Work begins on restoration of Turkey Creek landmark

The Phoenix Naval Store was once part of a turpentine plant that sat on Bayou Bernard.
Updated: May. 1, 2020 at 6:14 PM CDT
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GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - It holds a significant place in the history of Gulfport’s Turkey Creek community, and it is being saved.

The Phoenix Naval Store was once part of a turpentine plant that sat on Bayou Bernard.

In 1943 the Yaryan Plant exploded, killing 11 workers.

The building is all that survived.

“This is the last relic of the industrial seaway as we knew it in the early 1900s,” said Rip Daniels, owner of Daniels Real Estate and the contractor on the project. “This was the major industrial complex of Gulfport, just as important as the port. All the sawmills would bring their lumber here and they were moving out 300 tons a day by rail or by barge.”

The Phoenix Naval Store was the paymaster’s office of the Yaryan Plant. Workers were paid there with script that they could only spend in the store located in the same building. Most of the employees of the plant were African American, may of them lived in the Turkey Creek community.

The building was moved to its current location in the 1940s by Daniel’s great, great, great uncles Thomas Evan and Booker Ray. It served as a residence until about 20 years ago.

Efforts to save the building began after Hurricane Katrina.

'This is a special place. It has lots of history involved with the property, and the owner Derrick Evans purchased it after Hurricane Katrina to preserve that history," said Judy Steckler, executive director of the Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain. “Not knowing how he could do it or when it would happen.”

The Landtrust helped Evans secure grants to preserve the building. The latest is from the National Park Service.

The work on Friday was to lift the building three feet off the ground so contractors could put a foundation below it before beginning the restoration.

Workers from Abry Brothers began working two weeks ago re-enforcing the building inside and out so it could withstand the movement.

A set of six hydraulic jacks lifted the building 16 inches a time. It took about three hours to lift the structure three feet.

The work will preserve a place in time that has few remaining relics.

“When you look at older buildings, you have to wonder, what did it take to build that and what were those people like and what were they doing,” Daniels said. “For African Americans, you don’t have many buildings like that, that were owned by them that are now being restored.”

When complete, the stucco building will have a wrap-around porch, corrugated tin roof, and tongue and grove flooring. Daniels said he hopes the project will be complete by Thanksgiving.

“This is a restoration, not a renovation. Many of the studs and joists inside that building, the architect and the owners want to remain, so we’re going to sister them," Daniels said. "We’re going to do what is necessary to try to preserve the building and restore it back to how it was.

“This becomes a great wonder of Gulfport, and more particularly of Turkey Creek, because it’s a testament to those folks who worked and were thriving to make this happen,” he said.

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