In the nineteenth century the Mississippi Gulf Coast developed as a vacation destination for wealthy planters from elsewhere in Mississippi as well as from Louisiana and Alabama. Known as the Queen of the Watering Places, the Gulf Coast became one of the premier areas where vacationers could enjoy a summer getaway. Many people came to believe that the breezes off the Gulf not only were relaxing but also served healthful benefits. Specifically, the salt air was believed to help prevent yellow fever.
One way to take advantage of the climate was on a “shoo-fly.” A unique form of Mississippi architecture, the shoo-fly was a gazebo-like structure built around the base of a large tree, preferably oak. The shoo-fly was essentially an octagonal deck that surrounded the trunk of the tree and stood approximately ten feet above the ground. The Gulf Coast shoo-flies varied in size, but many were large enough to accommodate as many as thirty people.
Visitors to a shoo-fly ascended a staircase and enjoyed the breezes and the shade of the tree’s branches. In addition, by elevating people and exposing them to the waterfront breeze, the structure provided an escape from the pesky deerflies, mosquitoes, and gnats so prevalent along the Gulf Coast, supposedly leading to the name shoo-fly. Some Coast historians, including Murella Powell, now believe that “the name is actually a corruption of the French word chou-fleur. Chou-fleur means cauliflower, an apt description of the white circular structure sitting on a stemlike base.”
The shoo-fly was very popular among residents and visitors alike. Images of shoo-flies often served as symbols of the area, appearing on postcards in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The last of the original shoo-flies met their demise in Hurricane Camille in 1969, while most of the replicas became victims of Katrina in 2005. Since Hurricane Katrina, the area has again rebuilt several of these unique structures, promising to preserve the shoo-fly’s significance along the Gulf Coast for future generations.
- Charles Lawrence Dyer, Along the Gulf: An Entertaining Story of an Outing among the Beautiful Resorts on the Mississippi Sound (1894)
- Val Husley, Maritime Biloxi (2000)
- Murella Powell, Biloxi Sun Herald (6 January 2002)
- Colleen S. Scholtes and L. J. Scholtes, Biloxi and the Mississippi Gulf Coast (1985)