By Ken de la Bastide
There may be only one Swayzee in the United States, but there is more than one Kokomo.
Located 800 miles to the southwest of Indiana, an unincorporated area in the “Pine Belt” of Mississippi, is the small community of Kokomo.
A sign along a four-lane highway marks the turn-off to Kokomo. On a recent November day, there were no signs of activity except for work being done on a local church.
Kokomo, Miss. formed around 1912 when the family of Phillip Enoch decided to run a railroad from Fernwood to Tylertown. When the tracks crossed a public road, the Enoch family would give the crossing a name. There was Davo, Barto, Carto, Knoxo and Kokomo.
At one time the Enoch family set up a turpentine distillery, which was the largest in the nation at the time. There was a logging camp and eventually a small town grew.
But Kokomo in 2012 is vastly different than when it was a company town in the early 1910s.
Just as school consolidation changed the face of rural communities, when the school closed in 2001 it took away the community’s identity.
There is an unmarked post office, two churches, a handful of houses and a convenience store several miles down the road. The population is about 100 people, but because of the post office, about 500 people have a Kokomo mailing address.
Most of the people in Mississippi were unaware that there is another Kokomo.
The area around Kokomo is dotted with rolling hills, pine forests and farms.
“I never heard of Kokomo, Ind.,” Phil Bossetta said. “I thought Kokomo was the only one in the world. It’s a pretty strange name. It’s pretty laid back around here. Not much going on, it’s just a small community. I don’t know anything about the history.”
Kendall Hudson moved to Kokomo three years ago when his house was destroyed in a fire.
“There’s not a whole lot here,” he said. “It’s quiet all the time. It’s peaceful and quiet, but it’s not home.”
Hudson said a lot of people work in Columbia, which is a city located to the east of Kokomo. He said in the 1980s a lot of people worked in the oil fields.
“There is no industry around here,” he said. “I didn’t know there was another Kokomo.”
Aaron Betwell works in a convenience store located near Kokomo.
“I don’t know too much about the history of the town,” he said. “I know there are some [saw] mills around here. We take it for granted that the community is peaceful.”
Betwell said for entertainment everyone travels about 40 miles to the east to visit Hattiesburg, where Mississippi State University is located.
Lois Spence was born near Kokomo in 1930, her father had to travel to the town to get the only doctor in the vicinity.
Spence said when she was growing up the main business was raising cattle and dairy farming.
“Sealtest used to come from New Orleans to buy the milk,” she said. “The main businesses in Kokomo closed a long time ago.”
Spence said currently there are a lot of chicken farms in the area.
“It’s beautiful countryside,” she said. “Everyone knows everyone else’s business. It’s a strange place to me. If they don’t know you, they want to find out everything about you. It’s just a little country town.”
Spence said during a recent visit to a Kokomo church everyone wanted to know who she was and who she was related to in the area.
“Every member of the church hugged my neck,” she said. “That’s the most I’ve ever been hugged in one day.”
Spence said she knew there was a Kokomo located in Indiana.
“I thought it was quite a bit bigger,” she said.
Louis Morgan, a professor at Lee University, said his grandmother and great grandmother grew up in Kokomo.
“I don’t know how it got the name,” he said. “People believed it was an Indian name, because all the little crossroad names ended in an ‘o.’”
Morgan said the turpentine distillery lasted about ten years. He said the planned railroad was never complete.
“I used to visit my grandparents’ store,” he said. “That was from 1974 through 1980. There were two churches, a school and a couple of stores. Today, the post office and the churches are the center of activity.”
There is a ghost town named Kokomo in Colorado that was given the name by Indiana residents who moved there in the 1878. The town was destroyed in 1881 by a fire and it merged with another community in the Rocky Mountains.