; however, the switch board operator had to connect the outgoing calls as well as connect any incoming calls. This practice was in place even in the 1980s.

Dorsett managed the motel for more than 20 years before he went into the real estate business. He then leased it to other operators. He owned the property until the 1990s when he sold it to the McRaney family of Benndale. It has since changed hands a time or two. A few weeks ago, it sold to a motel chain called Relax Inn.

An old postcard showcasing the motel inspired Skinner’s acrylic painting. The postcards were printed soon after the motel was built and featured both the motel and the former Coffee Pot Restaurant located next door to the motel and owned by Dorsett’s aunt. Guests could easily walk there for a meal as the restaurant was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The back side of the post card proclaims “Dorsett Motel, Lucedale, Miss., a new and modern fireproof motel” with air conditioning and room phones. A few years ago, Dorsett’s son discovered several such post cards on the E-Bay website and bought as many as he could.

The Gingham Tree Festival is celebrating its 50th year and is sponsored by the Lucedale Fine Arts Club. The club selects the artist who volunteers to create the print. After printing costs, proceeds are put into the annual Distinguished Young Woman scholarship program, an expensive production also sponsored by the club. The club then donates proceeds from its two civic projects into the community.

Skinner’s print depicts the motel in its early years with orange exterior doors, a blue and white sun umbrella on the upper deck and parked automobiles of the time period. Prints will be on sale for $10 at the festival, Sat., Nov. 12, from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m., at the George County Fairgrounds. After the festival they will be available at Crooked Letter and John Sims Studio on Main Street. Prints from previous years are available for $5 each.

Skinner is a native of Lucedale. She is the granddaughter of the late Harley Havard and the daughter of Gene and the late Trisha Havard, also a respected artist. In fact, Skinner’s mother painted the first Gingham Tree print in 2003. Titled “Gingham Tree Festival,” it featured a large oak tree tied with yellow and white checked “gingham” ribbon. That oak is located behind George County Middle School where the festival was held until 2017 when it moved to the George County Fairgrounds on Old Mississippi 63 South.

Growing up with a mother who was an artist exposed Skinner to a large variety of artistic media.  She studied two years at Delta State University before transferring to the University of Southern Mississippi. At USM, she studied graphic design and learned a new love for pottery.  Nearing graduation, she met and married another artist-potter, Shane Skinner of Tylertown, Miss., who teaches art at George County High School. The couple live in Basin where she homeschools their two children and runs the family pottery business as well as her jewelry business. She taught herself the art of silver and gold smithing, creating unique, handmade fine jewelry.

Report

Written by Nancy Jo Maples

Nancy Jo Maples is an award-winning journalist who has written about Mississippi people and places for more than 30 years. A former daily staff news reporter for the Mississippi Press, she currently writes for various media and teaches communication at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. Reach her at [email protected]

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