Saving a Touchstone of Black History in Gulfport, Mississippi

Preservation Magazine, Spring 2022

The Gulfport, Mississippi, community of Turkey Creek was established in 1866 by Black settlers newly emancipated from slavery, and many community residents today trace their ancestry to those founders. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007, the Turkey Creek Community Historic District encompasses the former site of the Yaryan/Phoenix Naval Stores Company, which employed local workers in producing creosote by boiling pine stumps in gasoline. Community elders still recall a massive industrial explosion that killed 11 people there in 1943.

Educator, historian, and Turkey Creek native Derrick Evans (shown, second from left) returned from Boston in 2003 to found the community development organization Turkey Creek Community Initiatives. After learning that a derelict house he had bought was originally the Naval Stores Company’s pay office, he collaborated with the Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain to secure $499,500 from the National Park Service’s African American Civil Rights Grant Program to restore the building.

The Bay St. Louis, Mississippi–based firm Unabridged Architecture exhaustively documented the deteriorating structure, which had likely survived the 1943 blast thanks to exterior plaster fireproofing. The firm then rehabilitated the building, restoring its separate front doors (a legacy of segregation), its wood-paneled interior, and a porch likely destroyed in the accident. Completed in August of 2021, the renewed building—the only remaining structure from the company—houses the Yaryan-Phoenix Naval Stores Museum and Turkey Creek Community Initiatives.

Bruce D. Snider is an architect, writer, and editor based in Belfast, Maine.

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