Interesting Things

By Ray L. Bellande

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Bechtel Family

THEODORE 'THEO' BECHTEL

Theodore "Theo" Bechtel (1863-1931), the progenitor of the Bechtel family of Ocean Springs, Mississippi, was born at Staunton, Illinois, the son of Ernest A. Bechtel, a German immigrant, and Mary Louise Gildemeister. His siblings were: August Robert Bechtel (1857-1930), Henry C. Bechtel, and a sister. August R. Bechtel was born at Georgetown, Maryland and came to Ocean Springs in 1920. He expired here in May 1930, and his remains were interred in the Evergreen Cemetery. Henry C. Bechtel resided at Evansville, Indiana. (Bradford-O’Keefe Burial Book 18, p. 118 and The Daily Herald, January 19, 1931, p. 1)

At Illinois, Theo Bechtel, an arborist-horticulturist, developed and owned a fruit orchard where he raised apples and pears. Here, he and his brother, August R. Bechtel (1850-1930), developed the "Bechtels' Double Flowering Crab Apple" which was introduced at the World's Fair at Chicago in 1898. Theo Bechtel sold his Illinois orchards after settling at Ocean Springs. (The Daily Herald, March 27, 1958)

Colligan place-Maurepas Landing

Theo Bechtel came to Ocean Springs in 1899, from Edwardsville, Illinois to work for Dr. Homer L. Stewart (1835-1907) and his spouse, Fannie Brewer Stewart (1838-1929) on the old Colligan place, now the site of the Maurepas Landing Subdivision, another misnamed development and discredit to our local history. The Stewarts were natives of Kalamazoo, Michigan and Danville, New York respectively. They came to Ocean Springs in December 1891, to grow celery on the Colligan place. (The Biloxi Herald, December 19, 1891, p. 1)

The Colligan place was the ancestral home of Henry Colligan (1823-1887), an Irish immigrant, who had obtained a land patent on eighty-acres, the SW/4 of the NW/4 and the NW/4 of the SW/4 of Section 20, T7S-R8W, in March 1854. Dr. Stewart purchased this tract in early December 1891, for $2000 from the Heirs of Henry Colligan: James R. Colligan (1855-1905), Mary Colligan (1832-1904), and John D. Colligan (1859-1893). (JXCO Land Deed Bk. 13, p. 176 and Bk. 12, pp. 545-547)

Dr. Stewart is believed to have been killed in the riots at Goldfield, Nevada in 1907. ( The Ocean Springs News, January 23, 1909, p. 1)

The H.L. Stewart orchard evolved through several ownerships, including the Maine based Southern Nut Company, becoming what most septuagenarians and octogenarians today would remember as the John C. "Jack" Wright pecan orchards and Fort Bayou Dairy. The operation of Jack Wright (1879-1941) was partnered with his brother-in-law, Haroldson Lafayette "H.L." Hunt (1889-1974), the founder of Hunt Oil, Placid Oil, Penrod Drilling Company, Panola Pipeline, and others. Today, the one hundred plus acre, "Hunt Oil" property, as it became known, is now the Maurepas Landing Subdivision, which began infrastructure development in the winter of 1996, by Lovelace & Hamilton. The first home here was completed at 122 Surgeres (sic) Place in March 1998.

The Holcombs

With the waning of Dr. Homer L. Stewart’s personal fortune and his later demise, Theo Bechtel was hired by recently widowed, Martha Lyon Holcomb (1833-1906) to care for her orchards east of town. Here he toiled grafting pecan and fruit trees for Mrs. Holcomb.

