Interesting Things

By Ray L. Bellande

Primary tabs

Hotels and Tourist Homes

 HOTELS AND TOURISTS HOMES

of

OCEAN SPRINGS, MISSISSIPPI

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

When I moved to Ocean Springs in May of 1990 after a career as a petroleum geologist, I began to get in touch with the local history.  A few months earlier, I had completed a Bellande family history with Heidi Balje Good titled,From Marseille to Mississippi (1813-1990).  This proved to be a rewarding experience, and I discovered that "looking for ancestors" was almost as exciting and interesting as the search for hydrocarbons.

 

My first venture into our local history occurred as the result of a conversation with J.K. Lemon (1914-1998).  I have known Mr. Lemon since the early 1970s when he sold me some land on Fort Bayou.  Everyone at Ocean Springs acknowledges that J.K. Lemon is certainly the dean of local history if not the professor emeritus. 

 

At this time Marshall Park was receiving much accolade from its restoration by the Historic Ocean Springs Association (HOSA).  My question was:  How did Marshall Park receive its name?  Mr. Lemon knew it was railroad related, but the name Marshall didn't have any particular meaning.  Historically, it is not a local name.  I took this as a personal challenge to unravel the mystery of Marshall Park.

 

It took about two weeks of letter writing, phone calls, etc. before I felt comfortable with results of the Marshall Park question.  This exercise was the catalyst which launched me on the research mission and chronicling which presently continues.  As I researched additional subjects in old newspapers, pamphlets, and the courthouse, I began to take an interest in the old hotels and tourist homes that I encountered.  As more and more information began to collect in my files, I could visualize a treatise on the early tourist industry at Ocean Springs.  The result is The Hotels and Tourist Homes of Ocean Springs .  I did not include any structures built after 1920.

 

Some of my other research materials have been disseminated through "Sous Les Chenes", a column, in the local journal, The Ocean Springs Record.  "Sous Les Chenes" commenced on May 13, 1993..  Many people have requested that these newspaper articles be published in a book format.  This is certainly possible with some financial support from the community.

 

Now that you know how I got to this stage of my tour through our local history, I will tell you that many people contributed to my efforts.  Probably one of the greatest joys of this work is relating to people.  It has been delightful to get to know and share information with many of our senior citizens.  Among them and many others who I sincerely and personally thank for their knowledge and willingness to share some of it with me are: J.K. Lemon (1914-1998) and Elenora Bradford Lemon, George E. Arndt (1909-1994), Margaret Seymour Norman (1908-2001), Orwin Scharr(1914-2002) and Ruth Dickey Scharr (1913-2000), Vertalee Bradford VanCleave (1914-2004), Arlene M. White (1908-2000), Frank H. Bryan Jr. (1914-1999), John Sterry Nill (1928-2002), Sister Mary William HewsonMSC (1919-2009), Dolores Davidson Smith (1916-1997), Harry Lucas Jr., Richard Beh, Mary Ann Lightsey Clark (1920-1999), Matilda Elizabeth 'Betty' Bradford Milsted (1913-2009), Regina del Buono Hines Ellison (1938-2005), Raymond Hudachek (1926-2011) and Maureen Carol Russell Hudachek (1926-2011), Dot Eglin McKinnon, Robbin Ann McKinnon (1957-2000), Treva Bauman Eglin, Courtney Cook Blossman, Edgar Wallace Edwards (1927-1996), Robert L. Maxwell, Orion S. Baker, Evelyn VanCourt (1921-2006) and Louise A. VanCourt (1915-2004), A. J. Holloway (1919-1997), Donald Scharr, and Carl Lizana. 

 

Much gratitude is due to those who have come before and paved the way with their work.  If you love Ocean Springs, please read C.E. Schmidt's accurate and concise, Ocean Springs French Beachhead (1972), and Regina Hines Ellison's detailed and informative Ocean Springs, 1892 (1979 and 1991).  The History of Jackson County(1989) was used extensively for family information. 

 

This treatise would be severely lacking in detail without old newspapers such as: The Pascagoula Democrat-Star, The Ocean Springs News, and The Jackson County Times.  Without the deed and tax records of the Jackson County Chancery Court, the chronological and ownership accuracy of the structures would be questionable.  Special thanks to Regina Hines Ellison for her critical review of this manuscript.  Kudos to talented artist, Ken Matthew, of Long Beach for his renderings of the buildings studied.  Architect, Maria Bargas, contributed her interpretive skills in attempting to visualize some of the buildings.  Linda Kerr assisted in some of the courthouse and library research, and Murella Powell at the Biloxi Public Library provided valuable suggestions. 

