No one newspaper article, indeed no timeline such as this, could tell the entire story of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. This one, compiled from new and previous research, highlights the Mississippi Coast’s second century under statehood from 1917 to 2017.
We make no claim to include every history-shaping event but these items give an idea of the vastness with which change came to the Coast.
These events appeared in the pages of The Sun Herald and its earlier form, The Daily Herald. This newspaper was first published in 1884 and its microfilm remains one of the best documentations of Coast development.
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On April 2, the day President Woodrow Wilson asks Congress for a declaration of war against Germany, workers at Mississippi Centennial Exposition site in Gulfport patriotically raise 50 flags. The U.S. enters World War I on April 6, and the expo site becomes a Navy training station.
Cajuns continue to be lured from Louisiana to work the seafood factories, which depend on seasonal “Bohemian” laborers now staying in the East to work World War I armament factories. Biloxi’s George E. Ohr, the self-styled “Greatest Art Potter in the World” dies of probable lung cancer.
Mississippi is the first state to ratify Prohibition. The Coast does a booming rum-running business on the water and whiskey stills inland. Gulfport gets its first cargo ship of imported bananas.
Construction begins on a Coast Guard base on Back Bay to police the rampant rum-runners, who use the Sound, islands, bays and railroads as entry points to the U.S.
Seawall construction begins in coastal counties and Harrison County’s “world’s longest concrete seawall” takes four years. Mississippi Power Co. is born out of the old Gulfport and Mississippi Coast Traction Co., which operated a small generating plant and beachfront trolley.
Highway 90 along the beach becomes U.S. 90, part of a national highway system from Florida to San Diego (all are part of the Old Spanish Trail, a tourism ploy envisioned a decade earlier).
The Isle of Caprice (the renamed Dog Island about 12 miles offshore with a history of disappearing and reappearing), opens as a gambling, drinking and recreation resort to thwart mainland laws, but the Great Depression and erosion close its doors after five years.
This magnificent year for grand hotels brings the likes of the Pine Hills, Edgewater Gulf, the Tivoli and enlarged Buena Vista and White House hotels.
Radio arrives on the Coast in the form of WGCM. Seawalls in three coastal counties are completed.
The first Coast blessings of the fleet is held in August in Biloxi and D’Iberville, a result of the strong Catholic influence of the Slavonian and Cajuns, now the seafood industry backbone. The Great Depression (starts Oct. 29) brings an end to real estate and tourism booms, and businesses and big hotels go bankrupt as the “Gold Coast” (also called the “American Riviera”) loses its shine.
Bridges finally span every river and bay between New Orleans and Mobile, making possible for the first time ferryless travel between the two cities.
The tung industry, a monopoly in China for centuries, takes hold in South Mississippi’s cut-over lands (tung is an important ingredient in paint and furniture finish).
With lumber and wool exports dwindling, the Port of Gulfport must look for other products, and it discovers bananas in a bigger way, although the banana-savvy New Orleans port fights to maintain its banana role.
The last race of the White-Winged Queens, the Biloxi fishing schooners, indicates sails are out and diesel-powered luggers are in.
The national repeal of Prohibition adds to the Coast’s depression misery by ending its national standing as an illegal liquor supplier, but black-market liquor trade remains for 33 more years until it becomes legal on the Coast.
Recognition that the Coast is an important military site grows. A Coast Guard base opens at the southeastern tip of Point Cadet, complete with a ramp and hangar for seaplanes. (After WWII, it is given to the city for recreational use.)
The sheep industry, so lucrative in the first two decades when 5 million roamed the piney woods, fizzles with the passage of open stock laws.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt visits for the second time. (Earlier, his cousin Teddy was a favorite visitor to the Coast, as were later the Trumans.)
Robert Ingersol Ingalls, lured to Pascagoula by balance-agriculture-with- industry funds, opens on a World War I shipyard site. The Dantzler Moss Point Mill, the Coast’s largest, saws its last log, indicating the death of a Coastwide industry, but the pulp mill continues as International Paper Co.
