This post is part of an ongoing series, “Time and Tide: Ten Years after Katrina.” Special thanks to Jennifer Baughn, Historic Preservation Division, for writing this post.

As we finished up our damage assessment survey in mid-October 2005, we realized that in the chaos after the storm, when private properties were being demolished with FEMA funding and local preservationists were dealing with their own damaged properties, MDAH would need to take the lead for preservation. Many preservationists around the country had called to see how they could help, and we had been in discussions with national preservation organizations, especially the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Association for Preservation Technology. With their help, we began preparing for teams of volunteer architects and engineers to spend a week at a time on the Coast and meet individually with property owners. We hoped this personal attention from professionals who understood historic structures would help overwhelmed homeowners begin stabilizing and repairing their damaged buildings.

Our first small volunteer team, led by Chief Architectural Historian Richard Cawthon, included Mississippi preservation architects Sam Kaye and Michael Fazio, and was on the ground from September 20 through 23, 2005. With each succeeding team, MDAH staff and the volunteers themselves established a method for covering the necessary territory while still being able to meet and spend time with each property owner. For damaged properties where no owner was available, we wrote a letter with helpful suggestions for stabilization and repair, and inserted it into a Ziploc bag which we stapled to the doorway of the house. Owners who found these letters and called us back received a follow-up visit, and then a much more detailed letter summing up the meeting. Copies of all the letters, photos, and reports of the volunteer teams have been filed in the Historic Resources Inventory at the Historic Preservation Division.

Early teams stayed in the homes of preservationists on the Coast and in a house near Purvis, sometimes requiring an hour of travel to and from the Coast. By November 2005, MDAH, with help from the National Trust, Mississippi Main Street, and the Mississippi Heritage Trust, was able to secure a house in downtown Biloxi, called Preservation House, which became our base for the next several years.

This volunteer phase of MDAH’s Katrina response succeeded well beyond our expectations and helped keep many historic buildings standing long enough to eventually be repaired. Ultimately, between September 2005 and Memorial Day 2006, sixteen teams spent a week each on the Coast, surveying 450 badly damaged buildings and meeting with scores of property owners from Pearlington to Pascagoula and every city in between. These generous professionals gave of their time, money, and skills, and they helped save many historic buildings on the Coast.

Preservation Volunteer Teams:

  • September 20–23, 2005: Mississippi Preservationists
  • October 5–8, 2005: Texas Historical Commisssion
  • October 10–16, 2005: Association for Preservation Technology (APT) #1
  • November 7–11, 2005: Arkansas Historic Preservation Program
  • November 28–Dec. 7, 2005: Savannah College of Art and Design #1
  • November 29–Dec. 6, 2005: APT #2
  • December 5–10, 2005: Colonial Williamsburg #1
  • January 23–29, 2006: APT #3
  • February 12–18, 2006: APT #4
  • March 19–26, 2006: APT #5
  • March 20–25, 2006: Savannah College of Art and Design #2
  • May 7–13, 2006: APT #6
  • May 14–20, 2006: Colonial Williamsburg #2
  • May 21–26, 2006: APT #7