Waveland’s Gulfside Assembly, from its heyday to its demise

The old Jackson/Deblieux House is the scene of an open-air event in circa 1930.
The old Jackson/Deblieux House is the scene of an open-air event in circa 1930. Photo courtesy of the Hancock County Historical Society

This circa 1930 photo shows visitors enjoying the grounds of the Gulfside Assembly at Waveland.

Last week’s Flashback told the interesting history of the Jackson/Deblieux House from its late 1850s construction to 1923, when African-American Bishop Robert E. Jones of the then Methodist-Episcopal Church purchased the beachfront property located on the eastern edge of present-day Buccaneer State Park.

The Nov. 30, 1923, Times Picayune reported the acquisition of about 700 acres, partly by purchase and partly by lease, of the property that the Bishop intended to use for “missionary and educational purposes and at the same time serving as a recreational place for our people.”

The Bishop, along with other ministers and members of the faithful, went to work at once to renovate the old Jackson/Deblieux house. The official dedication of Gulfside Assembly occurred on Aug. 30, 1927.

Under the direction of Bishop Jones the unique facility flourished and in time other buildings were constructed. Most events and activities occurred during the spring and summer, and included classes, seminars, conferences, scouting events, spiritual songfests, picnics, plays, lectures, swimming and boating and so many others. A newly found 1928 newspaper article describes the property as having a “22 room hotel,” undoubtedly the Jackson/Deblieux House, which accounts for the caption on last week’s Flashback postcard.

By the early 1930s Gulfside was host to 5,000 to 10,000 visitors annually. The Jackson/Deblieux house was serving as a men’s and boys’ dormitory when, on Sept. 30, 1935, it burned to the ground. But it was soon replaced by a new colonial-style building. The Assembly suffered some damage during Hurricane Camille in 1969, but in 2005 all of its 12 buildings fell to Hurricane Katrina. Today only an open-air pavilion occupies the site. It serves as a reminder that the spirit of Gulfside lives on and big plans to rebuild are afoot.

Murella H. Powell, a local historian, writes the weekly Flashback column. Do you have a local photograph to submit to Flashback? It can be of any subject or event in the Coast’s distant or recent past. Please send a description with your name, address and daytime phone number to Flashback, the Sun Herald, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi MS 39535; or call 896-2424; or email