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Today is July 16, 2018

Springtime: A great time to discover Ocean Springs

By Nancy Jo Maples

Springtime: A great time to discover Ocean Springs

On April 28 the 1699 Historical Society will stage the annual reenactment of the arrival of French explorers in Ocean Springs. Photo courtesy of August Taconi Photography/1699 Historical Society

For those who haven’t already discovered Ocean Springs, April 28 will be a great time to explore it.

The day is set aside for the annual historic depiction of the city’s beginnings more than 300 years ago as the first French capital for the Louisiana Colony. The event is labeled the “Weekend of Discovery” and while most activities occur on Saturday, the event officially launches Friday night with a landing party at the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center. A boating competition starts on Saturday and continues on Sunday.

The discovery event brings to life the April 1699 story of Pierre LeMoyne Sieur d’Iberville sailing into Biloxi Bay and landing on the eastern shore—the Ocean Springs side of the bay. French explorer René-Robert Cavelier Sieur de La Salle had named the lower Mississippi Valley “Louisiana” in 1682 in honor of France’s King Louis XIV. The French king commissioned d’Iberville to explore the region, particularly the gulf waters east of the mouth of the Mississippi River.

He was commissioned by Louis XIV as an explorer in the acreage known as Louisiana. His expedition crew located Ship Island in the Gulf of Mexico and then found a defendable bluff in what is today known as Ocean Springs. D’Iberville’s party built Fort Maurepas, the first capital of the Louisiana Colony, and used Ship Island for deep-water anchorage.

Ocean Springs flags itself as the “City of Discovery” based on the rich history of the d’Iberville landing. Each April the 1699 Historical Society hosts a dramatic reenactment of French explorers entering the city’s Front Beach and greeting Native Americans, and includes the ceremonial passing of a peace pipe between the two groups.

Activities for the event begin early Saturday morning with a 5K race, followed by a pet parade, and culminate with the reenactment at 1 p.m. State Supreme Court Justice Michael K. Randolph will portray d’Iberville. Randolph and his fellow cast members will be presented Friday night at a 6 p.m. ceremony and reception at the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center.

Saturday events will take place on Front Beach at Fort Maurepas Park.

The 1699 Historical Society first formed in 1971 and built a replica of Fort Maurepas in the 1980s. However, Hurricane Katrina destroyed the fort in 2005; today the beach spot is home to Fort Maurepas Park, a setting for outdoor playground equipment, splash pads and family entertainment opportunities. A statue of d’Iberville decorates the area, and a walkable path leads to the nearby Chester M. McPhearson Jr. Pier for leisure walks and for fishing.

Fort Maurepas Park is located at 499 Front Beach, Ocean Springs. For more information on the Weekend of Discovery or to register for events, visit the 1699 Historical Society website at www.1699landing.com.

Award-winning journalist Nancy Jo Maples is a native of Union and lives in Lucedale. She is the author of “Staying Power: The Story of South Mississippi Electric Power Association.” Reach her via email at nancyjomaples@aol.com.

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