Gautier

by Leonard Fuller

One area of Jackson County, located on the banks of the Singing River, was known as West Pascagoula. History in this area is rich and abundant, going back as far as 700-300 B.C. during the Woodland Indian Period. Indian mounds which have been excavated extensively reveal a thriving Indian community.

Jean Baptiste Baudreau dit Graveline (1671-1762) came to the area with D'Iberville on his second voyage in 1700. Graveline received a large land grant that included all of the land which is now within the city limits of the City of Gautier. Graveline considered the land very favorable for establishing residence, and made his home from 1717 until his death. Another of Gautier's favorite sons, George Farragut, bought a large tract of land around what is now the Interstate Ten rest stop and settled there. When the coast became a part of Louisiana Territory in 1811, Farragut was appointed Justice of the U.S. Naval hero in the Battle of Mobile Bay during the Civil War.

Prior to the Civil War, Colonel Alfred E. Lewis, moved into the vicinity and built his Greek Revival home and plantation in 1845. Because Lewis used some of the fields previously used by Graveline, his wife named the property "Oldfields." During the Civil War, Oldfields was occupied by Union soldiers. The Grinstead family purchased Oldfields in 1905, and it became the home of Agnes "Sissie" Grinstead and her artist husband, Walter Anderson.

Gautier can also boast of the residency of two greatly esteemed men; Colin McRea who served as the Confederacy's financial agent in Europe and John McRea (former governor of Mississippi). Their mother Elizabeth operated a hotel at the site of the present Twelve Oaks property.

Fernando Upton Gautier settled in region in 1867 and made his fortune in the lumber business. Gautier sold a part of his property to the L&N Railroad, making it a railroad stop for water to be used in the train's steam engine. The name of the West Pascagoula station was changed by the railroad to "Gautier" in 1910. The opening of the L&N Railroad creosote plant in 1874 was a major boost to the expansion of the settlement. The plant was the oldest timber treating plant in the United States. The community of Gautier was settled around the creosote plant, and residents lived in the L&N company homes. In the area was located the first post office, a mercantile store, depot, and a two-story apartment. After the railroad was sold, the homes were removed. The only sign of this settlement today is a fenced-in hazardous area caused by the creosote. The Hilda Fire Tower now stands where virgin pine forests once stood until the end of the sawmill era.

Still standing among the beautiful moss-draped oak trees in the historic district of Gautier are the stately old homes built by Alfred E. Lewis and Fernando, Henry, and Walter Gautier. These homes were built with lumber from the Fernando Gautier and Sons Sawmill which produced about 30,000 board feet per day.

Gautier's most famous daughter, Josephine "Miss Josie" Gautier (1899-1992) was the granddaughter of Fernando Gautier. "Miss Josie," as she was fondly called, was recognized for her many talents – state skeet champion, song writer, and artist. She made famous the legend of the Singing River and wrote the Mississippi State song, "Way Down South in Mississippi." Miss Josie was also founder of a very successful business "Singing River Pottery." Her work is now displayed in the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art.

Within the city limits of Gautier is the Mississippi Sandhill Crane Refuge. The twenty thousand acre refuge, with its visitor center and trails, is very popular with tourists and school children.

Educational opportunities have gone from family owned one room "little red school house" to the presence of the Mississippi Gulf coast Community College. The Gautier School was built in 1940, is now under consideration for placement on the National Register of Historic Places. The Gautier School originally housed grades one through eight, and high school students were transported to Pascagoula until the new modern high school was built.

Although Gautier is a young city, it took twenty years in court to fight off opposition to the city's incorporation. In 1986 William "Bill" Scheffler (1922-2005) became the first mayor and started the first and only newspaper in Gautier which was called the "Gautier Independent." Today, the city contains a shopping mall, movie theaters, two golf courses, RV, city and states parks, marinas, restaurants, professional business, churches of many denomination, and fine schools. The city is called "Gautier, Nature's Playground."

Submitted by :
Leonard Fuller, Chairman
Gautier Historic Commission
3008B Oak Street
Gautier, MS 39553
228-497-6520