Martha L. "Mattie" Holcomb, a native of Vermont, was the widow of Thomas Addis Emmet Holcomb (1831-1897), the former proprietor of the Central Pharmacy at Kensington, Cook County, Illinois. Mr. Holcomb was born on April 9, 1831, at Westport, New York. He received his primary education there. Holcomb matriculated to Knox College at Galesburg, Illinois where he studied the Classics. He married Martha A. Lyon in 1857. Mrs. Holcomb could have been related to Mrs. Alice Lyon Weed (1853-1928), also a Vermont native, and the wife of Frederick Mason Weed (1850-1926), L&N station agent and third mayor of Ocean Springs. The Holcombs traveled to Europe after his graduation. In 1859, they spent a year in Sweden where he translated "Fridthjof's Saga" into the English language. Holcomb received national acclaim for this literary contribution. At Ocean Springs he was president of the "King Fishers", a prominent social organization. (The Pascagoula Democrat-Star, August 27, 1897)

Shortly before his death in August 1897, Mr. Holcomb went fishing with Captain Tiblier for red snapper. He may have been an early victim of the 1897 Yellow Fever epidemic, which struck Ocean Springs in the late summer and fall of that year. Matilda Endt (b. 1874) assisted Mrs. Holcomb after the demise of her husband. (The Pascagoula-Democrat Star, August 6, 1897)

"Hollywood"

The Holcombs settled permanently at Ocean Springs in 1894. They bought property on Porter at Rayburn in three parcels between 1887 and 1890. Probably in 1893, on the built northeast corner of Porter and Rayburn, their magnificent edifice called "Hollywood" was built. (JXCO, Ms. Land Deed Bk. 9, p. 78, Bk. 11, pp. 178-180, and Bk. 12, p. 415)

Arlene Muzzy White (1907-2000), a niece of Mrs. Theodore Bechtel, who born and worked in Chicago, but spent many years at Ocean Springs as a child and adult, the last twenty-fives years plus as a resident of the Villa Maria, remembered that the Bechtels had the only tennis court in town, which they had built in their Porter Avenue yard. John L. Dickey (1880-1938) built one later at their beachfront estate, "Shadowlawn", east of the Shearwater Pottery. Mr. Dickey’s daughter, Ruth Dickey White Scharr (, would later marry Eugene L. "Shorty" White (1913-1945), Arlene’s brother. (Arlene M. White, June 1995 and The Sun Herald, December 8, 2000, p. A-7)

Orchards

Mr. and Mrs. Holcomb also accumulated land east of Ocean Springs, primarily in Section 29, T7S-R8W. They purchased over two hundred-fifty acres in this section from Chauncey S. Bell (1842-1925), Silas Weeks (1823-1901), and William A. Evans between 1897 and 1904. They developed orchards in the area bounded by present day Bechtel and Holcomb Boulevards south of County Road (Government). Mrs. Holcomb had Holcomb Boulevard completed to East Beach in January 1898. (The Pascagoula Democrat-Star, January 28, 1898, p. 3)

In 1901, Mrs. Holcomb leased thirty acres on Holcomb Boulevard to Theo Bechtel for his pecan nursery. She sold it to him in January 1904. (The Progress, January 30, 1904, p. 4)

Before Mrs. Mattie Holcomb died on November 29, 1906, at Ocean Springs, she legated her home on Porter and other properties to her foster son, Theodore Bechtel (1863-1931). She also gave the City of Ocean Springs $200 to start a Public Library. Mrs. Holcomb’s corporal remains were sent to Cobden, Illinois for burial. (JXCO, Ms. Chancery Court Cause No. 1578-August 1906)

Jessica White and family

Circa 1906, Theo Bechtel married Jessica White (1868-1946), a native of Indianapolis, Indiana. She was born on December 30, 1868, the eldest daughter of the fifteen children of Charles Mason White (1838-1924) and Emily Elizabeth Field White (1840-1933), both Illinois natives who married in November 1864. Jessica was an acquaintance of Mrs. Holcomb whom she had met in Chicago. She was well educated and employed in the publishing field at Chicago, before moving to Ocean Springs. Theo and Jessica had a son, Theodore Bechtel Jr. (1909-2003). The Bechtels also reared Jessica’s nephew, Eugene L. "Shorty" White (1913-1945), and niece, Arlene M. White (1907-2000). Jessica W. Bechtel expired on March 14, 1946, near Jackson, Mississippi. Her corporal remains were brought to the Evergreen Cemetery for burial. Four brothers survived her: H.B. White, Kenneth G. White, Carl F. White, and R.L. White, all of Chicago. Her surviving sisters were: Mrs. Raymond Johnson (Santa Fe, New Mexico), Mrs. Lansing Millis and Mrs. George Kiefer (both of Berkeley, California). ( The Jackson County Times, June 14, 1924 and The Daily Herald, March 15, 1946, p. 3)

