Interesting Things

By Ray L. Bellande

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French Hotel-Edwards House (1896 - 1969)

 

 

LOCATION

The French Hotel was located at Front Beach Drive and the east side of Martin Avenue comprising Lots 4 and 5 of the Austin Tract.  The hotel grounds comprised approximately .60 acres.

 

French Hotel

BUILDING

In later years, the French Hotel-Edwards House consisted of two buildings.  The primary structure was a front gable, two-story, wood frame house with an undercut gallery.  It faced the Bay of Biloxi near the beach front. 

 

The original house was a five-room, Creole cottage of wood frame construction.  Four doric pillars supported a hip roof, and two gabled dormers which featured six-over-six double-hung windows.  The simple entablature consisted of a sinuousoidal patterned frieze.  Multi-light French doors and windows graced the facade.  A simple wooden balustrade surrounded the three-bay undercut gallery. 

 

In 1927, The Edwards Family added a second story to the Creole cottage, and also increased the area of the structure to about 7000 square-feet.  The dining room had the capacity to seat three-hundred people.  A 600 square-foot, oak shaded pavilion sat near the beach.

 

At the rear of the Edward House lot, there was a two-story, wood frame structure.  It may have had a hip roof with an undercut gallery.  The building consisted of twelve bedrooms, six upstairs and six on the ground floor.  The rooms were approximately 14 x 20 feet.  They were simply furnished with a four poster Nunn bed, wash basin, and picture.  The bathroom and shower were located on the ground floor.  When the Keesler Air Force base boom began in the early 1940s, this edifice was converted to an apartment building to ease the housing shortage in the area.  A grape arbor was located near the stairway south of the building.  It and the pavilion were destroyed in the September 1947 Hurricane.

 

HISTORY

In 1896, the French Hotel was founded by two French immigrants, Antoine and Marie Gouaux Bertuccini (1863-1930).  Antoine Bertuccini (1844-1921) was probably born at Sisco on the  Mediterranean island of Corsica.  His parents may have been Paul Bertuccini and Marie Orsouie.  Antoine Bertuccini immigrated to the United States in 1870 probably settling at New Orleans. 

 

Marie Gouax immigrated from France or Corsica circa 1884, the same year that Antoine's younger brother, Jacques Bertuccini (1854-1943), immigrated to the United States.  Her nephew, Dr. Frank T. Gouax, was the health officer at Lafourche Parish, Louisiana, and would visit his aunt at Ocean Springs occaisionally.

 

The Bertuccinis had five children.  The first four, Agnes Bertuccini (1889-1906), Paul T. Bertuccini (1893-1949), Sadie (b. 1895), and Louis Bertuccini (b. 1897), were born at Napoleonville, Louisisana.  Only Mary Felicite (b. 1900) was born at Ocean Springs.  Paul T. Bertuccini married Hazel Cavanaugh of Biloxi in 1915.

 

Circa 1896, Jacques Bertuccini also came to Ocean Springs with his Louisiana born wife, Emma (1873-1955).  Their children were Melanie B. Gallagher (b. 1888), and Deo Bertuccini (1893-1979).  Jacques and Deo were both barbers.  The Jacques Bertuccini family home and barbershop were located at 619 Washington Avenue.  Marie Bertuccini acquired Lots 4 and 5 of the Austin Tract from Kate Staples in December 1895.  The old residence on the site became the French Hotel.(JXCO, Ms. Land Deed Bk. 17, pp. 133-134)

 

Under the Bertuccinis' management, the French Hotel catered to French speaking visitors from New Orleans and rice and sugar planters from South Louisiana.  They came to Ocean Springs in the summer months to enjoy salt water bathing, cool breezes off the bay, and the medicinal waters which made the city famous.  There was a 750-foot pier in front of the hotel.  In 1904, a furnished room at the French Hotel rented for $3.00 per month.

 

The French Hotel was acclaimed for its food and locally produced Scuppernong and Concord wines.  The vineyards were destroyed in the 1947 Hurricane.  In January 1921, Antoine Bertuccini passed on, and Marie G. Bertuccini sold the hostelry to J.H. Edwards in June.  Mrs. Bertuccini moved to New Orleans in July 1921.  She returned to Ocean Springs in 1922, and married George W. Vance (1859-1940), a retiree from Iowa.  Mrs. Marie Bertuccini Vance died at Ocean Springs on August 31, 1930.  She is interred at the Bellande Cemetery.  Mr. Vance lived on in their Jackson Avenue home until his demise in February 1940.  His remains were shipped to Marksville, Kansas.(JXCO, Ms. Land Deed Bk. 50, p. 465)

 

Edward House

[postcard and courtesy of Molly Stiglitz Edwards-April 2014]

 

Edwards Family and Guests-circa 1940

[Edwards family members in this image are: Ethel L. Schubert (1900-1991); Cecelia Schubert Brandt (1897-1989); Edgar Wallace Edwards (1927-1996); Donald F. Edwards (1924-1982); James H. Edwards Jr. (1920-2000); Bruce R. Edwards (1926-2003); Amelia Schubert Edwards (1893-1979); and James Henry Edwards (1893-1950).

