Skip to content
Discover Mississippi: The Great...

Discover Mississippi: The Great Southern Hotel

By: Susan Marquez - April 9, 2024

  • Located just a few hundred yards from the Mississippi Sound, the Great Southern Hotel was designed by Thomas Sully. It opened in 1903.

The kiss of ocean breezes and sand between toes has lured people to the beach since the dawn of civilization. The Mississippi Gulf Coast has long held appeal with vacationers from Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and beyond with miles of sandy beaches that look out onto the Gulf of Mexico. 

Many grand hotels have come and gone on the Gulf Coast over the years. Many were well known, like the Buena Vista, Edgewater, Tivoli, and Broadwater in Biloxi, the Markham Hotel in Gulfport, and Pine Hills Hotel in Pass Christian. 

But none was more grand than the Great Southern Hotel.

Tourism on the Gulf Coast was made easier for many when the Louisville and Nashville Railroad was built in the late 1800s in southeastern Harrison County. The railroad connected Louisiana to Alabama, bringing tourists seeking cool sea breezes in the summer from New Orleans and Mobile to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Another railroad, the Gulf and Ship Island Railroad brought northern tourists seeking mild winters.

In addition to passengers, the railroads transported goods like lumber and seafood throughout the United States, helping to build the economy of the Mississippi Gulf Coast into the 1920s. 

Grand hotels were constructed along the Gulf Coast to accommodate the tourists, businessmen and those coming into the area to work during its great economic expansion. 

One of those grand hotels was the Great Southern Hotel, built by entrepreneur Joseph T. Jones in 1902 to 1903. Jones was a Pennsylvania native and Civil War veteran who made his fortune in oil. He funded the construction of the Gulf and Ship Island Railroad, built in 1908, which brought even more tourists to his hotel. Jones co-founded the city of Gulfport with William H. Hardy, who was the president of the railroad, and he developed the city’s seaport. Today residents and visitors in Gulfport enjoy a waterfront park and municipal marina named after Jones.

Located just a few hundred yards from the Mississippi Sound, the Great Southern Hotel was designed by Thomas Sully, an architect out of New Orleans who was a Mississippi Gulf Coast native. The three-story wooden structure had 250 guest rooms and was designed with amenities that were considered to be very luxurious for the time.

When the hotel opened in July 1903, guests were delighted to find telephones in each room, and a bathroom for every two guest rooms with both hot and cold running water, and electric chandeliers.  The hotel had its own artesian water well, an independent sewage system, and its own power plant for electricity and steam heat.

Guests enjoyed the recreation the hotel offered. In addition to the beautiful beach, the Great Southern had a billiard room and a tennis court. An in-house orchestra entertained guests at dinner with dances two nights a week. If guests wanted to tour the surrounding area, the hotel provided horse-and-buggy rental. To attract even more guests, Jones funded the construction of the Great Southern Golf and Country Club. 

The hotel was striking in appearance, painted dark green to blend in with the landscaping. It had a red tiled roof, and wide varandas wrapped around each floor to catch the cool Gulf breezes. The main floor of the hotel featured an oak rotunda, and the dining room had sweeping water views. 

Sadly, the demise of the lumber industry combined with the Great Depression crippled the stately hotel. It managed to hang on, even when badly damaged by a hurricane in 1947. But as the Gulf Coast developed and U.S. Route 90 was constructed, the Great Southern Hotel was demolished in the name of progress in 1951.

About the Author(s)
author profile image

Susan Marquez

Susan Marquez serves as Magnolia Tribune's Culture Editor. Since 2001, Susan Marquez has been writing about people, places, spaces, events, music, businesses, food, and travel. The things that make life interesting. A prolific writer, Susan has written over 3,000 pieces for a wide variety of publications.