There is a high degree of certitude that the Holcombs and Whites had met at Knox College as Charles and Emily White had both attended this institution. Charles M. White was born at Lockport, Illinois. He was educated at Galesburg and graduated from Knox College at Galesburg in 1861. He was well known in the insurance circles of the Midwest. (The Jackson County Times, June 14, 1924)

Emily Elizabeth Field White (1840 –1933) was born in Illinois on November 17, 1840. In 1858, she graduated from Knox College at Galesburg, Illinois. Mrs. White was an educator and resided at Wichita, Kansas and Chicago, before moving to Ocean Springs in 1917. (The Daily Herald, January 21, 1933, p. 2) Charles M. White and Emily Field White are at eternal rest in the Evergreen Cemetery on Old Fort bayou.

Commanche Junior

 Mr. and Mrs. White resided on Holcomb Boulevard the east side of Ocean Springs. They referred to their place as "Comanche Junior", as they had a ranch in Michigan, which was the site of their original, "Comanche". On July 4, 1917, the Whites flew an American flag from Chicago at their Holcomb Boulevard residence. (The Jackson County Times, July 14, 1917, p. 5) 

In their advanced years, the Whites came to live at "Hollywood" on Porter with the Bechtels.

Success Dairy

Theo Bechtel for a short time was engaged as a dairy farmer east of Ocean Springs. One of his innovations was to place his milk in bottles prior to sales to consumers. Previously milk was delivered to homes in pails. The Success Dairy was vended to George Rehage (1878-1937) in February 1914. (Theo Bechtel Jr. July 1995 and The Ocean Springs News,February 7, 1914)

Musical interests

In May 1909, Theo Bechtel was lauded by the Ocean Springs Brass Band for his generous financial support of their efforts. A band spokesman said that if more citizens showed the interest of Theo Bechtel, Ocean Springs would have the finest band in Mississippi. The Bechtels also were members of the Dixie Musical Club. (The Ocean Springs News, May 1, 1909, p. 5)

Marshall Park

 Both Mr. and Mrs. Theo Bechtel were proactive in the political and cultural affairs of Ocean Springs. They were charter members of the Ocean Springs Civic Federation, which was instrumental in improving the physical appearance of the town with its construction of Marshall Park in 1911. Mrs. Bechtel was chosen as the secretary-treasurer of the Ocean Springs Civic Federation, by its membership.

On September 9, 1911, Marshall Park was praised by A.E. Lee (1874-1936), editor of The Ocean Springs News. In his journal, Mr. Lee wrote:"a very pretty spot and a credit to the town, the Civic Federation and the Park Committee, Messrs. H.B. Powell, Theo Bechtel, and J.H. Behrens. It should be the desire and determination of every loyal citizen to make it still prettier and a place all can point to with pride."

The Success Pecan

Theo Bechtel's knowledge of plants, his Germanic work ethic, and personal integrity soon propelled him among the leaders of Ocean Springs’ commercial orchardist. He was active developing a pecan nursery, farm, and house on the west side of Holcomb Boulevard, south of County Road (Government), and north of present day Hudson Road on about thirty acres. This tract was acquired from Mrs. Mattie Holcomb in January 1904, for $650, and Mr. Bechtel called it "The Bechtel Pecan Nurseries". (JXCO, Ms. Land Deed Bk. 27, pp. 462-463)

Theo Bechtel created the "Success" paper shell nut from a pecan seedling found on the old W.B. Schmidt place, which was located on Front Beach west of Martin Avenue. He also developed a more efficient top grafting wax, which was necessary for this climate, by hardening it with rosin, and was the first on the Mississippi Gulf Coast to introduce a chemical spray to combat pecan scab. (The Daily Herald, March 27, 1958)