[Courtesy of Iva Joyce Edwards-April 2014]

 

James H. Edwards

James Henry Edwards (1893-1950) was born in Scotland and came to the United States in 1908.  After serving as a Sergeant in WWI with Ambulance Company 129 of the 33rd Division of Chicago, he found employment as a chef at the Grunewald Hotel, now Fairmont, of New Orleans.  He met his wife, Amelia Schubert (1893-1979), a native of New Orleans in Dallas.  They reared four sons at Ocean Springs: James Henry Edwards Jr. (1920-2000), Donald F. Edwards (1924-1982), Bruce Robert Edwards (1925-2003), and Edgar Wallace (1927-1996).

When the Edwards family took over the French Hotel in 1921, there was no electricity.  These were the days when people convened in the evening after dinner for conversation.  The French Hotel had a 60 square-foot pavilion which encircled an oak tree on the beach around which hotel guests and people of the community would gather and exchange stories. 

 

Plaza Cafe

Mr. Edwards was both very industrious and frugal.  During the early days of his proprietorship of the French Hotel, he also operated  the Plaza Cafe located on the northwest corner of Desoto and Washington.  To equip his kitchen, Edwards purchased surplus WWI equipment from the Army camp at Deer Island.  Although it had won the reputation as one of the very best restaurants on the Gulf Coast, the Plaza Cafe closed in May 1924. 

As the winter season was generally slow, he would work as a chef at the Great Southern Hotel at Gulfport, and at the Gulf Hills resort north of Ocean Springs.  Mr. Edwards was the first chef at Gulf Hills, when the hostelry formally opened in the winter of 1927.(The Jackson County Times, December 3, 1927, p. 1)

 

Railroad chef and steward

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, Mrs. Edwards and Ethel Shubert managed the beach front hostel.  As times were lean, J.H. Edwards found employment with the Fred Harvey system, which furnished gifted chefs for rail lines.  During this time of national economic crisis, Mr. Edwards also went to sea and was employed on ships.  In 1934, he left Ocean Springs to serve as chief steward aboard the S.S. Kenowis bound for the United Kingdom.  Edwards planned to visit his old home at Glascow, and his brother at London.(The Jackson County Times, January 6, 1934, and The Ocean Springs Record, April 19, 1979, p. 20)

 

World War II

During World War II, Lieutenant Commander J.H. Edwards took a position with the Shipping Administration and crossed the North Atlantic on troopships.  He also served as chief steward aboard the very large hospital ship, USS Larkspur.  His son, Seaman First Class Donald Edwards, served in the merchant marine.

At the time of his death in January 1950, Edwards was the chief steward on the Army transport Short Splice.  He died in the Marine Hospital at New Orleans.

Edwards anticipated a busy summer season for the French Hotel.  He needed additional time to prepare his beach front hostelry for the influx of visitors.

Mr. Edwards ran this advertisement in The Jackson County Times of July 1921:

 

 

FRENCH HOTEL

situated directly on the beach

Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Under New Management

Wedding and Dinner Parties a Specialty.  Rates reasonable.

J.H. Edwards, proprietor.  Former Chef of Tortorich's Cafeteria.

 

 

The Edwards family operated the French Hotel as a summer resort until 1928, when it became a year-round inn.  In late 1927, the Edwards family made improvements to the old structure adding several rooms.  In conjunction with this work, the reception area, lounge room, and dining room were enlarged.  A new culinary department was added.  With the in stallation of a modern heating plant and several new bath rooms, the French Hotel became a complete and comfortable home for the traveler and visiting public.  An advertisement in The Jackson County Times of December 30, 1933 described the French Hotel as follows:

 

 

THE FRENCH HOTEL

on the beach

The ideal winter resort

Bathing, Boating, Fishing

Private Pier

Modern throughout

Pleasant surroundings.  Excellent meals.

