Men gather for an 1895 horse auction. A 1930s fisherman proudly holds up a handful of shrimp, so clean and plentiful they required little picking from the catch piled on deck.
A trolley track winds down Howard Avenue in 1925 Biloxi. A smiling President Harry Truman visits the Edgewater Gulf Hotel in the 1940s.
Photographs are windows to history, offering a visual peek that doesn’t require a lot of reading. That’s why pictorial books are popular, and more importantly, that’s why old photographs are important in preserving a community’s past.
A new book simply titled “Biloxi,” features photographs from the late 1800s through the mid-20th century, with a few 21st century images for perspective. It is the latest in the “Images of America” series by Arcadia Press, a New Hampshire company that has published other small, soft-bound pictorials on Mississippi Coast towns.
“Biloxi” was compiled by Jamie Bounds Ellis and Jane B. Shambra, both librarians at the Murella H. Powell Local History & Genealogy Collection. That’s the section of the Harrison County Library System, where books, photographs, postcards, microfilm and other research materials document three centuries of change.
The 200-plus images in “Biloxi” come from the library collection. The book is $21.99, and an accompanying set of 15 postcards is $7.99.
“The motivation for doing the book is that it is a way to get some of the collection’s images out there in the public to let people know what we have available,” said Ellis, local history and genealogy librarian.
“We deliberately chose photos that had not been published before or are rarely seen.”
Books, documents and images were lost in Hurricane Katrina but an amazing number survived when surge swept through the history section then located in the main Biloxi library. This spring, the collection reopened on the third floor of U.S. Post Office on Main Street until a new downtown library complex is built.
Ellis and Shambra have the job of making the collection accessible to the public, academics, writers and other researchers. They catalog and organize the pre-Katrina documents, some of which had to be conserved, but they also catalog post-storm donations.
“New donations that help us tell the Coast story are important to keeping the collection relevant for generations to come,” said Ellis. “People hear about the collection and then they think about us when they go through old boxes saved by their grandparents or other relatives.”
The library is named after Murella Powell, the now-retired librarian who convinced families and collectors of a need for a local history repository. Shortly before Katrina she had acquired the collection of the late Walter Fountain, a Chamber of Commerce leader and journalist who was a prolific photographer, collector of old images and writer of local history. Many of Fountain’s photographs are in “Biloxi.”
“This book is a great history lesson, whether for someone who lives here, came through as a tourist or had a grandparent here,” said Shambra, assistant history librarian. “This book is about the stamina of Biloxi and how it has succeeded through time, including devastating hurricanes. This book shows how Biloxi persevered and improved.”
Ellis and Shambra researched images before writing captions.