PASCAGOULA, MISSISSIPPI – For generations the 22,240 people (latest count) of Pascagoula, Mississippi have been building ships for the United States Navy. The work goes on, with the community constantly competing for jobs with those who work in the shipyard in Bath, Maine.
Pascagoula has been fortunate to have had two dedicated U.S. Senators, (the most recent Trent Lott), who have been able to make sure the Pascagoula Huntington Ingalls Industries Shipyard has received its share of Navy contracts.
I talked to a retired ship builder who didn’t want his name used. He said he had very little time to talk because his doctor had instructed him to walk as far as he could. But he did stop briefly to chat.
Then I met a much younger man, Jonathon Tymes, who was out pushing his two-year-old son, Owen with his wife, Stephanie, in the fresh air on a sunny Sunday morning.
Jonathan and Stephanie had been high school sweethearts, growing up in nearby small towns. Jonathan feels fortunate there was a shipyard job opening that included training as an “outside machinist.”
Tymes said he works on the engines of the ship currently in the harbor. But when we finished talking he chose not to have his picture taken.
I did learn from the older gentleman the
National Audubon Society is building a new Pascagoula Conservation and Education Center just upstream from the shipyard on the Pascagoula River.
According to the Audubon website “the Pascagoula River represents one of the last, large, free-flowing river systems in the contiguous United States. As such, the river basin supports over 300 species of birds and a rich diversity of habitats and organisms, many unique to the region.”
The Pascagoula Center will offer:
- Interpreted boat tours of the river (two-hour tours by reservation);
- Short elevated boardwalks and trails from which visitors can view wetland and river habitats and wildlife;
- On-site demonstrations of environmentally-friendly concepts that serve to protect watersheds, such as rain gardens;
- Native plant landscaping; and
- Bird and wildlife-friendly structures and approaches”
Locally it is known as the “Singing River,” and this is how the City of Pascagoula explains the name:
“Her name is taken from a band of peaceful Native Americans (Pascagoula means “bread eaters”) who inhabited the area when Hemando De Soto first made contact with them in the 1540’s. Tragically, these noble people are now extinct having drowned themselves chanting as they waded into the deepening river waters rather than enslave themselves to their enemy, the fierce Biloxi. Thus, the legend of the “Singing River” was born. They were followed closely behind by Spanish, French and English settlers.”
As I drove around Pascagoula I tried to sum up what I saw. It is a city of huge oak trees with branches overhanging both sides of the streets, a city of churches, a surprising number of banks, streets filled with blue collar middle class homes plus a long strip of historic mansions overlooking the white sand beach and the glittering water of the Gulf of Mexico.
The older gentleman, who didn’t want to talk, did take the time to tell me Louis the 14th sent ships over from France to try to discover the mouth of the Mississippi River. The ships mistakenly tried to enter the Pascagoula, which proved to be too shallow to navigate. So they looked further west and found the river where New Orleans is now located.
The search for the Mississippi was back around 1699, the gentleman thought. A bit ironic that one of this nation’s two remaining major ship building centers is located at the mouth of that shallow river.