Beauvoir is the historic post-war home and Presidential library of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, begun in 1848 at Biloxi, Mississippi. The main house and library were badly damaged, and other outbuildings were destroyed during Hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005. Beauvoir survived a similar onslaught from Hurricane Camille in 1969.Description
Beauvoir was the location of the retirement home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. The compound consisted of approximately 608 acres (2.46 km2) when Davis lived there (today, the site is approximately 52 acres (210,000 m2) in size). Beauvoir is located in Biloxi, Mississippi across US Highway 90 from Biloxi Beach. The name "Beauvoir" means "beautiful to view".
The compound consists of a Louisiana raised cottage-style plantation residence, a botanical garden, a former Confederate veterans home, a modern gift shop, a Confederate Soldier Museum, the Jefferson Davis Presidential Library and Museum, various outbuildings, and a historic Confederate cemetery which includes the Tomb of the Unknown Confederate Soldier. Five out of seven of these buildings were destroyed in Hurricane Katrina and replicas are being planned (see below).
The house was surrounded with cedars, oaks and magnolia trees and at one time had an orange grove behind it. The home faces the Gulf of Mexico and Spanish moss hangs from many of the large old trees on the property.
Oyster Bayou, a freshwater impoundment and bayhead swamp, once connected directly to the Mississippi Sound and runs across the property behind the main house from West to East. This body of water is fed by natural artesian springs that lie on the grounds. The northeast portion of the estate is the site of a primitive, pre-urban hardwood forest with an environment similar to what existed in the area during the 1800s. Proposals currently call for restoration of Oyster Bayou to its original environmental state, though this area also suffered extensive damage from Hurricane Katrina.History
Beauvoir was built by James Brown, a planter and entrepreneur, in 1848 and was completed in 1852. In 1873 the home was sold to Frank Johnston and soon thereafter to Sarah Anne Ellis Dorsey. Dorsey was a novelist and intellectual from Natchez, Mississippi, who was a staunch southern partisan. Dorsey lived in the home with her half-brother Mortimer Dahlgren. Dorsey invited Jefferson Davis to stay at Beauvoir and to write his memoir The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government.
Davis accepted Dorsey's invitation and moved into the Library Pavilion on the estate grounds in 1877. Later, his wife, Varina, joined him. Davis arranged to purchase the property in 1879 for $5500 to be paid in three installments. Six months later, Dorsey died before the other two payments were made and left the estate to Davis in her will. Davis and his wife moved into the house proper along with their youngest daughter, Winnie. Davis lived in the home until his death in December 1889. Varina Davis remained on the property for a short time while she wrote her book Jefferson Davis: A Memoir. She and her daughter Winnie moved to New York City in 1891.
Jefferson Davis left the estate to his daughter Winnie. But on her death in 1898, the ownership of the property reverted to Varina who sold much of the property to the Mississippi Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans in 1902 for use as a memorial to her husband and as the location of home for Confederate veterans and widows. A dozen barracks buildings, a hospital, and a chapel were built behind the home and approximately 2,500 veterans and their families lived at the home at one time or another during its existence from 1903 to 1957.
In 1941 the main house opened for public tours. Eventually a Confederate Museum was opened on the site. Over the next few decades a Jefferson Davis Gallery, gift shop, the Tomb of the Unknown Confederate Soldier, and the Jefferson Davis Presidential Library and Museum were established on the grounds.
In 1969 the home survived the onslaught of Hurricane Camille due to its construction and materials. The home did experience some flooding and a major fundraising and restoration effort was required.
In 1998 the Mississippi Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans opened the Jefferson Davis Presidential Library which contains the personal library and papers of Jefferson Davis, a biographical exhibit, and a theater and lecture hall.Hurricane Katrina
On August 29, 2005, the main building was severely damaged, losing its newly refurbished galleries (porches) and a section of its roof, but was not destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, which hit the Biloxi-Gulfport area head-on. The Clarion-Ledger reported on August 31 that Beauvoir was “virtually demolished,” though the report apparently overstated the damage. The storm destroyed the Hayes Cottage, the Library Pavilion, a barracks replica, the Confederate Museum and the director's home. The first floor of the Davis Presidential Library was gutted by the storm. Approximately 35% of the collections were lost.