 

Without the permission of Katherine Hamilton-Smith, Special Collections Curator, of the Curt Teich Postcard Archives at Wauconda, Illinois, several wonderful images of our old hotels would be absent from this book.  Thank you, Katherine, and Curt Teich.

 

What would I have done without all of my "guardian angels" who seem to open the right page or guide me to someone knowledgeable person when I reached an impasse?

This was a rewarding experience.  I thank God very much for allowing me the time and resources to do it.

Good on you.

 

     Ray L. Bellande

     Ocean Springs, Mississippi

     July 4, 1994

 

 

HOTELS and TOURIST HOMES of OCEAN SPRINGS, Mississippi

by

Ray L. Bellande

 

INTRODUCTION

With the discovery of the mineral springs at Ocean Springs by the Reverend P.P. Bowen and James Lynch in the middle of the 19th Century, the demand for hotels, inns, and boarding houses or tourist homes began in the sleepy, coastal village of what is now Ocean Springs.  An excerpt from The Ocean Springs Gazette of March 24, 1855, demonstrates the interest in resort property on this early date at Ocean Springs: 

The undersigned will either sell or lease for a term of years, the property known as the Infirmary Property, situated in the Town of Ocean Springs, consisting of 4 acres of ground enclosed by a new, neat, and substantial fence.  A large new and well finished house, six new and neatly built cottages, a good kitchen and outhouses, and a well of excellent water near the house.  The property is well situated for either an infirmary or a private boarding house, and will be sold or rented on such terms as will suit the lessee or purchaser.  George A. Cox 

Initially those pilgrims seeking hydrotherapy for their physical ailments were housed near the mineral springs on the south bank of Fort Bayou as the above Cox advertisement would indicate.  Later commercial activity was centered about lower Jackson Avenue where the steam packets of the Morgan steamboat line began to land with frequency.  Here on the west side of Jackson Avenue, Dr. William G. Austin and the Porter family of Tennessee built the celebrated Ocean Springs Hotel in 1853 which gave its name to the newly developing resort in 1854.  Also along Jackson Avenue, the Morris House, Seashore House, Egan House, O'Keefe Boarding House, Egan Cottage, and Artesian House developed.

With the coming of the railroad in November 1870, the central business district shifted to Washington Avenue near the depot.  The White House across from the L&N depot on Robinson, and the VanCleave Hotel, built by R.A. VanCleave just north of his Washington Avenue store, were early structures in this area. 

The Illing House , Shanahan House, Vahle House, and Eglin House  were also located on Washington Avenue, and developed south of the railroad.  Dr. Henry Bradford Powell established Powell's Sanitarium-Bayou Inn on Washington Avenue at Fort Bayou.

Commencing in the early years of the 20th Century, tourism interest shifted from the mineral springs on Fort Bayou to the beach environment where saltwater bathing and seafood were popular.  Excursion trains from New Orleans brought day and weekend tourist to the coast, and particularly to Ocean Springs where the cool bay breezes, bath houses, piers, hotels and boarding houses such as the French Hotel-Edwards House, Beach Hotel, and Pines Hotel catered to these needs.  The pecan and citrus industry at Ocean Springs and shipyards at Moss Point and Pascagoula also contributed to the demand for housing in the area at this time.

Even into the early years of the 20th Century, yellow fever epidemics at New Orleans and Mobile sent those who could afford it to the "Six Sisters", Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, Mississippi City, Biloxi, Ocean Springs, and the Pascagoulas (East and West), for refuge.  Unfortunately the height of the summer tourist season coincided with the time of highest incidence of the fever.  Quarantines during these endemic occurrences kept visitors away for months at a time.

Fire was always a great threat to the hotels and tourist homes of Ocean Springs.  Conflagrations took away the Ocean Springs Hotel, Vahle House, Shanahan, Van Cleave, Pines Hotel, and Eglin House.  Others were torn down due to the Great Depression-Artesian House, hurricane damage-the Edwards House, or demolition by neglect-the White House, and the New Beach Hotel.  Only the Egan Cottage at 314 Jackson Avenue, the O'Keefe Boarding House which was moved in 1910 from the northeast corner of Porter and Jackson to 2122 Government Street, the Hubbard-Armstrong-Bauman House at 509 Washington Avenue, and Dr. Powell's Sanitarium-Bayou Inn which is now Aunt Jenny's Catfish Restaurant at 1217 Washington are extant. 

A theme pressed through the years at Ocean Springs by journals of the time was that the town needed at very large hotel.  As early as September 1895, The Pascagoula Democrat-Star announced that Joseph Benson Rose and Rushton H. Field of New York and Chicago planned to erect a $100,000 hotel at Ocean Springs on East Beach.  The Ocean Springs News in April 1905 stated that "several prominent Chicagoans express that a modern hotel is a great necessity; that no doubt it will soon be built".

