By Madison McGrath
Many may wonder how Oxford, Batesville and Abbeville came to be the small towns they are today. The old homes give the towns that warm and inviting feeling to visitors and residents both, but the man responsible for making these towns so welcoming and unique began with Wilbon Leon Hyland Jr.
Wilbon Leon Hyland Jr. was born Nov. 12, 1942 in Batesville to Wilbon Leon and Ressie Hyland. His father was a builder who moved around working from company to company for the first 11 years of his life. Finally, his father decided to break away from companies and start his own construction business. Hyland looked up to his dad throughout his childhood and hoped to follow in his footsteps. He began attending work sites with his father and learning the ropes of the construction business. By the time he was 18 years old he had everything he had ever dreamed of. He was married, became a father himself and worked with his father.
In 1969, tragedy struck as Hyland’s father died of a heart attack at 48. Hyland then decided to start his own company and build for many of his father’s clients, as well as some of his own.
“I’ve built probably somewhere around 150 houses on my own not counting the ones I helped my dad with. We also did a lot of demolition and re-doing houses. I also helped build some apartments and churches too with my dad,” Hyland said.
His sons then began to join in the building business as well. His first son, Andy, installed heating and cooling and wired all of the electrical in the homes that Hyland would build. His second son, Alan, learned the construction aspect of the business. Alan now serves as vice president of construction at a large company in Houston, Texas. The majority of the houses that Hyland built were in Panola, Pontotoc, and Lafayette counties.
Betty Keen, a long time resident of one of Hyland’s homes, has lived in the same house for more than 43 years.
“I just love my beautiful home and it is still in perfect condition. I don’t plan on moving anytime soon,” she said.
Hyland said he remembered a certain story during the height of his business. While remodeling a home, a woman informed him that she was trying to sell a piece of land in the heart of Oxford so that she could move to Memphis with her daughter. She offered to sell this piece of land to him for $88,000, but Hyland did not have the money to spend at the time. The woman ended up selling that piece of land to Walmart for $3 million, and it is now the site of the Oxford Walmart.
The last house he ever built was the one that he currently resides in Abbeville. Hyland built it in 1999 and said it took about two years to complete. Hyland retired from construction 11 years ago when he was diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis, a chronic autoimmune neuromuscular disease that weakens the skeletal muscles of the body. He now relies on a walker in order to get from place to place on his own.
“The only thing I wish I could’ve done was build a house with unlimited funds because most of what I ever built had really tight budgets to work with,” Hyland said.
Now that Hyland is retired he enjoys spending time with his family, as well as practicing his two favorite hobbies, hunting and fishing. Even though he is no longer able to attend the games, he is also a huge Ole Miss baseball and football fan.