From the Walter Fountain Collection-Local History and Genealogy Department of the Biloxi Public Library. This photo from the January 18, 1995 edition of the Sun Herald had the following explanatory text. Click on the image for more detail. The article refers to the enterprise as the Gulf Coast Gas Company but writing on the photograph reads “Gulf Cities Gas Company.” This plant was located on Oak Street just south of the railroad tracks.
This vintage photo is the only one we have ever seen of this gas producer that once existed at Oak and Railroad. It manufactured gas as a fuel piped it into homes and businesses for cooking, heating and lighting.
The gas was manufactured by converting the gases from hard coal into a product as a fuel. The huge black tank to the left in this photo was said to have risen and fallen according to the amount of gas it contained.
Gas was also used for street lighting in early Biloxi – that is this kind of gas which was called manufactured gas.
According to information in the Daily Herald 50th Anniversary Booklet the Company was then known as the Southwestern Gas and Electric Co. a subsidiary of the Middle West Utilities of Chicago.
It was reported that the company was organized as the Gulf Coast Gas Company in 1904 with R.H. Harrison, Jr. as president. Gas was piped all over the city of Biloxi. In 1916 it was acquired by Dawes Brothers and the gas lines were extended to Pass Christian. [Ed. Note: It is possible this acquisition as a result of the company’s bankruptcy dictated the name change from Gulf Coast Gas Company to Gulf Cities Gas Company.] In 1923 a merger was made with Southwestern Gas and Electric Co. and plant improvements were made in 1925 and 1926.
Southwestern continued to “make” manufactured gas until they arranged to switch to natural gas from the gas fields of Monroe, La. Later the gas fields around Jackson, Miss. were connected to the Coast.
Frank E. Bowes was the manager of the company for years when it changes to United Gas Company. He was succeeded as manager by Ross Fickes.
Division and department heads in 1935 were named as Ross Fickes, Harold P. Flanders, Tony Swancine, Allan Simon, Miss Ethel Lowd, Louis S. McCaleb, Horace Neil and Miss Carrie Talbot.
Vintage photo furnished by Frank Pavlov.
Both gas and electricity appear to be created at this facility. Comparing the c.1923 photo with the February 1925 Sanborn map we can disect this image to better understand what was happening on this site, and how the gas facility operated.
Furnace: The start of the line where the carbonization process takes place. Here bituminous coal was fed into retorts where intense heat would cause gas to be baked out turning the coal to coke. The coke would then go to the electric power plant (more on this later) and the gas would be piped to the Condenser.
Condenser & Tar Well: Here the gas would travel through a system of pipes allowing it to cool and condense. As the gas condensed, it produced a tar byproduct, which would be kept in the Tar Well, and as the completed product, the condensed gas would be piped into one of several large tanks or the 200,000 cubic foot gas holder also known as a gasometer. The Sanborn map fills us in that the Condenser Building is 30′ to the eaves and curiously enough mentions the building’s pilasters.
Engine Room & Generator Room: Remember the coke that was a byproduct of turning coal into gas? That coke was used to power engines for the electrical power plant. Presumably the Engine Room engines produced mechanical energy by burning coke. This mechanical energy would in-turn power the generators in the Generator Room, producing electrical energy for consumers.
One thing missing from the photo that is a prominent feature on the 1925 Sanborn map is the 52′ tall 10,000 water tower. I wish that we could see photographs this nice of all of Mississippi’s gas works. Do you know of a photo of a similar photo of a Mississippi gas works? If so please share!