Shared History - Dec/Jan 2017
- story by Ellis Anderson
A few old-timers talk of a time when shooflies were ordinary. From Waveland to Ocean Springs, the coast road was dotted with them – the white, raised decks circling the grand girths of old growth oaks.
Shooflies were a popular amenity at the boarding houses, inns and the grand hotels that lined the Mississippi coast in the late 1800s. The hotels and shooflies alike had been built accommodate the throngs of northerners who were wintering on the coast, thanks to the new train lines.
Most were victims of storms. The hurricane of 1947 and Camille in ’69 ravaged the coast, dashing many of the buildings, as well as a way of life. The thought of rebuilding something as old-fashioned as a shoofly must have seemed frivolous in the mid-century. Contemporary society demanded schools, businesses, roads. More roads. Shooflies got lost in the shuffle.
What had survived though are two astonishing photographic images preserved in the Library of Congress. Both were taken in the Bay around 1900 by a photographer named William Henry Jackson. Jackson took them for the Detroit Photographic Company, a national postcard enterprise.
The images show different views of the same Beach Boulevard shoofly.
Jackson took one picture from the road looking toward the house and called it “Harry’s Villa” after the first name of the owner. The shoofly is in the foreground, an elegant wood home behind it. A woman stands on the shoofly, while a boy is perched in the fork of the tree trunk, temporarily taller than the adult.
Cuevas, who worked for the city, asked Mayor Eddie Favre, who was serving his first term, if building a city shoofly in the Bay was a possibility.
“He said the same thing he always did when I asked him for something,” recalls Cuevas. “He said, ‘Sure, you raise the money and we can do it.’”
The live oak on the property of the historic City Hall on Second Street was chosen to host the project. Cuevas says that later Farve himself found the funding to add to donations that came in. Architect Kevin Fitzpatrick and engineer Wayne Peterson volunteered their professional services, making the project a possibility. In the end, the cost for the shoofly construction was around $20,000, with the public works department providing the labor.
“Back then, it seemed like the coast was covered with them (shooflies),” Fitzpatrick said. “I’d always admired them, so I was able to design the Bay’s pretty much from memory.”
Fitzpatrick designed the railings to match the ones on the historic city hall, while engineer Wayne Peterson worked on the structural engineering. Fitzpatrick said he remembers joking with the engineer after seeing the support system Peterson devised.
“I told him that we’d be able to park a locomotive on that thing,” Fitzpatrick said. “It seemed way over the top. But Wayne believed that people would assemble on the Shoofly for weddings and events, so it had to be extremely strong. And he was right.”
Peterson’s other concern was for the tree itself. The deck had to be self-supporting so it wouldn’t harm the ancient oak and it had to allow plenty of room for the tree to grow.
According to Peterson, “The base at the ground is close to the base of the tree, with the platform cantilevering out at the top. In addition, the structure had to be designed to support a lot of ‘weighty politicians.’ I understand that it has successfully supported a lot of those over the years.”
“It’s still something when I see it,” says Peterson. “My hope is that it gives people a little of the pleasure that growing up and living on the coast has given to me.”