Collections Blog

(L to R): Ben Holland, Todd Sanders, Sarah Morrow, Jim Toner, Jennifer Baughn, David Preziosi (MHT), and William Thompson

Time and Tide: Documenting Disaster

On September 9, 2015, in Archives, by Timothy

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.

After Hurricane Katrina, staff in the Historic Preservation Division began preparing to survey the damage to the nineteen National Register–listed historic districts and scores of individually listed historic properties in the three coastal counties.

We had conducted damage assessment surveys in other disasters such as Hurricane Georges and the Natchez and Columbus tornadoes, but as reports began to trickle in over the next few days, we realized that the scope of this disaster dwarfed anything else we had experienced. We got our first on-the-ground look at the damage on Friday, September 2, when David Preziosi of the Mississippi Heritage Trust (MHT) led an expedition that included a New York Times reporter to check in on Beauvoir and other Biloxi landmarks. We found Beach Boulevard accessible only through National Guard checkpoints, and it was passable only in places; a large construction crane lay across the road, and casino barges had floated well inland, destroying everything in their paths. The scattered and sometimes contradictory news reports had led us to expect devastation, but the on-the-ground experience was a shock. Beauvoir was still standing but was shorn of its porch and much of its roof and all of its historic outbuildings were gone. Only a few battered houses stood in Biloxi’s once-extensive West Beach Historic District; the beloved Brielmaier and Dantzler houses had vanished entirely; the stately Tullis-Toledano house had been crushed by a casino barge.

Jackson itself was without power for much of the first two weeks after the storm and most gas stations were closed, but once that situation eased, we began our survey in Bay St. Louis on Friday, September 9, with a team of seven architectural historians and photographers, with assistance from MHT and MDAH’s Archives and Records Services Division. We broke up into teams of two, walking the streets of the historic district, one of the largest in the state with almost 700 structures. The teams took photographs of each building, even if it only barely remained, and filled out a Damage Assessment Form that MDAH had found useful in previous disasters. Because MDAH had only a handful of digital cameras at that time, we relied on the familiar black-and-white 35 mm film for its archival value, and used the digital cameras as a color backup version. Instead of filling out forms for buildings that had been completely destroyed, we marked an “X” on their site on the map. Bay St. Louis and Pass Christian, not surprisingly, both seemed to have as many “X”s as surviving buildings.

BSL-historic sites beach blvdpp

This field map of the Beach Boulevard Historic District in Bay St. Louis shows the X marks MDAH surveyors made as they passed lots where no remnant of a house survived. Yellow highlighter marks the damaged buildings the teams assessed.


Over the next six weeks, damage assessment teams created survey forms on over 1,200 damaged historic properties. (These are being digitized and will be published as a digital collection). In addition to Bay St. Louis, we surveyed large sections of Pass Christian, Gulfport, Biloxi, Ocean Springs, and Pascagoula, and even made our way to Waveland, Long Beach, Pearlington, Hattiesburg, and Laurel. Without a place to stay on the Coast, our days began at 6 a.m. and ended back in Jackson around midnight. We encountered difficult surroundings: no electricity or running water, destroyed landscapes, checkpoints, quarantined areas, and buildings that had floated blocks from their original locations. We also witnessed firsthand the resilience of the people of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, who in the midst of the wreckage offered us cold drinks and stories of survival.

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Time and Tide: Katrina’s Lost Landmarks

On September 7, 2015, in Archives, by Timothy

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.

Spanish Customs House(Revised)

Spanish Customs House, Bay St. Louis


Before Hurricane Katrina made landfall near Waveland on August 29, 2005, Mississippi’s three coastal counties boasted nineteen National Register-listed historic districts and scores of individually listed historic properties. Some of the state’s oldest buildings stood on the waterways of the Gulf Coast, including the de la Pointe-Krebs House (“Old Spanish Fort”) in Pascagoula, perhaps the oldest building in the Mississippi Valley, built in the 1740s; the house known as the Spanish Customs House in Bay St. Louis, dating to the late eighteenth century; and Elmwood Manor on North Beach Boulevard in Bay St. Louis, a raised French Creole structure built in the 1820s with heavy timber framing.

Elmwood Manor(Revised)

Elmwood Manor, Bay St. Louis


Pass Christian’s Scenic Drive was known as the “Newport of the South” for its mile-long stretch of historic beachfront mansions, many dating to the 1840s and 1850s. Although battered by Hurricane Camille in 1969, this historic district had remained remarkably intact because it stood on a relatively high bluff above the Mississippi Sound. Gulfport and Biloxi’s beachfronts also maintained historic residential sections, including Biloxi’s West Beach Historic District, which stretched for many blocks along Beach Boulevard west of downtown. The antebellum Tullis-Toledano Manor, a two-story galleried Greek Revival brick house, owned by the City of Biloxi, was the star of Beach Boulevard and the host of innumerable public events and weddings. Nearby was the Tivoli Hotel, one of only two hotels from Biloxi’s 1920s boom.


Tullis-Toledano House (March 1977), Biloxi


In Ocean Springs, the Shearwater Historic District encompassed the Anderson family’s waterfront compound, best known for the pottery of Peter Anderson and as the residence of Walter Anderson, a nationally recognized artist whose depictions of coastal life and wildlife have inspired generations of artists. Also nationally important was the Sullivan-Charnley Historic District, located on the beach road and comprising only three houses. It was here that Chicago architect Louis Sullivan, “the father of modern architecture,” built his winter vacation home along with his friends the Charnleys—two houses that set residential design on a new path toward openness and light and minimalism.

