Today, as a followup to last week, we continue to explore Waveland and its early 20th-century must-see landmarks.
Waveland, as seen through the Works Progress Administration looking glass, is definitely a place of interest.
The WPA was an agency created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to help bring the country out of the Great Depression through public-works projects that paid Americans for everything from building bridges and national parks to writing and painting.
The WPA gave birth to a collection called the American Guide Series, which highlighted the history, culture and tourist possibilities of communities across the nation.
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Back in time
These 1930s guidebooks may be outdated, but they offer a step back in time for a community lucky enough to have participated in the gathering of photographs, overviews of history and modern development.
The southern tip of Mississippi was one of the lucky regions spotlighted by this Federal Writers’ Project. Titled “Mississippi Gulf Coast,” the comprehensive, 564-page guidebook obviously took several years to compile and was finally printed in 1939 at Gulfport Printing Co.
The guidebook offers a rare peek into the priorities and historical-cultural interpretations of a generation of Coast denizens now mostly gone. “From Pass Christian to Waveland, the beach front is almost one long summer playground for residents of New Orleans, or for New Orleanians who once came to relax and remained to live,” the opening chapter of this guidebook explains.
A driving tour
One delight of this WPA guidebook is its description of a driving tour across the Coast. Here, in part, are the sites the guidebook suggests for the 5.5-mile Waveland section of the beachfront tour:
“Left from Bay St. Louis on the Hancock County sea wall drive is Waveland ...15 altitude, 663 population, greatly increased in summer. When the weather grows hot, many businessmen establish their families in the cottages and bungalows that dot Waveland’s beach, and commute to New Orleans.
“The community, however, has few amusement places and life has a charming simplicity and ease; from June until Labor Day, a bathing suit is the only necessary article of clothing, and no sport is engaged in more arduous than crabbing, swimming or sailing.”
Three Waveland points of interest are highlighted on this 1930s tour.
— The Pirate’s House: “... was built in 1802 by a New Orleans businessman who, visitors are encouraged to believe, was the overlord of the Gulf Coast pirates .... At one time, legend says, a secret tunnel led from the house to the waterfront. The house is said to be the Vernon Plantation Home, described by Maurice Thompson in ‘King of Honey Island.’”
— The Nicholson Cottage: Here once lived Eliza Jane Poitevent, pioneer newspaper woman and poet, born in Gainesville in 1849. Writing under the pen name ‘Pearl Rivers,’ she first appeared in print in the 1860s with some verses published in the New York Home Journal.
“In 1867 Miss Poitevent married Col. Alva Morris Holbrook, owner of the New Orleans Picayune, who died shortly, leaving his property heavily mortgaged. His widow, frail, young and inexperienced, undertook the management of the paper. Gathering about her a talented staff she soon had the paper on a paying basis and, moreover, anticipated some of the features that are now a part of leading dailies.”
— Gulfside: “... a school comprising several frame buildings and an assembly ground ..., extends for a mile and a quarter along the Gulf ...”
Although the WPA’s 545-page guidebook provides the most wide-ranging Coast history up to its time, modern historians have updated and sometimes debunked history standards of the early 20th century. That doesn’t lessen the role that such a book plays in the Coast’s understanding of itself.
As these WPA writers mused about Waveland and its coastal sisters, “The average Mississippian thinks of it simply as ‘the Coast,’ a geographical and spiritual entity.”
Note From the Chronicler: For a few more photos of early Waveland, check out this column at sunherald.com. Also, in the future expect more excerpts on other Coast sites from the WPA guidebook. It’s loaded with good stuff.
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.