Spring breakers saving south Mississippi history

By Trang Pham-Bui - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Twenty college students surrounded a dilapidated house on 31st Avenue in Gulfport, giving it some much-needed TLC.

"It's a wreck," said Rose Whaley. "I mean all this time, waiting to get it fixed and more and more kept happening. We couldn't get no help."

Rose Whaley lived in the house with her son Tony, until Katrina's damage and health problems forced her to move out.

"It's part of history here. It's been here a long time," said Whaley.

The home was built in the early 1900s. This week, it is being restored, with help from spring breakers from the University of Idaho and Hamilton College in New York.  They're priming and painting the house to show off its Colonial Revival style.  In all, the volunteers will work on four Katrina-ravaged homes in Gulfport that have historical or architectural significance.

"I'm originally from Washington and in Idaho too, you don't see too many houses that are 100 years old," said Idaho volunteer Ben Cote. "It's cool to help. Not only be helping from a natural disaster, but help preserve something that's so old. And it's a beautiful house."

"It's definitely an outside of the classroom experience. It kind of shapes our whole education," said Idaho volunteer Kristin Caldwell.

To Rose Whaley, the volunteers are heaven sent.

"Oh, happiness!  I had to come over this morning," said Whaley with tears in her eyes. "They're just like angels.  I get emotional. Yeah, it's needed help for a long time."

"Houses that last 100 years, they have a history," said New York volunteer Mary Phillips. "They've gone through so much and here's one little house that made it. But I think it's a testament to this kind of community and what you have here and what you want to preserve. And it's wonderful to be part of that preservation."

The three partners in this project are Hands-On Gulf Coast, Mississippi Heritage Trust, and the state Department of Archives and History.  Repairs on all four homes should be finished by the end of this year.

©2009 WLOX. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.