Home to 26 miles of soft, white sand, Biloxi welcomes you with the longest man-made beach in the world. While Biloxi is just one of the small towns lining the Mississippi Gulf Coast, its rich history in seafood, tourism and gambling runs deep through its roots.
Dating back to the 1920’s, Biloxi was the Seafood Capital of the World with 40 seafood factories occupying the city. “Biloxi Bacon,” a fish called mullet, are plentiful in the Gulf waters. Their name came from being a cheap food during the time of the Civil War that helped save many people from starvation. The Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum has rebuilt at Point Cadet since Katrina to continue telling the story of how Biloxi was once seafood capital of the world along with other ways the seafood industry and natural disasters have shaped the area.
Hurricanes, unfortunately, have played a large role in the shaping and development of the Gulf Coast. Hurricane Camille devastated Biloxi on August 17, 1969 but the community recovered and wasted no time rebuilding. On August 29, 2005, the city again began from scratch on rebuilding the community when Hurricane Katrina and the 28-foot tidal wave that accompanied it leveled the coast. Shortly afterwards, the BP oil spill in 2010 delivered another blow to both the economy and Gulf waters of the Coast making tourism numbers drop substantially.
“The most unique characteristic about Biloxi is its resiliency. The city has proven time and time again to be able to recover from anything,” said Kay Miller, Biloxi Main Street Executive Director. “There have been three fires that almost destroyed downtown, numerous hurricanes throughout the 20th century that ravaged the coast line and its structures, and the BP oil spill in 2010. A lot of devastating things have occurred, but no matter what, we always recover and move forward, always coming back better than before.”
The Biloxi Lighthouse serves as a symbol of the city’s resilience and a beacon of welcome and hope as it stands tall between the Visitor’s Center and the beach. The lighthouse has survived 21 hurricanes since its erection in 1847 and was featured on Mississippi license plates from 2007-2012. It was one of the first cast-iron structures erected in the South and is also one of the most photographed attractions in the South. Tours of the City’s icon are given daily, visitors can see the waterlines from the various hurricanes throughout the years and learn about the lighthouse’s unique history of being kept by more female keepers than any other lighthouse in the United States.
In 1992, legalized gambling came to Biloxi, giving the city the appeal of a high class gaming destination. The Gulf Coast is the nation’s third-largest casino market, behind Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Up until Katrina in 2005, gambling was confined to floating barges. Afterwards, legislation was passed that allowed casinos on land. Biloxi is home to eight of the 11 casino resorts along the coast.
Biloxi’s deep French roots are still present each year as carnival season rolls around. Mardi Gras was first celebrated in the New World by d’Iberville and his men on March 3, 1699. In 1908 the first Mardi Gras parade took place in Biloxi and has played an integral part in the community every year since. Queen Ixolib and King D’iberville rule over the Biloxi Mardi Gras each year in a parade that rolls Fat Tuesday. That’s not, however, to say that Mardi Gras is only celebrated on Fat Tuesday. The holiday seasons ends and carnival season begins with the Twelfth Night, the 12th day from Christmas. Festivities take place leading up to Fat Tuesday and there is no shortage of parties, dances, and balls between Biloxi’s number of krewes.
“Biloxi isn’t just your typical casino town,” said Miller. “We have a very strong, diverse history and culture that offers so many opportunities for everyone. We are home to the beautiful Gulf of Mexico, fabulous weather, a strong golfing community, an amazing art community and endless water activities for all ages.”
Today, Biloxi is the site of many new developments and upcoming projects, including: the MGM Park across from Beau Rivage Resort and Casino and home to the Biloxi Shuckers, a AA minor league baseball team who will celebrate its first full season this year; Margaritaville Resort, which will feature a 55,000 square-foot entertainment complex, lazy river, and 2 water slides; and, most recently, the “Refresh” project which focuses on downtown.
This past December, The National Main Street Center, Inc., announced seven U.S. cities, including Biloxi, to be used as demonstration sites to implement its “Refresh” project approach to community revitalization and preservation-based economic development.
Local leaders will receive 12 to 18 months of free organizational building assistance and hands-on technical assistance from national experts. The strategy will involve community members in community revitalization efforts, to plan and execute actions, and effectively measure the impact of those efforts.
“Biloxi is just now, 10 years after Hurricane Katrina, recovering,” said Miller. “Downtown development has been in the works and the ‘Refresh’ project is beginning at the perfect time. Biloxi is soon to be up and coming in the very close future.”
Main Street Biloxi originally came about through the Coast Main Street Project in 1990 before it evolved into an independent organization with the mission to preserve, protect, and promote the unique character of historic Biloxi.
Spring 2016 Intern
Mississippi Main Street Association