Talk of the Town - July 2021
- by Wendy Sullivan
Whether walking about our towns or driving the roads in Hancock County’s rural areas, knowing the area’s history makes every outing more interesting. Hancock Tourism Bureau has produced a new digital brochure to aid in the discovery.
The new brochure answers many questions about Hancock County, using the theme “Do you know about…” The digital brochure highlights the diverse nature of this unique coastal county, featuring rural, swampy and town sites – some still standing, and others lost to storms and development.
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From the indigenous people of the Choctaw and Muskhogean tribes to French, African American and other peoples, to pirates and sheep farmers, the county is rich with history. The new brochure presents highlights in an easily accessed and beautifully designed format.
Short vignettes with vintage photos present a glimpse into earlier times of resilience, hardships, progress and change. This brochure arrives in time to satisfy the additional curiosity about the local history fueled by the recent “Crossroads: Changes in Rural America” exhibit at Waveland’s Lili Stahler-Murphy Ground Zero Museum.
Funded by grants from the Mississippi Gulf Coast National Heritage Area (MGCNHA), creation of the brochure was a three-part process, according to Hancock Tourism director Myrna Green.
The project was initially sparked by the current historical exhibit in the Tourism Welcome Center in Bay St. Louis’s depot. Hancock Tourism wrote and was awarded the MGCNHA grant so that Tourism staffers Susan Duffy and Debbie Stanford could become more knowledgeable about the county’s history.
A second grant allowed Stanford to continue research with the intent of a history-focused brochure for Hancock County, along the lines of the popular Old Town Walking and Biking Tour.
“The further we got into the project, the more we realized that a smaller brochure wouldn’t tell the story we wanted to tell,” says Green. “Especially since the name of the grant was ‘History and Heritage, Relive and Remember.’ We also realized that going digital would give us a much wider audience.”
The project was more than a year in the works. Stanford came up with the brochure’s theme, “Do you know…” Green credits the Ad Group team in Biloxi for the attractive layout and design of the finished product.
“We knew all along that we had great content,” Green says. “But when we saw the final draft we were blown away. It was far better than any of our tourism team or board could have imagined. We love it!”
A few of favorite nuggets from the brochure:
- Pearl Rivers: Passing the historical marker on Beach Boulevard in Waveland leaves many people wanting more information about “Pearl Rivers,” the pen name for Eliza Jane Poitevant Nicholson. A poet and writer, Ms Nicholson became one of the first female publishers in the country as owner and publisher of the New Orleans Times Picayune newspaper.
- Trains and their role on the coast: The Louisville and Nashville Railroad ran through the area with a stop in Waveland from the 1800s with freight, passengers and military cargo for World War II. The Bay St. Louis train depot was a focus for social gatherings as passengers arrived and departed regularly. While freight trains continue to be a daily presence in the county, there is hope that passenger service will return in 2022.
- St. Augustine Seminary: Developed in the 1920s by the Catholic Society of the Divine Word to train and educate Black men for the priesthood, it was one of the few seminaries in the country to do so. The Society expanded their ministry by adopting the St. Rose De Lima parish from the Sisters of St. Joseph. Both the St. Augustine Seminary and St. Rose De Lima continue to actively serve here in Bay St. Louis.
- Ulman Woolen Mills: Waveland’s largest industry in the 1800s was the production of woolen blankets, shawls, and other items. Closed in the 1880s, most will now find it hard to imagine working in a woolen mill during a Gulf Coast summer.
- Webb School: Bay St. Louis’s first elementary school was built in 1913 and still stands at the intersection of Citizen and Third Streets. The Colonial Revival is the only building of its kind on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and is a Mississippi Landmark, the state’s highest designation for historic or architectural significance.
- Honey Island Swamp: One of the United States’ most pristine and natural river swamps, abounding with migratory birds, alligators, nutria, turtles, black bears, cougars, feral hogs, snakes, raccoons, and cypress trees, is partially located here in Hancock County. Legend has it that the swamp was home to gang leader Pierre Rameau, the “King of Honey Island,” and a bigfoot type beast – the Honey Island Swamp Monster.
This list could go on, as the 36-page brochure is brimming with additional exciting history about the county such as the Kiln Turpentine Factory, Navy Seals in the county, town developments, mineral springs, vineyards, and a county link to Napoleon. Whether armchair touring or using the brochure to explore the county, this publication has something for everyone.
The brochure is in a digital format and available on the Hancock Tourism website. Of course, you’ll also find it in the Shoofly Magazine, on our “Maps and Tours” page (or click the cover near the top of this article).
Green says it will be available on the Mississippi Heritage website and the website of any other organization who wants to help get the word out about Hancock County’s rich history.
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