Although the extensive damage from Hurricane Katrina has created a massive restoration project for Beauvoir, the publicity caused detailed U.S. Government photos of the building to become widely available, revealing some architectural details and part of the internal structure of the original construction.
At the Beauvoir entranceway, above the door and left-side window, dental molding appears along the lintel of the door and window. The internal construction of the building is also revealed, seen in exposed areas of the structure, such as the basement red-brick pillars, or the wooden wall frames with wooden latticework backing the external plaster covering.
The external shell of Beauvoir was protected by six fireplaces that surround the core of the house. Of those 6 brick fireplaces reinforcing the outside walls, only one of six rooftop chimneys collapsed during the hurricane, and five of the six fireplaces retained structural integrity to keep the walls of the building from falling away while under water.
On the back, west wing of Beauvoir, behind a front-yard tree, the green storm shutters survived the floating debris that battered the entrance, and the shutters protected the glass panes despite the 24-foot (8-m) storm surge that submerged the area. Whole sections of the Beauvoir home have remained intact to preserve many of the original construction details and windows (as seen in the photograph excerpts, at right).
Since thousands of homes in Mississippi were damaged or destroyed during Hurricane Katrina, construction work was diverted to all disaster areas of the state, and restoration of Beauvoir proceeded slowly. However, as a U.S. National Historic Landmark, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials approved Federal support to the repair and rebuilding of the Beauvoir complex.
With the financial assistance of various federal, state, private organizations and individual contributions, restoring Beauvoir Mansion started in early 2006. On June 3, 2008, also Jefferson Davis' 200th Birthday, Beauvoir Mansion had been fully restored and reopened for public tours. The mansion was restored to the original condition of when President and Varina Davis lived there.
In the winter of 2009, President Davis's personal library and the Hayes's cottage had been rebuilt (both structures were completely destroyed during Hurricane Katrina) and open for public tours.
As of the Spring of 2009, work has already started on rebuilding the Jefferson Davis Presidential Library. Many artifacts have been recovered and are restored/repaired from the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina. In addition to the Presidential Library, the kitchen that existed behind Beauvoir mansion during the time that President Davis, his family, and the hundreds of Confederate veterans & their families resided on the property will be rebuilt along with a barrack similar to the numerous barracks that housed the Confederate veterans and their families.
The salvageability of the collections stands at about 60%. The two remaining buildings of the seven on the site will be repaired and rebuilt. Replicas and additional outbuildings will be built. Prior to Katrina, the Jefferson Davis Presidential Library maintained a collection of 12,000 books on United States history, southern history, and history of the American Civil War. The library also maintained collections of photographs, personal letters, manuscripts, envelopes, postcards, newspaper clippings, records of Confederate heritage organizations such as the United Confederate Veterans and the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and records from the Veterans home that once was present on the grounds. Most of these records survived, except for those on display in the two museums.
Civilian volunteers and the Mississippi Army National Guard assisted with salvage. Unfortunately, the room storing much of the authentic china and artifacts was adjacent to the gift shop, with knockoffs and imitations of the originals. Both rooms were destroyed, so sifting through the debris and identifying the genuine relics was very difficult.Today
Visiting the museum
Today Beauvoir is open for tours Monday through Sunday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Beauvoir is one of, if not the last National Historical Landmark, on the beach in Biloxi that has been restored.
Beauvoir is owned and operated by the Mississippi Division of Sons of Confederate Veterans.Activities
Before the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina in the Summer of 2005, annual events included the Spring Pilgrimage in March, Confederate Memorial Day in April, the Fall Muster in October, and Candlelight Christmas in December.
Visitors to the site were presented with a biographical film on the life of Jefferson Davis narrated by an actor portraying Davis's long-time friend, Iowa Senator George Wallace Jones.Designations
The home and grounds are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Beauvoir was also designated as a National Historic Landmark and a Mississippi Historical Landmark.