In November 1915, Mr. Bechtel shipped fifteen hundred pounds of pecans to Chicago by fast freight. The demand for Ocean Springs' pecans was very great at this time and the grower sold them for $.50 per pound. Also in 1915, one of his Van Deman pecan trees, which was planted in 1900, set a world’s record by yielding 183 pounds of pecans. It had grown to 54 inches in diameter by this time. (The Ocean Springs News, November 18, 1915, p. 3 and Dabney, 1915, p. 27)

In the late 1920s, Bechtel sent pecans to Chicago and other areas through the London Grocery Company of Hattiesburg. He received about $30 per bag before the Depression and $12 per bag for his pecans during the early years of that economic downturn. A pecan bag was usually an old burlap coffee sack and could hold between 90 and 100 pounds of nuts. (JXCO, Ms. Chancery Court Cause No. 5324-February 1931)

At one time, Theo Bechtel shipped so many 5 and 10 pound pecan packages that this activity caused the rating of the Ocean Springs Post Office to grade higher than expected for a town with its population.

Pecan thieves

Mr. Theo Bechtel was a seeker of justice. In late 1923 and early 1924, he filed lawsuits in the Chancery Court of Jackson County against juveniles from Ocean Springs who had stolen over seventy pounds of pecans from his orchard. Bechtel wanted them sent to the Mississippi Industrial & Training School, a reform school. (JXCO, Ms. Chancery Court Causes No. 4395-4398).

Pecan leader

 Theo Bechtel’s knowledge and experience in the pecan industry was well known and respected throughout the American agricultural industry. This fact led him to the leadership of national and regional organization associated with pecan culture. Among his many honors were: In October 1910, Theodore Bechtel, J.H. Behrens, and George E. McEwen organized the Jackson County Growers and Shipper Association at Ocean Springs. This co-op consisted of truck farmers, fruit and nut growers of the region. They planned to operate warehouses, make bulk purchases, and merchandise farm and orchard produce. (The Ocean Springs News, October 29, 1910, p. 1)

In April 1914, at Mobile, Alabama Theo Bechtel was chosen as president of the Gulf Coast Nurserymen’s Association. (The Ocean Springs News, April 25, 1914, p. 5) 

In December 1916, Governor Theodore Bilbo and son came to the Bechtel nurseries and orchards on Holcomb Boulevard to consult with Mr. Bechtel about pecan stock for his farm at Poplarville, Mississippi. Bilbo was impressed with the quality of Bechtel’s plants and acquired young pecan trees for his Pearl River, County plantation.(The Daily Herald, January 1917, p. 3) 

In August 1930, Theo Bechtel was chosen as president of the local affiliate of the National Pecan Marketing Association. Gulfport was headquarters for the group, whose membership resided and farmed in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. (The Daily Herald, August 16, 1930, p. 1) 

Ames Cottage

Jessica White Bechtel owned the Ames Cottage at present day 1204 Iberville Drive, the residence of local artist, Roy B. Logan III. It was constructed in July 1910, by the firm of Burr & Bradford for Miss Eliza Ames (1845-1917). Burr & Bradford was composed of John Burr (1875-1916) and Frederick S. Bradford (1878-1951). In September 1936, Theo Bechtel conveyed this property to I.F. Pritchard. It has been in the Logan family since May 1966. (The Ocean Springs News, July 4, 1910 and JXCO, Ms. Land Deed Bk. 69, pp. 308-309)

Demise

At the time of his demise on January 17, 1931, Theodore Bechtel's nursery had over 13,000 young pecan trees, 947 satsuma trees, 940 tung oil trees, 150 peach trees, 128 palms, 51 mulberry trees, 32 lemon trees, and 17 plum trees. His remains were interred in the Evergreen Cemetery on Old Fort Bayou. Bechtel's brother, August R. Bechtel, came to live at the Bechtels' home, "Hollywood", in 1920. He died at Ocean Springs on May 18, 1930, and was also buried in the Evergreen Cemetery. (JXCO, Ms. Chancery Court Cause No. 5324-February 1931 and The Daily Herald, January 19, 1931, p. 1)

