Living

Fort Massachusetts has long been a tourism draw on the Coast

The old cannon on Ship Island was a favorite place for picture-taking.
The old cannon on Ship Island was a favorite place for picture-taking. Courtesy of Paul Jermyn

This postcard, which was made from a photograph at a local business or photography shop, was mailed from Biloxi to Minneapolis, Minnesota, on March 27, 1909.

The message says: “Dear Celeste, I am sending you a photo taken on an old fort in the Gulf of Mexico near here. You will see our homely faces among the group. We are well and shall start home April 15th. With love to all, your Uncle Bob.”

Uncle Bob was evidently a “snowbird,” who had escaped from the rigors of the northern winter to enjoy the relatively warmer weather of the Mississippi Coast. It seems that taking a picture on or around the cannon was the popular thing for visitors to Ship Island to do. There must be hundreds of such pictures that have been taken since the cannon was first installed on Fort Massachusetts in 1873.

Contrary to what some may believe, Fort Massachusetts was not a Civil War Fort. Its construction, which was interrupted by the Civil War, began in 1858 as a result of United States War Department’s effort to fortify important harbors and ports on the Atlantic and Gulf Coast. Remember, the natural deep water harbor at Ship Island was where the French landed in 1699, the British fleet used the anchorage to launch the battle of New Orleans in 1914, and so it was considered to be important by the war department.

Actually, the fort was obsolete by the time it was finished, which is why the cannons were not installed until a possible war crisis with Spain occurred in 1873. Two 15-inch Rodmans and two 100-pounder Parrotts were mounted to the fort. Thirteen 10-inch Rodmans were left in their casements. All but this one cannon were sold as scrap in 1901. The lone cannon left behind remained silent until 1937, when the American Legion fired a salute to President Franklin D. Roosevelt as he toured between Biloxi and Gulfport.

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 living@sunherald.com.

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