Ocean Springs holds its first 1699 Iberville landing re-enactment, a sporadic event that will become an annual event 32 years later.
In June, the first cadre of officers and men set up tents on the grounds that will become Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi; soon 12,000 construction workers are busy. With the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7 and the U.S. entry into WWII, the tung, shipbuilding, paper and other Coast industries switch strategies to supply war goods.
The Navy picks a 1,150-acre site in Gulfport for the military engineers known as Seabees. Another military site opens, Gulfport Field, an Army Air Corps base. Merchant marines are being trained in Pass Christian.
Ed Barq, who started a soft drink company in Biloxi in the 1890s, dies and leaves behind a national root beer legacy.
Big government rivals seafood, tourism and forestry as economic factors. Many of the Coast’s war-born installations and industries remain intact after the war as the U.S. embraces the concept of peacetime military preparedness.
The Army Corps of Engineers finishes the 1,166-mile Intracoastal Waterway six miles offshore in the Mississippi Sound; communities begin cutting channels and canals to it, which creates an industrial revolution in oil, space, engineering, fabrication and chemicals.
A September hurricane kills 20, demolishes waterfronts and teaches new generations about destruction. New shrimp “bottoms” are found in water south of the barrier islands, which gives a dwindling industry new life.
The Coast population reaches 127,365 (11,891 in Hancock, 84,073 in Harrison, 31,401 in Jackson). The Gulf Coast Research Lab opens in Ocean Springs.
Simultaneous construction of the 300-foot sloping beach to replace eroded sand and the widening of the old U.S. 90 (to become America’s first four-lane, coast-to-coast military superhighway) helps Uncle Sam, but also gives Coast tourism a huge boost. Historically wide-open but illegal Coast gambling is forced to go underground after the anti-crime investigating committee of Sen. Estes Kefauver exposes it to the nation.
700 lots for a new Gulfport neighborhood called Bayou View is carved from the World War II-era Gulfport Field. Wartime airport is upgraded for community use.
Ground is broken for Memorial Hospital at Gulfport.
National Guard training facillity at the Gulfport airport is completed.
The postwar tourism boom sprouts many tourist cottages and nightclubs that draw national names. Elvis Presley does Coast concerts and woos Biloxi girlfriend.
Lee Koplin, a Florida genius of roadside pop art, builds a miniature golf course in Biloxi with its trademark dinosaur.
Joe Brown, owner of the Horseshoe Club in Las Vegas, buys the vintage Broadwater Beach Hotel, which his wife later turns into the Coast’s flagship hotel.
In October, Biloxi physician Gilbert Mason challenges segregation laws by petitioning the county for unrestricted sand beach access, until then denied by beachfront homeowners. (Two protest wade-ins and court suits follow before beaches are desegregated.) Ingalls launches the USS Blueback, its first submarine, a diesel electric.
Harrison County voters approve a bond issue to construct the Harrison County Waterway, and dredges cut more waterways and feeder canals to the Intracoastal Waterway in other counties.
Out of 30 candidates, Hancock County is selected as the site for NASA’s largest moon-rocket test facility because the rockets can be built in New Orleans, tested at what is now Stennis Space Center and shipped to Cape Canaveral by the Intracoastal Waterway.
WLOX-TV, with studios in Biloxi’s Buena Vista Hotel, hits the airwaves. Mary Mahoney opens the Old French House Restaurant. Black-market taxes paid to state, sheriffs and others on liquor make some salaries higher than the U.S. president’s.
The Coast’s first regional shopping center, Edgewater Mall, opens in September midway between Gulfport and Biloxi (on 40 acres later annexed by Biloxi). Smaller shopping centers appear across the Coast.
In August, Mississippi’s first black child enters a previously all-white school in Biloxi.
