For More Details
For more information, contact: the Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1-888-467-4853 or visit online at www.gulfcoast.org
Ocean Springs Chamber of Commerce, (228) 875-4424 or visit online at www.oceanspringschamber.com
Walter Anderson Museum of Art, (228) 872-3164 or visit online at www.walterandersonmuseum.org
La Pointe-Krebs House, (228) 769-1505; Scranton Nature Center, (228) 938-6612

Before You Go
Stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, TripTiks and TourBook guides. Or, go to our online Auto Travel section.

Coastal cruising
Small towns offer a quiet retreat along Mississippi’s celebrated gulf coast

By Carolyn Thornton
Published: Jul/Aug 2001

From the low sand dunes of Ocean Springs, Biloxi’s casinos shimmer like a mirage. Biloxi Bay separates the Vegas-style attractions from the coast’s quieter eastern communities. Here, centuries-old live oaks shade quiet streets. Striped awnings drape shop fronts and sidewalks bordered by flowers urge guests to park the car and explore on foot.

Begin a visit at the local chamber of commerce located in the former L&N Railroad Depot (intersection of U.S. Highway 90 and Washington Avenue). Pick up brochures on shopping, dining, walking and bike routes. Guided tours begin here by appointment. Call (228) 872-1289 for tour information.

If you’re on your own, head for Front Beach Drive where a timber fence on a bluff surrounds the reconstruction of Fort Maurepas. After landing at Biloxi Bay in 1699 (an event re-enacted each April), Pierre le Moyne d’Iberville established the fort as French Louisiana’s first capital. From here, later expeditions founded Mobile, Pascagoula and New Orleans.

The Anderson legacy

A mural depicting d’Iberville’s landing can be seen in the community center on Washington Avenue. The artist, Walter Anderson (1903-1965), asked to paint the mural for $1 in 1951, but his 90-foot, wall-to-wall masterpiece didn’t please everyone. Some townspeople suggested whitewashing the walls. Fortunately, the work was left untouched, and has been valued at more than $9 million. The Ocean Springs Community Center connects to the Walter Anderson Museum of Art, which opened in 1991.

After studying art in the United States and Europe, Anderson returned to Ocean Springs and married Agnes (Sissy) Grinstead, started a family and went to work for his brother Peter’s business, Shearwater Pottery.

In the late 1930s, Walter Anderson was diagnosed with schizophrenia. With the understanding of his family, Anderson in 1947 left his wife and children and lived alone in a cottage on the Shearwater compound. He spent extended time on uninhabited Horn Island off the Mississippi Gulf Coast, living primitively, working in the open and sleeping under his boat. His obsession to be one with nature instead of an intruder created works that are intense and evocative.

After his death, Anderson’s wife unlocked the door to the Little Room in his cottage, and discovered murals illustrating a full day on the Mississippi Sound from a rooster’s crow at dawn to moths flitting in moonlight. Today, the Little Room is attached to the museum, which features changing exhibits of his prolific works, and those by other prominent artists. It is estimated that Anderson created 8,600 watercolors, 10,000 pencil drawings, 300-plus linoleum block designs, 26,000 pen-and-ink sketches, plus thousands of pottery pieces for the family business. Follow the signs from the museum to reach Shearwater Pottery and showroom.

In 1999, Anderson’s grandson, Christopher Inglis Stebly, completed a mural in the style of his grandfather on an outside block wall on Bowen Avenue. Visitors may purchase Anderson designs on clothing, block prints, books and cards at Realizations in the old depot. The artist’s inspiration is also found in the needlepoint for sale at Threadneedle Street boutique, in the stained glass of Ma Belle’s Stained Glass Originals, and on calendar prints at the Local Color Gallery. Other artists, photographers, pewtersmiths, and potters make Ocean Springs a thriving art community.

Anderson’s designs even turn up in displays at the headquarters of the Gulf Islands National Seashore off Highway 90. The visitors’ center explains the ecological importance of islands in the barrier chain. (Horn and Ship Islands were Anderson’s favorite haunts for subjects.) Campgrounds and hiking trails add to the site. Elsewhere along Highway 90 east, bird lovers will want to hike the trails at the Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge.

Singing River country

At Gautier, private fishing camps line the Pascagoula River. Turn south (toward the Mississippi Sound) at the last traffic light before the bridge and follow the curved road past a historical marker for The Old Place. Fayard Gautier established a sawmill here in 1866 and used pine from the mill to build his home. The road curves past the yellow house of Singing River Pottery Ceramic Originals, a good place to shop for quality, local souvenirs. The white house (now private) across the street was the home of the area’s most famous ceramic artist, Josie Gautier.

Various businesses in Gautier and Pascagoula claim the Singing River title as a reminder of the Singing River legend. A maiden from the fierce Biloxi tribe married the young chieftain of the peaceful Pascagoulas. The spurned Biloxi chieftain declared war on the Pascagoulas. The Pascagoulas’ chief begged his tribe to sacrifice him for the sake of the tribe, but his people refused to separate the lovers. With the women and children leading the way, they marched into the river singing their death song. Before the area developed commercially, old-time residents spoke of a sound like a swarm of bees heard in late summer and fall. Scientists have never been able to explain the phenomenon.

Pascagoula sprawls across the marshland. Due to the construction to replace the current drawbridge, travelers may have to ask for directions. “I can tell you how to get here now,” said Chris Maskew, manager of the Old Spanish Fort, “but by the end of summer the road work may change.” For now, take Pascagoula Street north (just beyond the construction) and turn west on Lake (at the fire station). Look for signs to the fort.

The oldest landmark, perhaps of the entire Mississippi River Valley, is the La Pointe-Krebs House, commonly known as the Old Spanish Fort. It was built in 1718 using a plaster mixture of moss, oyster shell and clay. A touch screen video allows visitors to learn about the French period, how the house was built, the early years, additions and restoration.

On the south side of Highway 90, follow Pascagoula Street to the railroad tracks and a restored train depot, an Amtrak stop that’s home to the Singing River Art Association and gallery. Continue toward the beachfront to Longfellow House, named for the poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who visited the home in the 1850s. Today it is owned by the University of Southern Mississippi.

Returning to Highway 90, signs direct the way to the Scranton Nature Center & Theme Gardens. Exhibits of animals native to the Gulf Coast are on view. Iva McKey tends to the live snakes (non-venomous) and turtles on display, and entertains visitors about the collection. Having worked as the docent for the Scranton Floating Museum (currently in dry-dock), she can also explain local fishing lore and habits of the native fauna.

As I was leaving she smiled and said, “I usually keep everybody longer than they intended to stay.” That applies to Mississippi’s east coast, too.

Carolyn Thornton is a contributor from Purvis, Miss.



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