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Time and Tide: The Storm Arrives in Jackson

On September 14, 2015, in Archives, by Timothy

This post is part of an ongoing series, “Time and Tide: Ten Years after Katrina.” Special thanks to Preston Everett, Archives and Records Services, for writing this post.

The majority of MDAH Archives and Records Services Division staff works at the William F. Winter Archives and History Building in Jackson, Mississippi.  On Friday, August 26, 2005, MDAH employees went home for the weekend thinking Katrina wasn’t going to hit Mississippi directly since the hurricane was veering to the west.  Monday the 29 was a very different story. Hurricane Katrina made landfall as a category three at 125 mph.  When it arrived in central Mississippi, it had weakened to a category one hurricane at 95 mph.

Staff made preparations for the hurricane by moving everything away from the windows and covering furniture and equipment with Visqueen.  By mid-morning, heartbreaking and disturbing stories began reaching us.  The New Orleans levees were not holding, and the Superdome’s roof was tearing apart.  While Winter Building employees were making preparations, the world outside the building showed signs Katrina was close.   The Image and Sound section employees took this video around 10:45 a.m.   The light fixture fell one hour later, missing the building.

MDAH Light Fixture Katrina



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Owner Mary Helen Schaeffer and volunteer engineer Beth Nathan stand in front of Schaeffer’s damaged house on Scenic Drive.

Time and Tide: “Thanks Y’all”

On September 11, 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.

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
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(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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