The Choctaw Indians first inhabited the coast of Hancock County where they lived off the bountiful resources found in the pine savannahs and Mississippi Sound. French Canadian explorers arrived in 1699.
A sparse population of mostly French, Spanish, and Catholics inhabited the area until Congress created the Mississippi Territory in 1798. The territory was opened to settlers, and between 1813 and 1816, over 3,000 families, mostly Anglo-Saxon Protestants, migrated to Bay St. Louis, Kiln, and Pass Christian.
Mississippi became a state in December 1817, and the legislature named Bay St. Louis as the capital. Later that same day, the legislature relocated the capital to Natchez. Two years later it was moved to Jackson, where it remains.
Prior to the start of the Civil War, Mississippi was the second southern state to secede from the Union. After the war, reconstruction was long and difficult, but Northerners began flocking to the area after hearing of the warm climate and gentle gulf breezes. A strong sulfur smell in the drinking water led people to believe the water had health benefits. The area became known as a health spa, and several resorts opened. Rail service was completed in 1870, cutting travel time from New Orleans to Bay St. Louis to one hour. New Orleanians flocked to the area for the weekend, and hotels popped up everywhere.
Before 1930, Hancock County had the largest sawmill in the world. Most of the buildings in Bay St. Louis were constructed of wood, and the city was devastated by several large fires in the early 1900s. In 1963, NASA opened Stennis Space Center, bringing a large number of jobs to the area. The city was destroyed again after Hurricane Camille, but rebounded quickly. In 1990, casino gambling was permitted. Bay St. Louis and the entire Mississippi coast was dealt a major blow by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Through prayer and perseverance, Hancock County is back and better than ever. In 2014, a new harbor and marina began welcoming boaters to the heart of town, people come from miles around to enjoy the events and festivals, and every October Bay St. Louis plays host to one of the largest car shows in the United States, Cruisin’ the Coast.
There have been many challenges and changes in Hancock County since explorers first discovered this rich land over 300 years ago, but two things remain constant and timeless – the astounding beauty of the land and the warmth and hospitality of the people who live here.