MS Dept. Of Archives & History saved historical sites

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Hurricane Katrina destroyed many of the Coast's historic buildings, but experts say we would have lost many more had it not been for the work of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. At the end of this month the department will close its Gulf Coast office which was opened in the aftermath of Katrina.

The house Chevis Swetman's grandfather built in 1905 is the house Hurricane Katrina left in shambles in 2005.

"The walls had collapsed and the floors had collapsed," said Swetman.

"We thought the house was gone, and we were preparing to tear it down."

Then the Swetmans got good news. The Mississippi Department of Archives and History officials said not only could the historic home be saved but helped provide the money and the expertise to get the job done.

"When they came here they brought in these outside architects and engineers and that was a very important step. They coordinated with the national historic group. They established an office down here where they could give you ideas of and tell you where you might be able to go and get different types of materials. Just by them being there encouraged a lot of people to go ahead and rebuild."

Over the years, hundreds of historic homes and public buildings were saved. Some people said Archives and History having a local presence made the difference.

"It's all about that building or that street or that community," said Lolly Barnes of the Mississippi Heritage Trust.

"So having that someone that you know that you can call and is an advocate for your project and is working with you hand-in-hand to make it happen is a tremendous benefit for someone who is trying to save their historic home."

"We were able to get a $26 million restoration grant and aid program for the Gulf Coast community to restore historic buildings," said Ken P'Pool, Director of the Department of Archives and History.

"During the last seven years we've been able to restore some 300 hundred historic buildings in South Mississippi."

Swetman said his family home went from condemned to beautifully restored, and he has Archives and History to thank.

"It's home. I don't want to go any place else," said Swetman.

This week the Biloxi City Council publicly thanked the Department of Archives and History for its preservation efforts.

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