After the Ocean Springs Hotel burned in May 1905, The Ocean Springs News was filled with statements regarding a new hotel:  June 8th - "Ocean Springs, like many of her neighbors, is suffering from want of a commodious hotel, which should be situated on the old site, or some other location on the front beach".  June 15th -"Our people should bear in mind that the need of a hotel is imminent.  Unless we believe in ourselves, no one will have confidence in us".  July 7th - "Ocean Springs is fast filling up.  Let us have a new hotel".  July 27th - "The number of visitors along the Gulf Coast, and particularly at Ocean Springs on excursion days is larger than ever before.  All cottages are occupied and hotels are being obliged to rent annexes.  Why not build another hotel?  One to hold twice the present number of guests could easily be filled".  August 3rd - "There is a magnificent opening here to some enterprising capitalist to erect a modern hotel.  Cottages are so nearly filled, people contemplate pitching tents for guests".  November 30th - "Ocean Springs is receiving its usual visitors who expect and have the right to expect up-to-date accommodations in a first-class hotel".

These appeals went for naught as no new hotel at Ocean Springs was ever built.  By 1915, the game of golf had become popular in the United States.  Mr. H.F. Miller, manager of the Chicago Association of Commerce speaking on the future of Ocean Springs said, "the golf club is a most important thing.  Develop that; it will bring people, it will bring trade; develop a good eighteen hole links, and the big hotel that I hear agitated will come of its own accord".  Although the Ocean Springs Country Club was incorporated in 1914, and operated on the Rose Farm property north of Fort Bayou in Section 7, T7S-R8W, it also failed to bring the big hotel.

By 1921, disciples of a new hotel were still lecturing on this subject.  President W.L. Mapother of the L&N stressed before members of the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce the need for more hotels and modern bungalows on the Gulf Coast to house the great influx of tourist brought here by a great advertising campaign now being contemplated by the L&N.  Mapother said, "We have been spending 54% of our total advertising fund on exploiting the Coast.  The first thing needed is real estate development-the building of modern hotels, bungalows, and more commodious conveniences".  (The Jackson County Times, November 11, 1921, p. 1).

In June 1926, realtors Germain and VanCleave announced that the Shannon tract which comprised over 1400 acres had been sold to the Farrer Development Company.  Plans for a $2,000,0000 hotel were proposed on this land located in Section 21, T7S-R8W.

The large, modern hotel was never constructed at Ocean Springs.  Possibly, more aggressive hostelry development by surrounding Mississippi Gulf Coast cities, the isolation of Ocean Springs before the Biloxi Bay Bridge was dedicated in 1930, and the shortage of good water front acreage eliminated Ocean Springs as a possible site for a large hotel.  It is interesting to note that Gulf Hills north of Ocean Springs did develop in the late 1920s by a Chicago based group incorporating the golf links as a central motif.

Many of the hotels and tourist homes at Ocean Springs had an ethnic flavor.  Irish expatriates and visitors were greeted by Mary Tracy O'Keefe, Maria Shanahan, and Julia Egan.  German travelers would feel comfortable at the F.W. Illing place at Washington and Porter, and possibly Schmidt & Zeigler's Ocean Springs Hotel, or the Vahle House of Theresa Vahle Friar and Katherine Vahle. 

To hear his romantic French language spoken fluently, a French visitor or Francophile would only have to travel to the French Hotel of Antoine and Marie Gouaux Bertuccini at Martin and Front Beach.  The B.F. Joachim and Emmy May Bauman tourist homes may have had a Teutonic or Eastern European flair.  An Anglophile could find a wee bit of Scotland at the Edwards House of James Henry Edwards and Amelia Shubert Edwards, or England at the Pines Hotel when it was owned by Ernest A. Morris.  Dr. H.B. Powell at the Bayou Inn was Canadian, and the Eglins were originally from Alsace in northeastern France.

The hotels and tourist homes formed an integral part of the history of Ocean Springs.  Unfortunately, other than four surviving structures, the only records remaining of this interesting historical era are photographs, land records, Sanborn insurance maps, some promotional pamphlets, and the memories of older citizens.  The loss of such architectural treasures is certainly a strong affirmation for historical preservation in this city.

 

 

REFERENCES:

 

The Jackson County Times"Ocean Springs Plans New Hotel", June 5, 1926, p. 2.

The Ocean Springs News"Ocean Springs has a great future, says manager Chicago Association Commerce", March 4, 1915, pp 1-2.