"Hollywood" burns

."Hollywood", the Holcomb-Bechtel home on the northeast corner of Rayburn and Porter burned on January 14, 1939. Mrs. Charlotte Franco Cochran (1864-1939) died at her home opposite Marshall Park on the southeast corner of Robinson and Church Street while watching the Bechtel conflagration. Mrs. Jessica W. Bechtel was rescued from the second story by using a ladder provided by her son, Theo Bechtel Jr. A boarder, Mrs. Gutierrez, also escaped injury. The edifice was uninsured and declared a total loss. The Bechtels had valuable antiques along with their personal possessions destroyed in the blaze, which was estimated to have caused more than $5000 in damage. (The Daily Herald, January 14, 1939, p. 1)

In August 1941, Theo Bechtel, Jr. and his mother, Jessica, sold their Porter Avenue property to Oscar E. Heffner (1893-1988), a native of Chesapeake, Ohio, and his wife Ruth H. Brewster Heffner (1894-1972), originally from Howell County, Missouri. The Bechtels had moved to their Holcomb Boulevard property after the 1939 fire, which severely damaged their Porter Avenue residence. It was here on the former site of "Hollywood" that in 1941, the Heffners built the present day Dale Cottages on Porter. (JXCO, Ms. Land Deed Bk. 259, p. 366)

Theodore Bechtel Jr

Theodore "Ted" Bechtel Jr. (1908-2003)was born at Ocean Springs on October 10, 1908. He attended the public schools here and graduated from the inaugural class of the 1927 Ocean Springs Public School, now the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center. Others to receive diplomas in his May 31, 1928 graduation class were: Frank C. Beuhler (1909-1985), Seth McEwen (1909-1986), Sarah Stewart, and Leroy White. (The Jackson County Times, June 2, 1928, p. 3, c. 3)

Although two others students in the 1928 graduation class had the same scholastic average as Frank C. Beuhler, he was named Valedictorian of the class since he had a better attendance record. Local jeweler, Phil N. Kreutz (1869-1934), donated two gold medals to the public school. One was awarded to Beuhler as Valedictorian and the other to Catherine Carver, a third grader, for her perfect attendance record. Ted Bechtel received a gold medal from the Inter-State Trust and Banking Company of New Orleans for his essay: "Is Flood Control an Immediate Necessity and a National Responsibility?" was also (The Jackson County Times, May 26, 1928, p. 2)

In April 1928, several members of the Senior Class had distinguished themselves at the Literary Field Meet in Biloxi. Theo Bechtel Jr. won second place in Biology and Frank Beuhler was awarded fourth place in English and Rhetoric. Ocean Springs High School placed third among the competing educational institutions of the Gulf Coast. Lower classmen, Francesca Spencer (1912-1963) and Schuyler Poitevent Jr. (1911-1978), won gold medals for their knowledge of American History and Current History. (The Jackson County Times, April 28, 1928, p. 2)

Here, Theo Bechtel, Jr. carried on his father's work and was employed at Ingalls Shipyard at Pascagoula, until called into the military service during WWII. He served with the US Navy’s 5th Amphibious Force in the South Pacific seeing action at Tarawa, Saipan, and the Philippines. His sea duties also brought Bechtel to the Aleutian Islands.(Theo Bechtel Jr., July 10, 1995)

In June 1942, Ted Bechtel had married Florence Otis Ogden (1919-1997), the daughter of Norbert E. Ogden and Florence L. Simon. Their children were: Dolores L. "Dolly" Bechtel Sturtevant Cervi (b. 1945), Herbert Theodore Bechtel (b. 1950), and Simon Henri Bechtel (b. 1957). (JXCO, Ms. MRB 35, p. 533)

Bechtel Subdivisions

In July 1950, Ted Bechtel platted in Section 29, T7S-R8W, the Bechtel No. 1 and Bechtel No. 2 Subdivisions, consisting of 35 lots, on the west side of Bechtel Boulevard commencing at Government Street and going south about 2900 feet. This tract was approximately 42.4 acres in area. (JXCO, Ms. Chancery Court Surveyors Record Bk. 1, pp. 247-248)

