Historic Tour of Old Town
- story by Rebecca Orfila, photos by Ellis Anderson
Many buildings in Bay St. Louis are over a century old and have survived fires, storms and demolition. Several of these outstanding architectural gems are showcased in a biking and walking tour that directs visitors and residents on an entertaining one-and-a third-mile circuit through Old Town. The guide features 24 sites and buildings along the route that winds through the heart of the coastal town.
Digital versions of the tour can be easily accessed on mobile devices. They’re available right here on the Shoofly Magazine website and on the website for the Old Town Merchants Association.
Printed copies of the brochures make popular souvenirs, and can be picked up for free at various locations throughout Old Town, including several shops and restaurants. The Hancock County Visitor Center in the historic L&N train depot always has a good supply.
Although the depot is not officially the starting point of the tour, it’s a popular one, since there’s plenty of free parking and it houses two small museums. The Mardi Gras Museum is on the first floor and showcases a changing exhibit of extraordinary costumes by legendary designer Carter Church.
The Alice Moseley Folk Art & Antique Museum on the second floor honors the works of Moseley, a nationally known folk artist and beloved resident of Bay St. Louis for many years until her death in 2004. The museum contains a collection of her original paintings and is open daily, except Sundays and holidays. Admission is free.
Tercentenary Park, which memorializes Bienville’s entrance into the Bay of St. Louis over 300 years ago. The park is located on the point of highest elevation on the Gulf of Mexico - 31 feet. It’s the official starting point of the tour, but one can begin anywhere and enjoy the stroll.
The Palm House, close to the Depot (217 Union Street), is a West Indies Planter style house built in the 1880s. For many years, it was the home of Joan Seal, the wife of a circuit judge. Mrs. Seal was recognized as a generous philanthropist in this area and so devoted to her dogs that she left provisions for them in her will.
100 Men Hall, located at 303 Union Street, isn’t on the tour’s official route, but is suggested as an “Off the Beaten Trail” destination. The blue and white clapboard building was built in 1922, and was such an important and popular site for music - and socializing - that it is included on the official Mississippi Blues Trail.
The first printings were completed with the help of a grant from the Mississippi Gulf Coast National Heritage Area and funding from Live Oak and other local sponsors. Currently, printings are coordinated by the Hancock County Tourism Development Bureau and are sponsored by the Bureau, the Hancock County Historical Society and Ellis Anderson Media.
Myrna Greene, executive director of the Bureau, calls the tour brochure “the most effective and popular tool we have to introduce people to Bay St. Louis.” It’s updated periodically and is scheduled for a fourth reprinting in March 2017.
Perhaps the most memorable part of the tour however, is the people you’ll meet along the way. When you’re taking the tour, expect the warm and friendly nature of the neighbors along the way to make the experience even more memorable. I even had someone ask me for directions to the Hancock County Historical Society. I gave them the guide. You wouldn’t want to miss Kate Lobrano’s house on Cue Street!