Coastal historical sites on Mississippi endangered list

Published 7:04 pm Friday, April 27, 2007

Historical sites along the Hurricane Katrina battered Mississippi Gulf Coast and including Picayune’s Colored Gymnasium are among 10 Most Endangered Historic Places in Mississippi.

The list was released Thursday by the Mississippi Heritage Trust.

The three coastal counties of Harrison, Hancock and Jackson were grouped as the Mississippi Gulf Coast on the 2007 list.

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“The whole coast is in danger of its historical character changing,” MHT’s Executive Director David Preziosi said. “The Mississippi Gulf Coast is a group listing because we feel all three counties face similar threats. It would be too difficult to identify one site on the coast.

“Obviously, we all know the coast will be changing, and we just hope that, as it changes, people keep in mind the historic buildings that did survive and incorporate them into new developments or let them stand on their own.”

Congress has provided Mississippi with $26 million through the Hurricane Relief Grant for Historic Preservation program for hurricane-marred states. Work is expected to begin this summer on homes and other structures, all at least 50 years old, that received grants.

Many other Katrina-damaged sites were salvageable but Preziosi said when FEMA offered the unprecedented option of demolishing private homes at government expense, many owners signed up, some citing insurance nonpayment.

“Hopefully, when these projects start they will see how successful they are and additional monies for historical preservation will come,” Preziosi said.

“We hope putting the Mississippi Gulf Coast on the endangered list will galvanize people to work toward saving what is left. Everything is in such a perilous condition now with developers coming and people having to make tough decisions about selling these wonderful places.”

Since the MHT list started in 1999, Preziosi said preservation successes included Cutrer Mansion in Clarksdale, Keesler Bridge and the Irving Hotel (now The Alluvian) in Greenwood and the Cedars in Jackson.

The one loss was the Tivoli Hotel in Biloxi, destroyed when the Grand Casino barge slammed into it during Katrina.

A photographic exhibit of the 2007 list will travel the state to raise awareness about the endangered sites. Its first stop is the William F. Winter Archives and History Building June 9 through July 16.

Other sites on the 2007 list are:

— Afro-American Sons and Daughters Hospital in Yazoo City: Built in 1928, it was the state’s first hospital for blacks. The Afro-American Sons and Daughters Foundation is seeking funds to restore it to house a museum, health care hall of fame and community center.

— Beverly Drive-In Theatre in Hattiesburg: First opened in 1948, the landmark was enjoying a revival when it was damaged during Katrina. It’s for sale, for restoration or redevelopment.

— Chandler Home in Okolona: Built circa 1870, the house is an example of a residence combining Greek Revival and Italianate styles. It has been vacant about 25 years.

— Coker House (also known as Greenwood) near Edwards: Built in 1852, it’s the only original structure on land where the Civil War Battle of Champion Hill was fought. It is listed as a National Historic Landmark.

— Mannsdale-Livingston Heritage Preservation District near Madison: A rural area along Mississippi Highway 463 in Madison County, the district’s historic buildings and sites illustrate the county’s rural heritage, 1840s to 1920s. Chapel of the Cross is its most notable building. A proposal to widen Mississippi 463 to four lanes is the district’s most serious threat.

— Mobile and Ohio Railroad Depot in Aberdeen: Completed circa 1869, the depot is a vernacular Italianate structure that’s on the National Register of Historic Places.

— Naval Reserve Center in Jackson: The building, unique for its ship-like facade, opened in 1949 as a training facility for the Navy and Marine Corps and was active until summer 2000 when operations were moved to Meridian. Ownership reverted to the state.

— The Picayune Colored Gymnasium: Built in 1930, the gym served the black community for 60 years as a recreational and entertainment center. Vacant since the 1990s, it was another Katrina casualty.

— Spring Hill Missionary Baptist Church in Tupelo: The circa 1921 red brick church housed the first black congregation in Tupelo for 80-plus years. The congregation built a new sanctuary next door and the historic building’s future is in limbo.