Moderate rates

J.H. Edwards, Proprietor

Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Phone 89

 

 

On July 11, 1936, The Jackson County Times reported that the 4th of July weekend was the largest ever seen along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  At Ocean Springs tourist activity was particularly busy with the French Hotel and the Eglin House filled to capacity.  The Edwards were lauded by the journal for their kindness and concern for the welfare of stranded visitors.  This praise was expressed as follows:  We wish to commend Mr. and Mrs. J.H. Edwards of the French Hotel for their civic interest in giving personal attention to visitors who come to our city.  When their hotel was filled to overflowing Saturday and they were unable to accept any more guests, they went out in their car and assisted the visitors to find rooms in private homes in order that they might remain in Ocean Springs over the weekend and not be forced to go elsewhere.  (Local and Personal).

Mrs. Edwards was also civically active in other ways.  She served faithfully as the local chairperson for the March of Dimes Campaign in the 1940s and 1950s.  The hotel also served as the meeting place for the Rotary Club in the 1940s.  Their charter meeting dinner was held at the Edwards House.

In addition, Mrs. Edwards was a very charitable woman, as she allowed less fortunate, elderly persons to reside in her apartments at very reasonable rates.

The name of the French Hotel was changed to the Edwards House circa 1943.  The Edwards House ran the following advertisement in The Gulf Coast Times of July 12, 1951:

 

 

ON THE BEACH

in beautiful Ocean Springs

THE EDWARDS HOUSE

Front Beach

Ocean Springs

 

 

Mrs. Edwards ran the hotel for many years until it was damaged by Hurricane Camille in August 1969.  The weight of trapped water caused the first floor to collapse.  Clarence Galle (1912-1986) tore down the main house after the infamous tempest, and the property was sold in December 1979 to Charles H. Jacoby.  Amelia Schubert Edwards expired on December 14, 1979.  Her corporal remains were interred in the Evergreen Cemetery on Old Fort Bayou.(JXCO, Ms. Land Deed Bk. 665, p. 68 and Wallace Edwards, March 1994)

 

1997

 

Troy H. Vincent

In the summer-fall of 1997, Troy H. Vincent, proprietor of TVH, a subdivison development company and home builder, erected a Mediterranean style home on the old Edwards property at present day 303 Front Beach.  Mr. Vincent also built a fine pier on his riparian rights, which was destroyed by Hurricane Georges in late September 1998.  Katrina destroyed the Vincent home.

 

2014

 

Illiane House

2014 and July 2015

REFERENCES:

C.E. Schmidt, Ocean Springs French Beachhead, (Lewis Printing Services: Pascagoula-1972), p. 77.

Llyod Vogt, New Orleans Houses, A House-Watcher's Guide, (Pelican Publishing Company:  Gretna, Louisiana-1985), p. 44.

Jerome Lepre, Catholic Church Records of Biloxi, Mississippi, Volume 1, (Catholic Diocese of Biloxi: Biloxi-1991), p. 28.

Jackson County Chancery Court Cause No. 6230, “Will of G.W. Vance”.

The Daily Herald"Marie B. Vance Obit", September 1, 1930, p. 2.

The Daily Herald"George W. Vance Obit", February 13, 1940, p. 6.

The Daily Herald"James Henry Edwards Obit", January 11, 1950, p. 8.

The Daily Herald, Know Your Coast, "The French Hotel of Ocean Springs" by Ray M. Thompson, 1957.

The Jackson County Times, Local News Interest, August 17, 1918.

The Jackson County Times"Antoine Bertuccini Obit", March 19, 1921

The Jackson County TimesLocal and Personal, July 2, 1921.

The Jackson County TimesLocal and Personal, May 24, 1924.

The Jackson County Times"French Hotel Praised by Members of Rotary Club", January 7, 1928, p. 3.

The Jackson County TimesLocal and Personal, January 6, 1934.

The Jackson County Times"Jacques Bertuccini Obit", May 1, 1943, p. 1.

The Jackson County Times, August 26, 1944, p. 1.

The Jackson County Times“Local and Personal”, January 6, 1945.

The Jackson County Times, January 30, 1945, p. 1.

The Ocean Springs Record, “Memoirs of the Edwards Hotel”, April 19, 1979, p. 20.

The Progress, Local News, December 24, 1904.

 

US Census - Jackson County, Mississippi 1900, 1910, and 1920.

 

Photographs:

Edgar'Wally' W. Edwards Collection and Curt Teich Postcard Archives

Forrest Lamar Cooper Postal Card Collection-Mississippi Department of Archives and History, "Ocean Springs Book".