In the late 1960s, three smaller subdivisions were created within the Bechtel Subdivisons-Arbor Vista, Elliott Place, and Sun Haven. In December 1993, the Bechtel Place Subdivision of Hamilton and Loveless was platted in the north portion of the original Bechtel Subdivison. Le Moyne et Associe’ created the Bechtel Heights Subdivisions in 1968. Pot Luck Nursery After WWII, Ted Bechtel operated his Pot Luck Nursery on Hanley Road. He sold it in 1962 and moved to Simmons Bayou Road. Today, Mr. Bechtel resides in Stone County, Mississippi, west of Wiggins with his daughter, Dorothy 'Dolly' B. Cervi. Florence O. Bechtel expired at Ocean Springs on May 20,1997. Her corporal remains were interred in the Evergreen Cemetery in Ocean Springs. (Simon H. Bechtel, April 2003 and The Ocean Springs Record, May 20, 1997, p. 5)

REFERENCES:

Bradford-O’Keefe Burial Book No. 18"August Robert Bechtel"(Bradford-O’Keefe Funeral Home: Biloxi, Mississippi-1930)

Thomas E. Dabney, Ocean Springs: The Land Where Dreams Come True (c. 1915), (reprinted by Lewis Printing Services: Pascagoula, Mississippi-1974).

Chancery Court Cases

Jackson County, Mississippi Chancery Court Cause No. 1578, "Estate of Martha A. Holcomb", August 18, 1906.

Jackson County, Mississippi Chancery Court Cause No. 5324, "Estate of Theodore Bechtel", 1931.

Journals

The Biloxi Herald, "Ocean Springs", December 19, 1891.

The Daily Herald, "Bilbo’s Pecan Farm", January 2, 1917. 

The Daily Herald, "Bechtel Heads Pecan Growers", August 16, 1930.

The Daily Herald, "Theo. Bechtel Funeral Held This Morning", January 19, 1931.

The Daily Herald, "Woman Dies As Residence Burns", January 14, 1939.

The Daily Herald, "Mrs. Bechtel Dies", March 15, 1946.

The Daily Herald, "Know Your Coast"-"The ‘Success Story’ Of Ocean Springs", March 27, 1958.

The Jackson County Times, "Flag Raising on the Boulevard", July 14, 1917.

The Jackson County Times, "Death of Charles M. White", June 14, 1924.

The Jackson County Times, "How To Save Storm Blown Pecans", October 2, 1926.

The Jackson County Times"Ocean Springs Wins Third Place In Literary Meet", April 28, 1928.

The Jackson County Times"Public School Pupils Receive Gold Medals", May 26, 1928.The Jackson County Times, "Graduation Of Five Ends High School Term", June 2, 1928.

The Jackson County Times, "Bechtel Home Destroyed By Fire", January 21, 1939.

The Jackson County Times,

The Jackson County Times,

The Ocean Springs News, "Dr. H.L. Stuart (sic) Cannot Be Found", January 23, 1909.

The Ocean Springs News, "Local News", May 1, 1909. 

The Ocean Springs News, "Local Corporation Creates Interest", October 29,1910.

The Ocean Springs News, "Local News", September 9, 1911.

The Ocean Springs News"Local News", February 7, 1914.

The Ocean Springs News, "Local News", April 25, 1914.

The Ocean Springs News"Pecans Are Being Sold Faster This Year Than Last Year", November 18, 1915, p. 3.

The Ocean Springs NewsThe Ocean Springs Record, "Florence Ogden Bechtel", May 20, 1997, p. 5.

The Pascagoula-Democrat Star, "Ocean Springs Locals", August 6, 1897.

The Pascagoula Democrat-Star, "Thomas A.E. Holcomb Obit", August 27, 1897.

The Pascagoula Democrat-Star, "Ocean Springs Locals", January 28, 1898.

The Pascagoula Democrat-Star, "Ocean Springs Locals", February 10, 1899.

The Progress, "Local News Items", January 30, 1904.

The Sun Herald, "Arlene Muzzy White", December 8, 2000.

Personal Communication:
Arlene M. White-June 1995.

Theo Bechtel, Jr.-July 1995.

Simon H. Bechtel-April 2003.