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Front Street Historic District


The Front Street Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. A Front Street Historic District Addition was listed in 1998. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from copies of these original nomination documents. [†, ‡] Adaptation copyright © 2011, The Gombach Group.

Geographically, the City of Pascagoula (population approximately 38,000) is located in southern Mississippi on the Gulf Coast, in the southeast corner of Jackson County, roughly one hundred miles east of New Orleans and thirty-five miles west of Mobile, Alabama. It is primarily known for shipbuilding, fishing, oil refining, port activities, and the "Singing River."

Known in legend as the "Singing River," the Pascagoula River, at certain points in its course near the Gulf, produces a humming sound. It is thought that water flowing over rock formations in its bed produces the phenomenon. However, tradition holds that the sound is produced by the singing of the spirits of the Pascagoula Indians, who, when confronted with massacre by the neighboring Biloxi Indians, drowned themselves to avoid defeat (Cyril E. Cain, Four Centuries on the Pascagoula [n.p., 1953], vol. I, pp.113-119).

Although the five houses of the Front Street Historic District comprise only a minute part of Pascagoula's resources, they represent the largest contiguous collection of nineteenth century residences surviving in the community. The Front Street Historic District boundaries were drawn around a two-block area which includes these houses. The houses are all in fair to good condition and most have been altered only slightly through the years.

The physical appearance of the Front Street Historic District is a deteriorated one from that of one hundred years ago; this is evidenced by the remains of a fountain in front of one house (the Frank Lewis House), cracked sidewalks, and the lack of ornamental planting, shrubs, etc., although large live oak, pecan, and magnolia trees abound in the area and most of the yards are reasonably well kept. Two of the houses (the Walter Denny House and the Frank Lewis House) are in need of paint; however, each of the buildings is structurally sound, and each contributes to the architectural significance of the Front Street Historic District.

The Front Street Historic District visually reflects the major trends of Pascagoula's nineteenth century residential architectural development. The Walter Denny House (ca. 1820) and the Dupont-Pelham House (ca. 1836) represent early manifestations of Gulf Coast Greek Revival style and combine several features derived from colonial era Creole construction techniques, such as wide, low galleries, numerous windows and doors opening onto the galleries, and high foundation piers. The Frank Lewis House (ca. 1889) is an excellent illustration of the tenaciousness with which this vernacular Grecian form, which was so well suited to the hot, humid climate, persisted and continued to flourish, even though the style had virtually disappeared in new construction elsewhere. The John B. Delmas House (ca. 1850) is exemplary of the more stately and formal version of Greek Revival popular during the mid-nineteenth century. Representing late-nineteenth century design is the Charles B. Delmas House (ca. 1890-1910) which originally possessed a two-tier portico supported on turned posts (four of which remain) and ornamented by delicate scroll brackets and turned balusters.

Significance

The Pascagoula River was the site of a small Indian village before the arrival of the Europeans in 1699. The first French settlers established farms and engaged in the Indian trade and timber business and raised cattle as well. During the 1720s, visionary entrepreneurs proposed schemes to transform the region into a flourishing center of commerce and agriculture. Concessionaires of the Company of the Indies sent colonists, but lack of sufficient support and, no doubt, the primitive state of European technology at the beginning of the eighteenth century, condemned large scale colonization to failure. The colonization impresarios left, but some of the earlier settlers remained on company land, to clear it and eventually to achieve a prosperous condition through hard work and perseverance (Cyril E. Cain, Four Centuries on the Pascagoula [n.p., 1953], vol. I, pp.4-5).

During the French, English, and Spanish periods, Pascagoula remained a small settlement of people. Not an administrative or military center, it was governed and defended from Mobile and Pensacola. It escaped periods of explosive population growth and economic expansion until the twentieth century. Instead, it enjoyed what can only be afforded to small towns stability, unhurried progress, and family continuity.

The Pascagoula River has always played an important part in the development of the area early Indian travel, the explorations of a priest from DeSoto's expedition in 1539, and of D'Iberville and Bienville in 1699-1700. In 1806 the river was utilized for military transportation, and commercial schooners were calling on the area in 1810. Cotton was shipped from upstate down the river beginning in 1819, and during the great lumber boom from 1880-1920, vessels from all over the world called at the port, as do modern ships today (Cain, vol. I, p.86).

