Waveland is the only city on the Mississippi Coast that prohibits commercial buildings on its beachfront. The city of about 6,500 proudly states that fact on its official website.
Waveland began as a resort of beachfront houses. It wants to keep that image. As decades have passed, of course, Waveland has had to build inland to provide all the people who seek out such leisurely living with the businesses, shops, eateries and services they require.
Today, we explore this city in southwestern Hancock County beyond its popular municipal pier, a 72-year landmark featured in this column several weeks ago. Like everything else Wavelandish, the Garfield Ladner Memorial Pier has undergone several metamorphoses because of hurricane destruction, including Katrina in 2005. Original buildings and homes are rarities in these parts.
Did you know Waveland once was called Montgomery Station? And until the late 1880s was considered part of Bay St. Louis? There was a time when the folks of New Orleans thought Waveland was theirs, and maybe some Coast locals believed it.
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“Waveland, once a part of New Orleans, has subscribed $2,000 toward the erection of an opera house,” this newspaper, then called The Biloxi Herald, reported in 1890.
Huh? Considering the development of Waveland, such an error is understandable, although far-fetched. Waveland was developed mostly by New Orleanians who wanted a seaside playground away from the big-city hustle.
Several months after that faux pas, the Herald also noted: “The considerable number of wealthy people who abide in Waveland, without the benefit of needed improvements, have organized a corporate association, and promise to erect a theatre and establish a public park. A ride up Nicholson Avenue shows ... this broad avenue is beautifully shelled and the neutral ground well cared for by a velvet green lawn. Several hundred oak trees have been planted along on both sides and will give ample shade with their green foliage.”
Two years earlier, in 1888, Waveland had applied for a charter as a separate municipality. The first mayor was L.H. Fairchild and the two aldermen were Alfred A. Ulman, who operated a woolen mill on Nicholson Avenue, and Olus Burgeois, the town marshal. A post office had existed since 1875.
Waveland was showing up on the radar of major New Orleans newspapers by the mid-1870s. “To rent at the sea shore, nicely furnished rooms in a detached cottage newly furnished and pleasantly situated on the beach, at Waveland, Miss., (formerly Montgomery Station, on the New Orleans and Mobile Railroad) with board. Fine bathing and fishing. Less than two hours ride from the city,” proclaimed an 1876 advertisement in the Times-Picayune.
Did you know Waveland once had a vineyard, complete with alligator colony and known for its scuppernong wines? Electricity arrived in 1912, the year the poll books listed 130 male voters. The popular all-female parading carnival Krewe of Nereids formed 51 years ago, and the Waveland Civic Association started the Coast’s first annual St. Patrick’s parade 53 years ago. Buccaneer State Park opened in 1976 and, fittingly, lured folks from afar to its popular “wave” pool. Much history is packed into Waveland’s 6.8 square miles. For the nitty-gritty of such development, read the websites of the City of Waveland and the Hancock County Historical Society.
Martha Field, a Louisiana travel writer, author and journalist who wrote under the name Catharine Cole for the Times-Picayune, is often quoted for her 1892 observation of Waveland: “What a pretty name it is to be sure; how inviting it sounds. ... Neither shops nor hotels disturb the domestic tranquility of this place, bordered on one side by the sea and on the other by bright and cheerful residences. Here and there a slender wedge of forest slips furtively down to the sea, but these lapses into a primeval condition are most infrequent, and already Waveland has begun to grow inward.”
Coming next week: What historical sites did Waveland visitors seek out in the early 20th century?
Kat Bergeron, a veteran feature writer specializing in Gulf Coast history and sense of place, is retired from the Sun Herald. She writes the Mississippi Coast Chronicles column as a freelance correspondent. Reach her at BergeronKat@gmail.com or at Southern Possum Tales, P.O. Box 33, Barboursville VA 22923.