The Old Spanish Trail sticks close to the coastline along its 96-mile trip across Mississippi. Like Alabama, much of the original old road is lost or altered. Recently one of the last stretches of old US 90 — a county road between Ocean Springs and Gautier — was scheduled for rehabilitation. The introduction of casinos has greatly changed the feeling of Biloxi, a former summer resort town. The highway west of Biloxi to Gulfport offers scenic views and numerous points of history.
Huge casinos and their multi-story signs dominate Biloxi’s skyline. Beyond the bright lights are a few hidden gems of the Old Spanish Trail period, including the 1920s Ocean Springs-Biloxi Bridge, one of the last major spans along the Trail. The Tivoli, once Biloxi’s “new and modern Hotel,” sits hidden behind a modern motel fronting US 90.
The popular hostelry boasted 100 rooms with private baths and 24 apartments with baths and kitchenettes. A spacious verandah spanning the length of its façade gave guests a continuous panorama of the Gulf.
“Arriving in Biloxi, we asked one of its citizens which hotel he considered the best and he said, ‘Why the Tivoli, by all means.’” 1929 travel account of the Old Spanish Trail.
No one pays attention to it today, but the Old Spanish Trail and development along the coast would not have been possible without the construction of this seawall. Following a series of storms that ate away at the coast; the Mississippi legislature passed a bill in 1924 permitting counties along the Gulf to build the seawall. Costing $3.5 million to build, the innocuous Seawall runs from Biloxi Bay to the Bay of St. Louis, then continues along part of Bay St. Louis and Waveland.
Built in 1856 as a wedding present to Matilde Pradat, typifies antebellum summer home architecture along the Mississippi coast. Numerous other beach mansions of the period are observed on US 90 between Biloxi and Gulfport.
Fronting Beach Boulevard, the 1848 cast-iron Biloxi Lighthouse is considered to be the first of its type in the South. Legend has it that townsfolk painted the lighthouse black after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. The Younghans family tended the lighthouse for over 70 years, including daughter Maria Younghans, who kept the light lit for 53 years. Their home is now the Chamber Commerce just north of the lighthouse.
Click here to see an elegy for the Tullis-Toledano Manor in the New York Times.
Established in 1986, the Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum preserves and interprets the maritime history of Biloxi and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The museum contains hundreds of one-of-a-kind artifacts, including a Lapeyre Model A shrimp peeler — a device that automated the laborious task of peeling shrimp, contributing to the Gulf Coast’s seafood boom.
Gulfport, a former company town dating to 1868, hosted the annual Old Spanish Trail Association convention in 1921. One hundred convention delegates met at the Great Southern Hotel where they took in numerous good roads speeches, including Judge Charles E. Chidsey’s “The Old Spanish Trail and a Military Necessity,” a speech that influenced Harral Ayres’ mission to Washington, D.C.
The deadly Hurricane Camille of August 17, 1969 destroyed much of Gulfport’s historic fabric. Camille struck the coast with winds up to 200 miles per hour, washing away part of the Seawall and dozens of beachfront homes. The commercial buildings making up the Harbor Square Historic District survived and reflect the early Old Spanish Trail period. Though the Great Southern Hotel is long gone, its golf course lives on as the Great Southern Golf Course, the birthplace of golf in Mississippi. Today, Gulfport is a fast growing city and home to the “World’s Largest Fishing Rodeo.”
While in Gulfport, visit the unique Hurricane Camille Gift Shop, a curio shop in a tugboat that barely survived the famous hurricane.