The Front Street Historic District is the only accessible area in the City of Pascagoula which overlooks the port and river activities. The Front Street Historic District encompasses the 2800 and 2900 blocks of Front Street, in which there are five houses, each representing architecture distinctive of the area (i.e., large front galleries, floor-to-ceiling windows, raised brick foundation piers). Although a time span in construction of approximately eighty years is covered, each house is recognized as being built in order to make it habitable during the warm, humid summer months. The area contains many stately live oak trees which should be preserved with the houses.

In addition, it is believed the area was the site of the battle between the Pascagoula Indians and Biloxi Indians, and where the "singing" of the river is best heard. Many Indian artifacts have been found in the Front Street Historic District, and several of the sites (2810 Front Street, Walter Denny House; 2816 Front Street, Frank Lewis House; 2914 Front Street, Charles B. Delmas House) have the remnants of shell middens attributed to the Indians (Cain, vol. I., pp.117).

Added Information — State of Significance — 1998

While the original nomination provides documentation on the historic structures in the Front Street Historic District, it fails to fully describe the prehistoric aspects of the Front Street Historic District. The main impetus for the cursory attention shown the archaeological resources in the original nomination, falls primarily on an unqualified individual's inability to adequately assess the significance of the archaeological resources present in the District. However, due to the recent archaeological studies at the Singing River site (see Blitz and Mann 1993), we now have sufficient data identifying the District's unique prehistoric attributes, revealing an expanded period of significance (ca. 1000/1100 to 1910) for the Front Street Historic District. The following statement of significance focuses entirely upon the formerly omitted prehistoric attributes of the Front Street Historic District.

While most coastal archaeological sites have many properties in common, only a few, such as Singing River, have yielded, and retain the potential to yield, information important to knowledge of Mississippi's prehistory. Therefore, the Singing River archaeological site is significant statewide under the Prehistoric Archaeology Area of Significance of National Register Criterion. The Singing River site has withstood many of the deleterious effects of coastal subsidence and other natural phenomena. In addition, Singing River has endured its share of anthropogenic related impacts, such as amateur excavations and the expansion of commercial development at the site. While the majority of the site remains reasonably intact and relatively undisturbed, impinging commercial development threatens to destroy sections of this invaluable resource.

According to Glassow and Wilcoxon (1988:36), "[t]he archaeology of coastdwelling hunter-gatherers provides one of the most productive data bases for studying both temporal and spatial variations in subsistence, first because of the long and varied prehistories often represented, and second because of the considerable variety of subsistence remains preserved in coastal midden sites." Although numerous multi-component earth and shell accumulation sites have been recorded across the Mississippi Gulf Coast, very few have ever been excavated.

Before, as with most areas in south Mississippi, researchers had to rely heavily upon previously established culture-histories in adjacent regions. However, research originating from the Singing River site (establishment of the Pinola and Singing River phases) has aided in a refinement of the ceramic-based prehistoric chronology for the eastern Mississippi Gulf Coast. In reference to the Pinola phase ceramic complex, Blitz and Mann (1993:65-66) state that there are no "comparable Late Woodland-emergent Mississippi phases defined elsewhere on the Alabama-Mississippi-Louisiana coast," reiterating the uniqueness of resources present at Singing River. These refinements provide researchers with additional tools to understand and evaluate how widespread regional cultures, such as Mississippian (or its coastal variant Pensacola), are introduced, accepted and expressed on a local level.

Additional recovered materials, not yet analyzed, such as floral and faunal remains, will also provide insight to interpretations on prehistoric environments and subsistence practices, data, that until research was conducted at this site, were unavailable for southeastern Mississippi. Overall, the Singing River research has contributed to a more complete knowledge of southeastern Mississippi prehistory, as well as added to the ever growing data base of southeastern prehistory in general.

In addition to the aforementioned data, Singing River also retains the ability to provide additional insights into aboriginal subsistence practices, paleo-environment studies, as well as better understanding of the post-depositional environment (e.g., detrimental effects attributed to tideland fluctuations, water percolation, and severe weather disturbances) (see Smith 1986; Stein 1992). Additionally, this site provides archaeologists with a model to test in hopes of addressing issues pertaining to the effects of urban expansion and impact upon cultural resources. Finally, the application of new research tools like Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) and Oxidizable Carbon Ratio (OCR) may prove instrumental in recognizing and dating discrete anomalies (e.g., post holes) obscured in the often perplexing earth and shell deposit strata (see Stein 1992), which may lead to a refinement of established culture-historical frameworks.

