In October 1916, Mississippi Gov. Theodore G. Bilbo announced the state would hold a centennial celebration, much like a world’s fair, on the beachfront property of Gulfport’s first mayor, Frederick Searle Hewes.
As soon as the governor finished speaking from Hewes’ front porch, the house was demolished to make way for centennial construction. Hewes had sold the home and surrounding oak-shaded acreage to the government for the centennial.
“The buildings were built, great things were planned, but we got in the middle of World War I and it was not the time to be having a party,” former Gulfport Mayor George Schloegel told a group gathered Wednesday on the same property.
This time, Schloegel was announcing a Mississippi bicentennial party on the property. The great-great-grandson of Hewes, current Gulfport Mayor Billy Hewes introduced Schloegel, who chairs the bicentennial planning committee.
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They’re billing the first of three celebrations to mark the bicentennial as “the party of the century.”
The old Hewes property has seen some changes since the first mayor’s day. The 57 acres eventually became home to a Veterans Administration hospital. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the VA put new Italian tile roofs on 11 historic buildings, installed wood-framed windows and turned over the land to the city
Though it will be held in Gulfport, the Mississippi Bicentennial Celebration South will feature the state’s 26 southern counties, with tourism and business leaders from across the area helping organize entertainment, events and booths.
The party will be 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, March 31, and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, April 1.
There will be live music, with a headliner to be announced at a news conference Feb. 15 at Centennial Plaza.
The celebration will highlight South Mississippi food, culture, history and the contributions of residents. Officials are encouraging residents and businesses to participate as volunteers, vendors and sponsors. Applications are available on the bicentennial website, ms200south.org.
A list of events also is featured on the ms200south website. At 11 a.m. on the first day, Taste of Mississippi will open, featuring Coast cuisine, an international food court and a craft beer garden. At 5 p.m., a picnic will salute the Coast military, followed by a big-band concert.
A parade will roll at 11 a.m. April 1, with Salute to Mississippi exhibits opening at 10 a.m. and Taste of Mississippi vendors set up for a second day.
A 7 p.m. concert will feature the Mississippi Bicentennial Orchestra and Singers, with performances by Vasti Jackson, a blues musician and Grammy nominee from McComb, and The Paul Thorn Band. The mystery headliner will follow.
Celebrations also will be held in Oxford and Jackson.
The opening of the Mississippi History Museum and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum will cap the celebration in Jackson.