Hurricane Betsy gives a glancing blow. The widening of U.S. 49 to four lanes begins. Construction of Interstate 10 begins. Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College admits its first black students and divides into three campuses. Famous Jackson County artist Walter I. Anderson dies of lung cancer, leaving behind a fabulous collection of art.
For the first time Coast blacks and whites sitat the same large music venue when Dick Clark’s Where the Action Is concert comes to town. The co-mingling is repeated at an appearance of James Brown.
On Aug. 17, Hurricane Camille, the strongest 20th-century storm to hit the U.S., kills at least 132 on the Coast, leaves about 40 missing, causes $6.8 billion in damage, and proves the human spirit can rebuild. Commuter train travel to New Orleans ends after nearly a century, and in four years all Coast passenger-train service ends.
The seafood industry gets a boost from hurricane-induced, low-interest government loans; that, coupled with larger boats and new technology, makes shrimping a year-round business but causes overfishing of waters.
Crowds cheer when the first blast fails to bring down the Roaring ’20s-era Edgewater Gulf Hotel for a mall expansion.
The University of Southern Mississippi buys the 1920s-era campus of Gulf Park College for Women and turns it into a regional campus.
Harrison County voters reject $6 million bond issue for new courthouse. (Fire two years later creates necessity.)
Contracts signed for building the $16 million U.S. Naval Retirement Home in Gulfport.
I-10 in Harrison and Hancock counties is completed, but the Jackson County part is held up for seven years because of environmental issues concerning sandhill cranes. Biloxi, Pascagoula and Gulfport join the 1,200 cities that grab at urban renewal funds to revitalize fading downtowns. For Biloxi, it’s the $22 million Vieux Marche project.
The Mississippi Audubon Society initiates a “Nest in Peace” on the beach to help the endangered least tern. William Carey College buys the former Gulf Coast Military Academy in Gulfport to offer four degrees offered by the parent Hattiesburg campus.
Gulf Islands National Seashore Park opens in Ocean Springs and on several barrier islands. The Mississippi Coast Coliseum & Convention Center opens to Charley Pride instead of Elvis Presley, the scheduled performer, who had just died. The 17-county Biloxi Diocese is carved out of the Natchez Diocese and headed by the first U.S. black diocesan bishop. The old tree-lined Pass Road in Biloxi and Gulfport is widened to four lanes to create a commercial corridor.
Vietnamese refugees, who come in larger numbers because the fishing resembles that in South Vietnam and because of a Catholic resettlement program, help supply seafood workers to declining factories, but some American fishermen resent them. Former President Richard Nixon is warmly received, despite the rest of the country’s attitude toward him, because the Coast remembers his Camille-rebuilding help.
DuPont dedicates its DeLisle plant to manufacture titanium dioxide. With a lot of volunteerism and private-public bucks to lure it, the Miss USA pageant is staged at the Coast Coliseum this year and for the next three years.
More than 4,000 gather on the beach in front of Edgewater Mall holding signs reading “Thanks Canada” in response to that country’s help with Americans held hostage in Iran.
The Coast’s last all-black school, North Gulfport Elementary, becomes part of another integrated school. The national financial recession begins on the Coast, worsened by the Louisiana oil bust.
Singing River Mall opens. A fire at the Biloxi jail kills 29, and an Illinois drifter accused of setting it will be acquitted.
The commuter train temporarily returns to take Coast people to the New Orleans World’s Fair. J.L. Scott Marine Education Center & Aquarium opens in Biloxi. The 100-year-old The Daily Herald and 11-year-old The Sun merge to create The Sun Herald. Harrison County Sheriff Leroy Hobbs is sentenced to 20 years after pleading guilty to racketeering charges involving a cocaine ring.
After several attempted hits that cause false evacuations, Hurricane Elena’s 110-mph winds buffet Jackson County and cause $352 million in damage. The Navy announces Pascagoula will become a home port. The renaissance of Old Town in Bay St. Louis begins.
