Have you ever seen a shrimp-peeling machine or sailed on a Biloxi Schooner? You can do both (and lots more) at the Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum in Biloxi.
Established in 1986, the museum brings the history and heritage of Mississippi’s Gulf Coast to life through hundreds of unusual artifacts, photos and videos. The original museum was housed in former Coast Guard barracks that were destroyed in Hurricane Katrina in 2005. After,it underwent an extraordinary $8 million renovation.
“Our new building opened in 2014, and visitors are greeted by a 120-year-old sailboat called the Nydia in the Grand Hall. The museum was built around it to appear like a ship in a bottle, and it is lit up at night – it’s really something to see,” says Corey Christy, outreach program coordinator for the Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum. “The Nydia has an interesting history. It was owned by Baldwin Wood, a man who lived just down the street from the museum, and it was a very fast, successful racing boat.”
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After exploring the Nydia, museum visitors can experience exhibits about shrimping, oystering, recreational fishing, wetlands, managing marine resources, charter boats, marine blacksmithing, wooden boat building, net making, historic photography and more.
“We attract more than 20,000 people each year from all over the United States,” Christy says. “The museum encompasses 300 years of history, from 1699 when the French landed here through Biloxi’s heyday as the Seafood Capital of the World in the early 1900s to present day.”
The museum’s automatic shrimp-peeling machine from the 1920s is a popular attraction. Although no longer in operation, visitors can watch videos of it peeling between 800 to 1,000 pounds of shrimp per hour.
“The machine replaced 150 workers peeling shrimp, which is amazing to see,” Christy says. “In the early part of the century, women and children did a lot of that work before the child labor laws, and we have great photos of that as well. This machine was put into use in 1949 and the industry still uses similar ones today.”
A 16-year-old boy from Louisiana invented the automatic shrimp-peeling machine.
“Visitors think it’s neat that it was invented by a kid from nearby,” Christy says.
Another big draw at the museum is the Hurricane Gallery, which depicts the devastating effects of hurricanes on the Gulf Coast.
“It talks a lot about Hurricane Katrina, and in 2019, we had a temporary exhibit up for the 50-year anniversary of Hurricane Camille – the first mega storm that made landfall in many years,” Christy says. “It caused tons of destruction, especially in our area.”
The Hurricane Gallery also displays maritime-themed art created by local artists. Beginning in March 2020, it will feature the work of photographer William Colgin, who photographed modern seafood workers.
While visiting the museum, visitors can wander outside to get a closer look at two 65-foot masted Biloxi Schooner replications floating in the nearby waters.
“Biloxi Schooners were the major boats used when the seafood industry was at its peak here in the early 1900s,” Christy says. “They were designed to float in our shallow waters, and they were like the workhorse of the seafood industry for crabbing, shrimping and oystering.”
Individuals can schedule a walk-on sail for $30, where they can board a schooner and take a 2.5-hour sail. Groups of 20 or more can even charter the boat and take it into the Gulf.
“We have so much to see here that it can be overwhelming,” Christy says. “Other amazing artifacts include six full-size wooden boats, an oyster car, an ice-chipper machine and a lighthouse lens that was destroyed during Katrina but has been restored. You can still see where it was hit.”
During the summer, more than 400 children ages six through 12 participate in the museum’s weeklong day camps. They go fishing, sail on the Biloxi Schooners, learn how to throw a cast net, bait hooks, take field trips to other locations along the Gulf Coast and compete to see who can catch the biggest or most fish.
One of the museum’s biggest annual events is the Billy Creel Memorial Wooden & Classic Boat Show every May. The boat show includes Schooner sails, local art vendors, children’s activities, food and the largest gathering of historic, antique, classic and contemporary watercraft on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Every October, the museum hosts its annual Heritage Hall of Fame Induction, which honors and celebrates area fishermen, boat builders, factory workers and others in the seafood industry.
“We have several all-you-can-eat seafood events throughout the year, too. Probably the coolest is our New Year’s Eve event, where we drop a big oyster ball at midnight,” Christy says. “The event includes food and drinks, live music, a fireworks show, and we send everyone home after the oyster ball drop with coffee and doughnuts. Some museum events tend to be stuffy or uncomfortable, but we create a relaxing atmosphere here where everyone feels welcome.”
A Biloxi native, Christy says he feels it’s important to share the area’s maritime history with future generations.
“Biloxi and the Gulf Coast wouldn’t be what they are today if it weren’t for our maritime and seafood history,” he says. “The museum even goes beyond that and talks about the influence the military has had on us, the impact of tourism on us and everything that built this place. It’s where we came from.”
The Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum
Address: 115 E. 1st St., Biloxi, MS 39530
Hours: Monday-Saturday 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Sunday 12 to 4 p.m.
Admission: $10 for adults; $8 for seniors (age 60 and up), military and AAA members; $6 for students (ages 5 to 15)