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Arsonist sets historic Gulfport museum on fire

Posted at 5:02 PM, Sep 04, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-05 03:10:31-04

GULFPORT, Fla. — A historic museum in Gulfport was set on fire over the weekend caused thousands of dollars in damage.

The building has held many titles over the years. 

"It started out as a church and it’s been the Coast Guard exhilarate, Red Cross, Girl Scouts have met there,” said Cathy Salustri, the Gulfport Historical Society President. 

Gulfport officers arrested the person they think set the fire. The arrest report says the man torched an umbrella and threw it on the porch. 

“If the fire had gotten inside and spread to our archives room the entire town's history would’ve gone up in flames, literally,” said Salustri. 

Firefighters got on scene within minutes and were able to put it out. The damage to the porch totals about $20,000. 

The only thing on the porch that was not impacted by the flames was a blue plaque dedicated to Catherine A. Hickman, the founder of the Historical Society.

"Cathy, holding it together, I believe that,” said Catherine Bassett, who knew Hickman. 

Neighbors are already chipping in with donations. "I plan to, I imagine everybody will, everybody can,” said Bassett.

Other neighbors stopped by to take pictures.

"They’re going to rebuild this, and they’re going to continue to use it as a museum. It just shows you how resilient this place is," said Arturo Reyes. 

The historical society’s current President Cathy Salustri wants to raise money so they can digitize all of the town's documents. 

"We’ve known ever since Irma that we were on borrowed time,” she said. 

It will cost about $30,000 but Saustri says it comes down to preserving the history so it’s not lost in a disaster. 

"If this is maybe not your museum, or not considered your cause maybe contact your local museum,” she said. "I can almost guarantee you that any small museum is facing exactly the same thing."