Mississippi Gulf Coast Architecture

Introducing a new guest blogger! Janice Medina is currently an Adjunct Instructor at the University of Southern Mississippi Interior Design Program where she teaches Interior Design I, Portfolio Development, and Visual Communications in Interior Design. Janice earned her M.S. in Building Conservation from Rensselear Polytechnic Institute (Albany, NY) in 2008 and a B.F.A in Interior Design from Syracuse University in 2006. Since relocating to Biloxi, MS, Janice has worked and volunteered with the preservation community. In summer 2010, Janice worked as an intern for the US National Committee of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) in Falmouth, Jamaica. To read more about Janice and her experiences visit her website [janicemedina.net].

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By Janice Medina

Given the recent Deepwater Horizon tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico, this seems an appropriate time to write about some of the architectural gems of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. As a Yankee transplanted to the South, I have come to develop a deep appreciation for the culture and historic buildings near my new home in Biloxi, Mississippi.

The last home of the Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, is nearby and it’s a place that I love to visit with out-of-town guests. Beauvoir is a single-story raised cottage built of cypress and pine, and was completed in 1852. It was originally owned by a wealthy businessman, James Brown. The Davis family moved to Beauvoir in 1877.

Beauvoir. Photo by Janice Medina.

The complex includes two smaller cottages, one to the east and one to the west of the main house, as well as various outbuildings and a cemetery. The home was severely damaged during Hurricane Katrina, as were so many historic buildings along the coastline. On one visit we were informed that the supplier of the home’s historic slate roof was able to locate the original written order for the slate. Due to this extremely organized record keeping, the damaged slates were replaced with a product identical to the original.

With my background in interior design it is no surprise that my favorite features of Beauvoir are on the inside. The rooms have been painstakingly painted to match original design and colors. Doors are beautifully woodgrained and there are still some original glass panes in the triple-hung sash windows. I was lucky enough to visit one day while the ceilings were being painted and it was a pleasure to watch the conservationists at work.

Interior detail at Beauvoir. Photo by Janice Medina.

Offshore, a boat ride to Fort Massachusetts on West Ship Island makes for a great day trip. This fort, one of about 40 used during the Civil War, was operated by Union troops to block water access to New Orleans and Biloxi. The fort took about 6 years to build and as it passed through Northern and Southern hands, the source of building supplies changed. Light-colored southern brick stand out next to darker red brick transported from Maine.

Hurricane Katrina sheared ground cover off the top of the masonry walls, leaving the construction system exposed. This is an interesting view and one can easily see the inner fill of concrete mixed with seashells and broken bricks, no building material was wasted here. The island itself is a community treasure, with white sand beaches and clear waters. Until recently, that is.

Another structure that is a joy to visit is the newly restored Biloxi Lighthouse. The lighthouse was constructed in 1848 and was in use until it was decommissioned in 1967. Today, the City of Biloxi runs tours 3 times daily. Tours run in the morning only due to the fact that the glass-enclosed upper portion of the lighthouse can get uncomfortably hot as the sun rises.

Inside the lighthouse, a new coat of white paint is marked by measured lines in shades of blue. Each blue line indicates high water level during previous hurricanes. The highest mark belongs to Hurricane Katrina. The sweeping view of the beach is well worth the climb up the small spiral staircase.

Coming to know the Mississippi Gulf Coast and its people over the past two years has been a privilege. Hearing their stories of survival and seeing the effort they have put into rebuilding their communities is perhaps what makes this oil spill such a bitter pill to swallow. After all of those efforts, they are facing yet another hit to the local environment and tourism. If you have the chance to make a visit to the Gulf Coast, I encourage you to do so. You will find lovely people, beautiful buildings, and not to mention delicious food. Long live the Mississippi Gulf Coast!

The porch at Beauvoir. Photo by Janice Medina.

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