Shrimpers are required to use the catch-reducing turtle excluder devices. Seafood packers, facing depleted local fishing, realize it’s better to “join than fight ‘em,” and begin big-time processing of imported seafood. The rum-running-era Coast Guard base at Biloxi’s Point Cadet becomes the Seafood Industry Museum. Gautier becomes a city.
Harrison County begins its project to replenish the eroded sand beach, and sand dunes are encouraged with the planting of sea grasses. The murders of Judge Vincent Sherry and wife Margaret in Biloxi are linked to the Dixie Mafia on the Coast, and Pete Halat, who will become mayor, is eventually jailed as a murder conspirator.
D’Iberville becomes a city, thus thwarting Biloxi’s annexation efforts. Interstate 110 and the loop open.
The first of the replica old Biloxi schooners, named after banker Glenn L. Swetman, sails. Larkin Smith, the Coast’s promising shining star in Congress, dies in a plane crash.
Voters approve dockside gambling in Hancock County, but defeat it in Harrison and Jackson counties.
The Walter Anderson Museum of Art opens in Ocean Springs.
57.4 percent of Harrison County voters approve dockside gambling. In August, the riverboat Isle of Capri is the first casino to open. In September, Casino Magic opens in the Bay.
Gulfport annexes North Gulfport and Orange Grove, stealing the title of the state’s second-largest city from Biloxi. The U.S. 49 corridor begins phenomenal retail growth.
The George E. Ohr Arts & Cultural Center opens in the hometown of the “Mad Potter.”
Sen. John C. Stennis, influential Pascagoula native and “father” of the space center and much other Coast growth, dies. Keesler and the Seabee bases survive congressional military base closings and grow bigger.
The Coast loses its weather icon, Harrison County Civil Defense Director Wade Guice, whose compassion and expertise is credited with saving lives in Camille and later storms. Trent Lott of Pascagoula is elected to the powerful seat of U.S. Senate majority leader.
Biloxi casinos generate 35 percent of Mississippi’s $2.2 billion gross gaming revenues. A building boom to house the Coast population explosion is underway. The urban renewal canopies are torn down to once again try to revitalize downtown Biloxi. Gulfport also undergoes rejuvenation.
Hurricane Georges strikes Sept. 28, killing none on the Coast but causing $310 million in damage. The symbolic Biloxi Lighthouse celebrates 150 years. Jet service, taken away in the recession, is restored in October. The Jefferson Davis Presidential Library opens at Beauvoir in Biloxi.
The tricentennial becomes a Coastwide, year-long 300th birthday party. The opening of Beau Rivage in Biloxi brings Coast casinos, now numbering 11, to a classier level. Arguments continue but nothing definite comes out of the need for a north-south and east-west road to hold the new traffic. Twenty-one Mardi Gras parades now roll across the Coast.
The New Millennium begins with an official three-county Coast population at 350,000 people, 700 times the number at the beginning of the century. (But estimates by public developers believe the number could well be 800 times.) Black Springbreak comes to the Coast for the first time. The big daddy of gambling, MGM Grand, buys Beau Rivage in Biloxi, and Northrop Grumman proposes to buy Litton Industries, which owns Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula.
After Sept. 11, security tightens around USS Cole, docked for repairs at Ingalls; National Guard begins security details at Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport; several local families mourn loss of loved ones in New York and Washington.
U.S. Sen. Trent Lott of Pascagoula resigns as Senate majority leader after being accused of racially insensitive remarks at 100th birthday for Sen. Strom Thurmond. Community debates appropriateness of Confederate battle flag in public historic flag displays. Tropical Storm Isidore floods more than 3,000 homes in Hancock County.
Marine Corps 2nd Lt. Therrel Shane Childers, a 1990 graduate of Harrison Central High, is one of the first American combat casualties in Iraq. Biloxi debates whether high-rise developments will make Keesler vulnerable in the next round of base closings. Pascagoula opens $50 million high-rise bridge.
