Bay St. Louis is one of those idyllic, sleepy little Gulf Coast towns where the mesmerizing sound of the L&E Railroad’s horn and the breeze crossing the bay seem to continue forever. A town of well-used porch swings cradle neighbors who chat as condensation drips from their grandmother’s heirloom crystal rocks glasses, while the cicadas call out from the deep southern evening. White sand spills and shifts from beaches onto the roads that follow this seemingly endless coast—most of which are shaded by sprawling two-hundred-year-old oaks that easily outnumber the citizens. All roads lead to the bay.
Founded in 1699 by French explorers and slated to become the state capital of Mississippi in the 1800s before passed over for Natchez and then Jackson, Bay St. Louis quietly fronts the western shore of its namesake bay. A shallow estuary that opens onto the Mississippi Sound and the Gulf of Mexico, the bay and surrounding waters hold incredibly fertile oyster beds, shrimping grounds and diverse fishing, all protected by a run of small sandy barrier islands that make up the Gulf Islands National Seashore. Located a quick cruise off shore, these islands are home to the remnants of Spanish forts—the staging grounds for the British invasion of New Orleans in the War of 1812—and were notoriously used by pirates, privateers and smugglers throughout most of their history. As recently as the 1980s hidden booty was unearthed on these Mississippi islands.
Bay St. Louis was built on a small bluff and has been rediscovered as an arts community full of old-world southern characters. Take the time to chat with them. It’s likely you’re talking with a descendant of the only President of the Confederacy, or a renowned artist inspired by Walter Anderson, or a charter captain whose family arrived with the French or Spanish—the first who cruised this coast. Like most towns on the northern Gulf Coast, the “coasties” are somewhat removed from their rural northern neighbors and even host their own coastal accent.