Walls of Pass Christian City Hall tell story of city's past

PASS CHRISTIAN, MS (WLOX) - The walls of Pass Christian City Hall take you back in time.

"It is a picture of our past, which was a very colorful and historical past," said Pass Christian Mayor Chipper McDermott. "As you can see, the Pass was a beautiful place back then."

Framed black and white photos in the lobby capture a piece of life in the Pass.

"That was the day when the hunting and the fishing here was probably as good as anywhere in the world," the mayor said, pointing to pictures of men fishing on their boats.

He said the pictures can bring back memories, like the one featuring Teddy Roosevelt. They can even evoke an emotion.

"See how pretty the town was right there? That's the old catholic church with the wrought iron fence and the convent was there and had a high school there. That is gone but not forgotten," he said.

The photos were part of a collection of 46,000 images that were given to Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.  Half of them were donated 18 days before Katrina hit.

"What I believe is, this is the greatest collection of coast photographs of the 20th century. I don't know of another collection that rivals this. Yes, it's priceless, absolutely priceless," said Charles Sullivan, an MGCCC Archivist.

They originally belonged to two South Mississippi businesses. One is the Dixie Press, a downtown Gulfport printing company that shut down after it was damaged by Katrina.

"My first thought was: Are the pictures wet? And I opened up the bottom filing cabinet and they were not wet," said Cheri Dillard, former owner of the Dixie Press. "So I was just glad to know they had been saved and I could give them to someone to take care of them and have them forever."

A majority of the photos came from the Hamill family of Biloxi.

"My parents published Down South magazine for 30 years to promote the coast, and they promoted New Orleans to Mobile at the time," said Penny Hamill-Parker. "These pictures, I think, really give a flavor of the coast that you don't get any more, because so much of it is gone."

So when Pass Christian was rebuilding its destroyed City Hall, Sullivan I told the mayor: "Pick the best and put them on the wall."

Mayor McDermott chose 23 pictures.  An anonymous resident paid to have them framed.

"It's really great to see what somebody has done to show the pictures, to keep them, to maintain their history," said Dillard.

"Because otherwise, they're in boxes and in cabinets," said Hamill-Parker.

This week, the city thanked all the people for their generous donation.

"We appreciate you all giving us a picture of the past," Mayor McDermott told the group.

It's a past that is now preserved and on display for future generations to enjoy.

The 46,000 images at MGCCC include photographs, negatives and color transparencies. An archivist at the college is using several grants to sort, scan, and identify the people and places in those images.

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