Located in Biloxi is the home, museum and presidential library of perhaps the city’s most famous past resident, Jefferson Davis. Jefferson was the only president of the Confederacy and Beauvoir was his last home. We had visited presidential libraries and museums of two other presidents on this trip, but I had not expected to come across the home and museum of the Confederate president. Since I knew so little about him, it was an interesting and informative visit.
Beauvoir was built in 1848. Our tour guide told us the home was named by Sarah Dorsey who came to see it as a potential buyer. She first walked into the house from the back and when she came onto the front porch and saw the view of the Mississippi Sound and Gulf before her, gave it the name Beauvoir, which comes from the french term, “beautiful view.” In 1877, Davis came to Biloxi and his friend Sarah offered him the use of one of the cottages next to the house. He agreed and said he would pay her $50.00 per month. In 1879, he offered to buy the property for $5, 500, paying her in three installments to which she agreed. She passed away before he could finish paying and willed the property to him. Even though Davis had the right to live in the home, he refused until he had paid the last installment, continuing to live in the cottage. Davis lived at Beauvoir with his wife Varina and two of his children.
When Hurricane Katrina hit, it greatly damaged the house, destroying the porch, much of the roof and flooding after a nine foot wall of water hit. Although the home’s foundation was raised on pillars, the interior was still flooded with about a foot of water. In spite of the damage much of the furnishings and personal effects could be saved. Our guide explained that the original roofing company (still in business) was able to replace the same slate. In addition the original glass company was also able to replace the panes for the doors. The restoration cost around $4,000,000. Today the house is a real beauty and a source of pride to Biloxi. I find it amazing that the home still stands after surviving two major hurricanes and other storms. Many other historic homes and buildings in the area are no longer standing.
One of the most beautiful parts of the house to me, was the hand painted ceiling in the entry way (above). The entry way was designed with doors on opposite sides so that breezes could circulate through the house and cool down the rooms.
The home has eight furnished rooms to view including the parlor (above). Below is a statue of Jefferson with his two sons, one that was adopted named Jim Limber, a child of mixed race. Jim was rescued by Jefferson’s wife when she saw him being mistreated by his father. After the Davis family began caring for him, it was arranged for him to be freed from slavery. A year later in 1865 when the Davis family was captured by the Union army, Jim was taken from them and they never saw him again.
The small cottage where Davis lived before he moved into Beauvoir can be seen behind the statue. It was destroyed during Katrina and a replica built in its place. It was here that Davis began writing his two volume set, “The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government.”
The museum and library were built in 1998 and are located in a large and impressive looking building (above). There were some interesting artifacts inside from the Civil War era but overall, I was a little disappointed with the museum. One of the main rooms was so poorly lit, that Mark and I had a hard time reading the descriptions and seeing the exhibits well. Here are a few of my favorite items from the museum:
This piano belonging to Winnie Davis, Jefferson’s youngest child could not be restored after damage from Katrina.
Above is the hearse that carried the body of Mr. Davis during his funeral procession in New Orleans after he died there on December 6, 1889.
After Hurricane Katrina, the bronze bust of Davis was found undamaged except for the broken wooden pedestal. It was buried in the mud in a bayou on the property. The mystery is how the heavy bust traveled 100 yards across the the bayou and fell on the other side.
The museum did help me learn about Jefferson Davis’ political career. He once served as a senator and U.S. Secretary of War and was instrumental in getting repairs done to the U.S. capitol building. He arranged for the Gadsden Purchase which included parts of Arizona and New Mexico and advocated for the federal government to build a transcontinental railroad. He was also on the committee that founded the Smithsonian Institution in 1846. Above is a painting of Mr. Davis and his beloved dog Traveler, a constant companion.
Jefferson was never officially pardoned by the U.S. government for his role as the Confederate President. In 1876, Congress passed a universal amnesty law which restored citizenship to all former confederates except one, Jefferson Davis. He died a citizen of no country. One hundred years later in October 1978, his citizenship was restored when President Jimmy Carter signed into law a resolution from Congress restoring citizenship to the last confederate, Jefferson Davis.
Bay St. Louis is a delightful little coastal town about 30 miles west of Biloxi. We drove there twice and the second time stayed a little longer to have lunch in a cafe, look at a few of the shops and enjoy the ambience. As expected, the town was hit very hard by Katrina with half the homes destroyed. The shoreline was subsequently rebuilt including a new marina, sea wall, pier, restaurants and shops.
The Bay St. Louis bridge to the town of Pass Christian was also destroyed and had to be rebuilt with a higher bridge. The bridge is pictured above in the background of the marina.
Here is a view of the town taken from the pier:
Below is a view is of the Bay St. Louis pier with Our Lady of the Gulf Catholic Church which survived Katrina.
I loved seeing this tree sculpture called the “Angel Tree.” It was carved from an oak killed by Katrina. The tree is very intricate with not only angels but also numerous heron like birds carved on the branches.
There is a story associated with this tree. The owner of a local Inn, her dog and two friends had to flee from the building when it was destroyed by Katrina. They ran to the oak tree in the yard and clung to it for several hours waiting out the storm. They consider it their lifesaver. After the tree was carved, it was moved to a new spot above the marina and shore for all to view.
This is not the only tree sculpture on the Mississippi Coast. In 2007, Biloxi began a project to sculpt marine related figures from the dozens of standing dead trees in the median of Beach Boulevard in Biloxi. The trees had all been killed by Katrina. There are now 20 sculptures that can be found in Biloxi and other towns along the coast. They include dolphins, pelicans, marlin, seahorse, eagle and heron to name some of them.
The beautiful, historic L & N Train Depot in Bay St. Louis was built in 1928. It survived Katrina and underwent some restoration. It houses a visitor center and two separate museums. Downstairs are historical and cultural displays of the area, but the best exhibit are the lavish Mardi Gras costumes that take up one big room. There are over a dozen of them and they were such fun to look at.
Upstairs is another museum of the folk art of Alice Moseley, known as “Miss Alice.” Alice was a self taught artist who began painting at the age of 60 while caring for her mother who had Alzheimer’s. After visiting Bay St. Louis and falling in love with the town she moved here at the age of 79 even though she didn’t know anyone. Her whimsical and colorful paintings show scenes of every day life in Mississippi including cotton plantations, farms and villages. Many of her original paintings are showcased here and I really enjoyed seeing them. She had a great deal of talent! (Sorry but photographs were not allowed).
Miss Alice reminded me of the artist Grandma Moses whose museum we visited on a trip to Vermont. Alice lived in a little blue house across from the depot until she died at 94. Tourists used to come to her home and studio to visit with her. I was told that another artist now lives in the home, carrying on her tradition.
And now for something completely different. Horseshoe crabs are said to be one of the oldest species on earth. We found this one washed up on the beach. Scientists say they have been around for “millions of years.” Horseshoe crabs are actually not related to the crab family but closely related to the arachnids (spiders). Who remembers Arachnophobia? They have a long tail that they use to flip themselves if they are overturned.
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for the next post where we move on to Mobile, Alabama – a new state and city for us!