Mending Time at Beauvoir

The hard work of reviving Jefferson Davis' hurricane-stricken home has begun.

The site's curator, Richard Flowers, and director, Patrick Hotard, sit on stacks of bricks collected from the property.

Credit: Chris Granger

Six months after Katrina, the trees along the Mississippi Gulf Coast are greening again, but the devastation still runs as far as the eye can see. Most of the resort hotels and casinos were stripped of walls and the seashell emporia reduced to hollowed-out scaffolding. Refuse forms topsy-turvy mountains of the detritus of a former civilization—a refrigerator next to a boat cushion alongside a TV antenna. Homeowners whose sweet abodes were filled with water and mud scrub their walls and hammer on their roofs. Those owners, that is, whose homes still stand.

Beauvoir, Jefferson Davis' retirement home in Biloxi, does stand, but it remains a poignant sight for anyone familiar with the place before Katrina came crashing ashore. Although the property is 12 feet above sea level and the floor of the house is 9 1/2 feet off the ground, water still washed in and the beautiful wraparound front porch collapsed. With the columns fallen, the front of the roof was stripped away, and rain and saltwater soaked furniture, paintings, and other heirlooms. Two small structures near the house—the Hayes Cottage, used for guests, and the Library Cottage, where Davis once sat in a swivel chair and wrote his memoirs—were swept away, and now only their foundations remain. The nearby former veterans hospital, converted into a Confederate museum, was destroyed, and the Jefferson Davis Presidential Library was gutted on the first floor, its treasures blown out into the woods.

Larry Albert, a Hattiesburg, Miss., architect specializing in historic restoration, first saw Beauvoir when he was in the seventh grade in 1967. Even then he was captivated by the beauty of the antebellum house on its green sweep of land across from the Mississippi Sound. "It was a magical place to me," says Albert, visiting Beauvoir in March. Almost 40 years earlier, one of the worst storms to roar ashore in 20th-century Mississippi—Hurricane Camille—brought devastation, but not on this scale. Looking up at the huge Greek revival residence battered by Katrina, he adds, "It hurts to see what happened."

This project received a matching grant from Save America's Treasures.

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