In summary, the Singing River site is an important repository of information which has, and can continue to, contribute to a better understanding of the cultural processes that helped shape southeastern Mississippi prehistory.

References

Building Conservation Technology Report. [n.p.] for the Jackson County Historical Society, 1981-1982.

Cain, Cyril Edward. Four Centuries on the Pascagoula. 2 vols. State College, Mississippi: [n.p.], 1953.

Federal Writers Project. ...Mississippi Gulf Coast, Yesterday, 1699, and Today, 1939. Gulfport, Mississippi: Gulfport Printing Co., 1939.

Cayarre, Charles Etienne. History of Louisiana. 4 vols. New Orleans: F. F. Hansell & Bro., 1903.

Blitz, John H. 1983 A Brief Outline and Bibliography of Southeastern Mississippi Prehistory, Part I. Mississippi Archaeology 17(2): 16-26.

Blitz, John H. and C. Baxter Mann, Jr. 1993 Archaeological Investigations in Coastal Jackson County, Mississippi. Mississippi Gulf Coast Archaeological Project, Interim project No. 1. Manuscript on file at Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Jackson.

Chambers, Moreau B. 1933 Moreau B. Chamber's. 1933 Archaeological Survey records. In the Works Progress Administration's (1940) Indian Mounds and Sites in Mississippi, Volume No. 1. Sponsored by the National Park Service and Works Progress Administration. Manuscript on file at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Jackson.

Dilworth, Anne L. 1979 Aboriginal Pipes of the Northern Gulf Coast. Florida Anthropologist 32(4): 139-146.

Fuller, Richard S. and Ian W. Brown. 1993 Analysis of Bottle Creek Pottery at the Alabama Museum of Natural History. Journal of Alabama Archaeology 39(1 -2):36-114).

Fuller, Richard S. and Noel R. Stowe. 1982 A Proposed Typology for Late Shell Tempered Ceramics in the Mobile Bay/Mobile-Tensaw Delta Region. In Archaeology in Southwestern Alabama: A Collection of Papers. Edited by C. Curren, pp. 45-93. Alabama Tombigbee Regional Commission, Camden, Alabama.

Glassow, Michael A. and Larry R. Wilcoxon. 1988 Coastal Adaptations near Point Conception, California, with Particular regard to Shellfish Exploitation. American Antiquity 53(1 ):36-51.

Greenwell, Dale. 1981 Archaeological Survey Report on Pascagoula Urban Waterfront and Moss Point Industrial (Special Management Areas). Report Submitted to the Bureau of Marine Resources. Manuscript on file at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Jackson.

Lazarus, William C. 1959. A.W. Pinola Site, Pascagoula, Mississippi. Manuscript on file at the Temple Mound Museum, Fort Walton Beach, Florida.

Sears, William H. 1977 Prehistoric Culture Areas and Culture Change on the Gulf Coastal Plain. In For the Director: Essay in Honor of James B. Griffin, edited by C. Cleland, pp.152-185. University of Michigan Museum of Anthropology, Anthropological Papers No. 61.

Sims, Douglas C. 1998 Damage Report: Michelle Mound (22-Ja-578), City of Pascagoula, Jackson County, Mississippi. Manuscript on file at Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Jackson.

Smith, Bruce D. 1986 The Archaeology of the Southeastern United States: From Dalton to de Soto, 10,500-500 B.P. In Advances in World Archaeology, Volume 5, edited by F. Wendorf and A. Close, pp.1-92. Academic Press, Inc., New York.

Stein, Julie K., editor. 1992 Deciphering a Shell Midden. Academic Press, Inc. New York.

† Kristine Hesse, Pascagoula Street Preservation Commission, Front Street Historic District, Jackson County, Mississippi, nomination document, 1983, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

‡ Douglas Sims, archaeologist and Deborah G. Wiles, architectural historian, Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Front Street Historic District Addition, nomination document, 1998, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Front Street Historic District Map

Street Names
Front Street

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