The town of Gainesville was founded in the early 1800’s by Dr. Ambrose Gaines, who had come to the early settlement of Cottonport located on the Pearl River. Dr. Gaines received the first Spanish land grant for what was to become Gainesville in 1810. Issued by John V. Morales and confirmed by William Crawford, U. S. Commissioner, the grant consisted of five hundred arpents (roughly a little more than five hundred acres). Since there were “squatters” already living on the land, Gaines gave them small parcels, platted the remainder of the land into a town, and sold plots.
Since river travel was much easier than land travel in the early 1800’s, Gainesville prospered as a center of commerce. Goods were shipped into Gainesville and transported overland to distant inland settlements. It also flourished as a logging and lumbering center for many years. In 1837 Gainesville became the county seat of Hancock County, and the courthouse was moved here. During his travels throughout south Mississippi in 1852, Benjamin L. C. Wailes noted in his travelogue “the Court house is a very poor frame building.” He also described the site of Gainesville as “being a perfectly level one on a bluff bank of East Pearl River with a number of handsome live oaks.”
Boats along the Pearl River provided daily transportation for passengers and freight not only to Gainesville but also to Pearlington and Logtown. In 1920 service was discontinued to Gainesville, but it remained for Pearlington and Logtown until about 1930. Individuals also used the river to transport fruits and produce to Gainesville especially on paydays at the lumber mills located there.
When prohibition came to Mississippi in 1908 (before national prohibition), enterprising Louisianans set up floating bars across the Pearl from Gainesville. Many stories abound about Mississippians traversing the river to partake of the “demon rum” and to replenish their home pantries. S. G. Thigpen relates one such tale which supposedly happened to an elderly (at the time of the retelling) Picayune man. It seems this man along with six other men had traveled in an open car to the Blue Goose, a floating tavern, across the Pearl from Gainesville in 1913. On the return home they encountered a woman on horseback driving cattle. The car scattered the herd and enraged the woman who promptly chased the car on horseback, overtook the car, and thoroughly lashed the men in the car with a long whip in her possession. It seems she did such a thorough job that the men suffered with their welts for several days!
The site of Gainesville is now a part of Stennis Space Center.