A Sept. 14 evacuation for Hurricane Ivan sends thousands northbound, clogging roads, quadrupling the time of trips and causing many to question wisdom of evacuating. Jackson County approves $7.1 million incentives for a Northrop Grumman drone helicopter facility. Rare Christmas snow.
In late August Hurricane Katrina, America’s worst natural disaster, devastates entire coastline, does extensive damage inland, kills over 200 and causes most Coast cities and tens of thousands of home owners to go back to the drawing boards.
Seventeen Marine Life dolphins, assumed lost in Katrina, are rescued. Federal investigation into Harrison County jail death of Jessie Lee Williams Jr., shows he was beaten without justification; four former corrections officers plead guilty and the one accused of delivering blows remains behind bars. Former President Carter and wife come to the Coast to build Habitat for Humanity homes.
The $266 million Bay St. Louis Bridge and the $338 million Biloxi Bay Bridge reopen. South Mississippi legislators coax fellow lawmakers to vote for bailout of state wind pool because of rising homeowner-insurance rates. Work begins again on Frank Gehry-designed Ohr museum in Biloxi.
Gulfport bans indoor smoking in public places. Public greets with scepticism a proposal for a petroleum reserve in Richton salt dome. Recovery from Katrina is slowed by a nationwide recession and major construction is postponed. Gustav rattles nerves but only causes some flooding as heads to Texas.
Tourism, retail, real estate suffer from the worldwide economic slowdown. Elections bring new mayors in Pascagoula, Gautier, Moss Point, Gulfport, D’Iberville, Bay St. Louis. Repairs of U.S. 90 are completed. Federally funded city and county construction to replace Katrina-destroyed buildings and infrastructure begins in earnest.
The Louisiana BP oil spill of April 20 fouls local beaches, swamps and islands, causing massive cleanup, hurts seafood and spawns lawsuits. PBS “Antique Roads Show” comes to the Coast Coliseum. The Ohr-O’Keefe Musuem returns to its rebuilt beachfront campus. The image of the Biloxi Lighthouse, reopened for the first time since Katrina, now graces state car tags. Ground is broken for the $23 million Santa Maria del Mar apartment complex off Popp’s Ferry.
Hotel Markham, built in the Roaring ’20s as a Gulfport apartment hotel, is listed among Mississippi’s top endangered historic sites The Salvation Army’s $16 million, Ray and Joan Kroc Center opens. Golden Nugget announces it will acquire the Isle Casino Biloxi.
Hard Rock Casino begins construction on a $32.5 million, 12-story hotel. Nearly 90 Coast WWII veterans take Honor Flight to Washington, D.C.
Department of Marine Resources officials indicted on federal charges. Investigation into a shooting at the Narcotics Task Force of Jackson County snowballs into indictment of Sheriff Mike Byrd. Tourism goes regional with creation of Mississippi Gulf Coast Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau. The long-closed White House Hotel and White Pillars restaurant in Biloxi are being restored. University of Southern Mississippi reopens Gulf Coast campus in Long Beach.
The Biloxi Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum re-opens on Point Cadet.
Scarlet Pearl opens as D’Iberville’s first casino. Biloxi’s longest serving mayor, A.J. Holloway, steps down for health reasons and Andrew “FoFo” Gillich is elected. Capt. Louis Skrmetta announces Gulf Islands National Seashore has renewed Pan Isles’ contract to ferry passengers to Ship Island 10 more years.
In May, Stone County celebrates its centennial. In December gas prices inch back to $2 a gallon. Coast tradition of Christmas boat parades continued in Biloxi, Gulfport and Long Beach.
Guflport approves first construction contract for $64.5 million Mississippi Aquarium. Pass Christian Historical Society continues its Tour Of Homes tradition begun in 1977. The Mississippi Gulf Coast Spring Pilgrimage plans its 65th year. By March the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College’s Nursing and Simulation Complex nears completion near the William Carey University at Tradition.
Compiled by Kat Bergeron