By Chere Coen

After an unusually cold winter, thoughts naturally turn to the beach. This year, instead of the standard fare of sand, water and sun — which is awesome, mind you — get off the main thoroughfares and seek out the unexpected, the unusual and the road less traveled. They are hidden treasures throughout the Gulf Coast, from Bay St. Louis’ unique art history to butterfly havens in Navarre Beach and the expansion of Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores with it acreage of eco-diversity. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Disembark in Bay St. Louis
The Spanish Mission architecture of the 1929 Bay St. Louis Train Depot is the only one of its kind built by the Louisville and Nashville Railroad Company. Visitors may recognize the building from the film “This Property is Condemned” starring Robert Redford and Natalie Wood. Inside, the depot houses the county tourism bureau but also four unique exhibits: the Alice Moseley Folk Art & Antique Museum, dedicated to the life and work of the Southern folk artist; a blues exhibit; the Mardi Gras Museum and a special exhibit honoring Mississippi’s bicentennial.
“It’s like a one-stop shop in the Depot,” said Latonja Ervin, director of events and marketing.

Christ in the Oak
St. Rose de Lima Catholic Church, the first black community Catholic Church in Mississippi, owns a long and diverse history serving German, African and Native American patrons, as well as fascinating architecture and artwork. The altar base was fashioned from local driftwood, its tree roots reaching toward heaven. Behind the pulpit an African Christ floats free of earthly bonds before an oak tree in the “Christ in the Oak” mural by artist Auseklis Ozols and his student Kat Fitzpatrick. St. Rose is only open for morning and weekend Masses but a Saturday visit includes music by its nationally known gospel choir.

Rocking in Gulfport
In 1995, furniture maker Roy Dedeaux decided to build an oversized rocking chair — we’re talking something Paul Bunyan would enjoy. Outside Dedeaux Furniture in Gulfport, at its headquarters north of I-10, is the “World’s Largest Rocking Chair,” topping out at 35 feet high. There are others claiming that title as well, but Dedeaux’s chair remains a fun site to see.
“People stop by every day and take pictures,” said Andy Dedeaux, who now runs the business with his brother Chuck.

The Little Room of Walter Anderson
Walter Inglis Anderson had family responsibilities at his Mississippi Gulf Coast home, but the eccentric artist preferred boating out to Horn Island where he drew inspiration from the natural barrier island off the coast of Ocean Springs. Back on the mainland and missing his island, Anderson painted a room in his house to resemble his favorite escape, and no one was allowed inside. After his death in 1965, Anderson’s wife entered the room and found the spectacular mural.
The “Little Room,” along with its mural, was taken from Anderson’s cottage in 1991 and moved to the Walter Anderson Museum in downtown Ocean Springs. Visitors may step inside Anderson’s studio and imagine the genius artist at work. The museum also offers Anderson’s artwork and that of his brothers, Peter Anderson, master potter and founder of Shearwater Pottery and James McConnell Anderson, painter and ceramist. Adjacent to the museum is the Ocean Springs Community Center, home of Walter Anderson’s largest mural.


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