Time and Tide: Assessment Teams

On September 18, 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.

By the week of September 12, 2005, the MDAH Archives and Record Services Division received assistance from Ann Frellsen, staff member of the Preservation Office at Emory University, and Christine Wiseman, the Preservation Services Manager at Georgia Archives. They joined the Archives and Records Services Division assessment teams working at public libraries, county courthouses, city governments, museums, and historical societies on the Coast. The teams also made recommendations for cleaning, immediate preservation such as freezing or drying materials, and ways to protect employees from mold when handling materials.

Jackson County

Harrison County

Hancock County

The assessment teams wrote conservation reports and took photographs for each site. The reports included findings, salvaged materials, and recommendations to be used by the necessary staff.

Bay St. Louis City Hall conservation report

Bay St. Louis City Hall conservation report

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Time and Tide: Old Spanish Fort Museum Assessment

On September 15, 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.

Front of the Old Spanish Fort Museum building, September 12, 2005.

Front of the Old Spanish Fort Museum building, September 12, 2005.

September 12, 2005—two weeks after Katrina—the MDAH Archives and Records Services Division created damage assessment teams to assist public libraries, county courthouses, city governments, museums, and historical societies on the Coast.  The first team went to the Old Spanish Fort Museum in Pascagoula.  The museum is three miles from the beach and its backyard is the Pascagoula River.  The river backed up from Katrina’s surge, flooding everything in the area.  The water rose up to four feet in the museum damaging the building and its artifacts.

Due to the wide-spread devastation no recovery or damage assessments had been done at the museum.  Artifact cases were still sealed and frequently contained water resulting in mold, mildew, rust and other problems.  Many of the museum’s artifacts were irretrievably damaged.

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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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