Mississippi Gulf Coast
Jackson, Harrison, and Hancock County
When Hurricane Katrina’s high winds and massive storm surge slammed into Mississippi’s Gulf Coast on August 29, 2005, many of the Coast’s most enduring landmarks disappeared. Gracious beachfront mansions, simple Creole cottages, bungalows, and shotgun houses—significant historic sites and private homes—the storm spared none of them. Even the downtown commercial centers of Waveland, Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, Gulfport, and Pascagoula were devastated by the wind and raging flood waters. Several blocks on the high ground in Bay St. Louis and in Pass Christian were all that was left of the grand miles-long stretch of historic houses that once defined the Mississippi Coast.
Demolition of the a majority of the remaining historic buildings occurred shortly after the storm with FEMA offering the unprecedented option of demolishing private residences at government expense. Many historic structures could have been saved, but for a variety of reasons were torn down. Repair and insurance costs both skyrocketed after the storm, making it harder to restore damaged properties. The chaotic economic state of the Coast since Katrina has also brought stress, with the pressure of commercial and high-rise condominium development.
Private citizens as well as government agencies like the Mississippi Department of Archives and History and non-profit groups like the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Mississippi Heritage Trust, and Mississippi Main Street Association have worked continually since the storm to save the unique heritage of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The Hurricane Relief Grant Program for Historic Preservation, created by Congressional appropriation and administered by MDAH to aid historic structures damaged by 2005 Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, have been a welcomed relief to many homeowners. The MDAH Board of Trustees awarded 261 grants for restoration of a variety of historic structures–public buildings, non-profit museums, commercial structures, and private residences– throughout south Mississippi. Of that number, 221 have been completed and 40 are still under construction. Landmarks like the Walter Anderson Cottage at Shearwater in Ocean Springs, the Waveland School Civic Center, Gulfport’s Historic Carnegie Library, the Hancock County Courthouse, and the Wathall County Training School have been restored. Other landmark buildings such as the White House Hotel in Biloxi, the old Gulfport Public Library, and the Second Street School in Bay St. Louis are still threatened. Although much preservation progress has been made, there is still much left to be done. However, efforts continue to promote saving the Gulf Coast’s heritage and rebuilding in a way that respects that heritage.
2015 Update – In Progress
There were some tremendous preservation victories following Hurricane Katrina, including the Charnley-Norwood House in Ocean Springs and the Randolph School in Pass Christian. More than ten years after the storm, important buildings like the Gulfport Library and the 33rd Avenue School still await transformation.