These beachfront landmarks, along with the bungalow neighborhoods on the inland blocks behind them, had survived many hurricanes, including the strongest hurricane to make landfall, Hurricane Camille, and MDAH’s preservationists went into Hurricane Katrina expecting that most would survive this one too. We were wrong.

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Time and Tide: Katrina and the Old Capitol

On September 2, 2015, in Photographs, by Timothy

This post is part of an ongoing series, “Time and Tide: Ten Years after Katrina.” Special thanks to Nan Prince, Museum Division, for writing this post.

 Katrina: Old Capitol Roof Damage


Mississippi has been without a state history museum since Hurricane Katrina passed through Jackson on August 29, 2005, when high winds ripped off part of the Old Capitol Museum’s copper roof. With the roof peeled back like a banana, rainwater drenched the second and third floors of the museum’s south side, including exhibit areas and a collection storage room filled with artifacts.


Katrina: Old Capitol Roof Damage

Al McClinton and Museum Division director Lucy Allen stand on the roof of the Old Capitol after the storm.


MDAH staff arrived the morning of August 30 and immediately began pulling artifacts out of the wet collection storage room and exhibit areas and laid them out to dry in other areas of the museum.  Approximately 3,200 affected artifacts, including a large collection of Civil War battle flags and more than 100 Choctaw baskets, were moved to dry areas of the building, and several large dehumidifiers were placed throughout the Old Capitol to lower the humidity.


Katrina: Old Capitol Interior Water Damage

Katrina: Old Capitol Artifacts Moved to Dry


During the next several weeks, staff assessed each affected artifact for damage.  Approximately 250 damaged artifacts were sent to conservators.  Almost $88,000 was spent on artifact conservation with financial assistance coming from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Mississippi Humanities Council, and FEMA. All 12,000 artifacts in the collection were moved out of the Old Capitol and placed in temporary storage.


Katrina: MDAH Staff Assessing Old Capitol Artifact Damage

Katrina: MDAH Staff Moving Dehumidifier Into Old Capitol


In addition to the extensive water damage to plaster walls and ceilings, the Old Capitol’s oak floors and twin spiral staircases were damaged. Katrina exacerbated existing problems with the building, including rising dampness, poor foundation, cracked walls and limestone, and other structural issues.


Katrina: Old Capitol Ceiling Damage


In 2006 the Mississippi Legislature passed a $14 million bond bill for the full restoration of the Old Capitol and the design and fabrication of the exhibits.  The “new” Old Capitol Museum opened in early 2009 and hosted the opening day of the Mississippi Legislature.  Built in 1839, the Old Capitol building served as the seat of state government until a new capitol building was built in 1903. It then served as a state office building until it was renovated in 1961 and became the home of the state history museum for the next 45 years. Today the Old Capitol Museum interprets the history of the building and contains exhibits on government and historic preservation.


Katrina: Governor Haley Barbour at Old Capitol Restoration Groundbreaking

Governor Haley Barbour on site with a backhoe


A new Museum of Mississippi History is currently under construction along with the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and will open in December of 2017 in celebration of the state’s bicentennial.  After an absence of twelve years, Mississippi will again have a state history museum.


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Ten years ago today Hurricane Katrina made land fall on the Mississippi-Louisiana state line as a category three hurricane. Waveland, Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, and Long Beach, Mississippi, bore the brunt of Katrina’s force, though central Gulf Coast cities such as Gulfport, Biloxi, Ocean Springs, and Pascagoula, Mississippi, and New Orleans, Louisiana, received significant damage.

Bay St. Louis homeowner Katherine Mauffray narrates the intensifying winds and rising water on the morning of August 29, 2005, in this fifteen-minute video documenting the arrival of Hurricane Katrina. The Mauffray family survived the storm and in 2009 submitted the video to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History’s Historic Preservation Division as part of an application for grant funds to be used for repair of the home. The DVD was made available online as part of the MDAH archival collection.


The series consists of a video recording made at the then-residence of Conrad Lex Mauffray and family on Union Street in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, during the landfall of Hurricane Katrina on the morning of August 29, 2005. The video, with a running time of fifteen minutes and twenty-two seconds, was recorded by Katherine (Mrs. Conrad) Mauffray. Call Number: Series 2701: Hurricane Katrina/Mauffray Family Home Video, 2005 (MDAH)



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Pass Christian, Harrison County, MS. Tuesday, September 27, 2005. Looking north, from U.S. Highway 90, at ruins of three-story building. Call Number: PI/2005.0024, Item 85 (MDAH)

This month marks the tenth anniversary of the landfall of Hurricane Katrina, the greatest natural disaster the United States has ever experienced. On August 29, 2005, the storm exploded into Mississippi, killing hundreds of people and forever changing the state’s cultural landscape. Hurricane Katrina devastated the historical fabric of the Gulf Coast and cut a swath of destruction 150 miles inland. Museums, libraries, government records, and historic buildings were all badly damaged.

The Mississippi Department of Archives and History has been involved in recovery operations since the day after the hurricane made landfall. This blog series will explore the department’s role in recovery efforts and MDAH collections that document the storm.

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