Grants restore history to hurricane ravaged Bay St. Louis

BAY ST. LOUIS, MS (WLOX) - By Al Showers – bio | email

BAY ST LOUIS, MS (WLOX) - Before Hurricane Katrina, there were more than 700 homes and buildings in Bay St. Louis listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. More than 250 of those were destroyed during the storm, according to the Hancock County Historical Society.

Some of those left standing are getting new life from homeowners who took advantage of preservation grants offered by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

The Allenbachs' 1880s cottage took a pounding from Katrina.

"The house actually moved over eight feet," said Don Allenbach. "The storm lifted it up and floated it over eight feet and took it off of the piers, dropped it down flat on the ground."

The couple first thought their dream home was a total loss and that it would have to be demolished, a notion that made them sick to their stomachs.

"The few places that are remaining, we have to save them because that's what Bay St. Louis was about. It was that town apart. It wasn't like any of the other towns along the Coast. And if it can be saved, I think it's the right thing to do," said Cherri Allenbach.

The Allenbachs are among 75 homeowners in Bay St. Louis who accepted a grant from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History to restore their home. Those preservation grants totaled about $4 million.

"They saved what we have. If it were not for them, we would be 75 houses fewer," said Charles Gray, Executive Director of the Hancock County Historical Society,

Gray recently completed renovations on an 1870s Queen Anne Victorian house severely damaged by both Hurricane Camille and Hurricane Katrina.

"In 1969 in Camille, two pecan trees fell across this room, and this room was totally demolished and was missing for 25 years. So we were able to put this room back to probably within an inch or two within its original specification," Gray said.

But that would not have happened without the grant.

"Were it not for the Department of Archives and History, I could not have restored this house. I simply, without their grant, would not have put this kind of investment back into this house," explained Gray.

He and others say the matching grant funds provided an incentive for those faced with the tough decision of whether to resurrect or demolish.

"It is of crucial importance to the city's future history. People don't come down to see new buildings; they come down to see the old homes, the old way of life that was here."

The Allenbachs say their five year restoration project has been a true labor of love. They hope to move into their "new-old home" this spring.

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