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Touring the Pass Christian Historic District
All of the two-and-a-half miles of Scenic Drive are within Pass Christian's Historic District which includes 330 acres and consists of 119 dwellings and buildings. City preservation ordinances throughout the years have changed during intervals of new governing officials, but for the most part, most of the homes have abided by national historic preservation restrictions.
During the antebellum period, most dwelling construction produced mainly summerhouses, which were single-story structures with a gable roof and usually with three or five bay windows with an inset gallery. Styling was often a blend of Greek Revival, Queen Anne, and local vernacular structures that ranged in size from cottages to mansions. Through the construction periods evolving from the 1830s, 17 varying architectural styles have been defined within the Historic District.
Many of the stately mansions and cottages were built by wealthy New Orleanians when the Mississippi Coast was considered their playground. Many of the original cottages were constructed of brick walls that were more than a foot thick covered with wall plaster mixed with deer hair for both, strengthening and preserving qualities. Huge framing timbers were fastened together by wooden pegs and the homes were adorned with hand-carved woodwork, tall columns, and prominent roof lines.
Houses erected after 1865 were usually larger and often featured hipped or gambrel roofs with inset dormers.
As years passed, Pass Christian residents showed an increased tendency to hire architects to design or to re-design their homes. Colonial Revival architecture became popular in endeavoring to be homogenous with the older structures.
In 1979, the Mississippi Department of Archives and History wrote the following plaudits on the architectural qualities of Pass Christian.
Up until Katrina -- August 29, 2005, the below statement was held true:
"Despite recent building losses due to a devastating hurricane (Camille), Scenic Drive remains the largest architecturally intact major 19th Century resort area in the South and one of only a few in the nation like Cape May, New Jersey, --- and Newport, Rhode Island, --- both of which are National Historic Landmarks that have managed to retain most of their original character."
Nearly all of the homes in the Historic District have specific historical architectural characteristics for which they are registered in the National Register of Historic Places.
These homes are regulated by the Pass Christian Historic Preservation Commission and monitored by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
Many of the mansions also have preserved or restored their outbuildings which usually consisted of a garconniere, or servant quarters, that later became used as bachelor quarters or guest houses.
Also predominant were gazebos and “Shoo-flies.” A shoo-fly was usually built around a large Live Oak for its shade and the platform was raised from the ground ten-feet or more in order to optimize the breezes of the beach in addition to provide seating above mosquito habitation levels. These platforms were decorated with a lattice facade and usually painted white.
Although some homes located in the Historic District are small and may seem insignificant by comparison to the mansions --- they are treated with equal significance for preservation of Historic value. Although new owners may apply for permits to change a building's structure, they must abide by restrictions that may ultimately cause remodeling/destruction which is prohibited by the State as well as the Preservation Commission. The ruling guidelines protect all genuine historic structures from obliteration from their original architectural design. Nevertheless, on occasion, complications arise with attempts to modernize historic buildings while still attempting to preserve their historic features. Resolution can usually be accorded by following careful and expert examination in accommodating both preservation and modernization.
As an example, vernacular Greek Revival cottages were indigenous to the Mississippi Gulf Coast area both before and after the Civil War. A typical galleried French colonial cottage was characterized by its "T-shaped" floor plan with a gallery that swept around the arms of the "T" to entirely encircle the main body of the building. Settlers on the Gulf Coast developed this method of construction in order to maximize the capturing of breezes and to provide ample porch space for escaping the sun's direct heat during different times of the day. The fact that this is the very same basic design array for Jefferson Davis' Beauvoir, illustrates that it was practical for use in mansions as well as smaller cottages and bungalows. Although once quite numerous, a large percentage of these houses predominated along the Gulf Coast. However, much of the architectural heritage has been destroyed or remodeled beyond recognition making the ones remaining both rare and significant. It is for this reason that Pass Christian's Scenic Drive is unique.
Pass Christian is also home to many of the Majestic Giant Live Oaks. Many of these, including magnolias, have been registered with their appointed age classification along with their names. A number of these trees can be closely observed while driving slowly along tree-lined Scenic Drive and Second Street.