The O'Keefe Boarding House (1881 - 1910)

 

LOCATION

The O'Keefe Boarding House was located on the northeast corner of Jackson Avenue and Porter in Lot 6 of Block 27 of the Culmseig Map (1854) of Ocean Springs.  The lower floor of the structure was moved to 2122 Government Street in 1910.

BUILDING

The O'Keefe Boarding House was a two story, wood framed structure with 2824 square feet of living area under roof.  There was a lower and upper gallery on the south and west side of the building of 1710 square feet.  The dining room was attached to the main building and had an area of 874 square feet.  The kitchen appears to have been detached and to the north of the building but was connected by a covered breezeway. 

HISTORY

The O'Keefe family began its long and illustrious history at Ocean Springs when Irish immigrant Edward "Ned" O'Keefe (1815-1874), came here from New Orleans in the mid-1850s.  O'Keefe married Mary Tracy (1832-1895) in 1859, the same year he purchased Lot 5 of Block 26 (Culmseig Map) from A.F. Ramsay on the northeast corner of Porter and Rayburn.  Lot 4 of Block 26 was purchased from George A. Cox in October 1867.(JXCO, Ms. Land Deed Bk. 7, p. 272)

After returning from the Civil War, Ned O'Keefe became a teamster and started a livery business.  He supplied transportation service to the multitude of visitors who arrived at Ocean Springs by steam packet and later train.  When people passed on, his carriages were used to transport their bodies to the cemetery.  Before his death in 1874, O'Keefe and his wife had two children:  Jeremiah Joseph (1860-1911) and Mary Helen (1863-1878), 

In February 1881, Mary Tracy O'Keefe commenced her boarding house and store operations on the northeast corner of Jackson and Porter.(The Pascagoula Democrat-Star, February 4, 1881, p. 3) 

The property was purchased by her husband, Ned Keith (later O'Keefe) in two parcels.  The first lot was bought from E.N. Ramsay, in April 1867, and described as Lot 6 of Block 27 (Culmseig Map) and comprised 52 feet on Jackson and 200 feet on Porter.  In August of the same year, Ned Keith purchased Lot 5 of Block 27 from George A. Cox.  This tract became the site of the livery stable.(JXCO, Ms. Land Deed Bk. 62, p. 475 and Bk. 62, p. 476)

The O'Keefe House probably had an ethnic flavor attracting Hibernian families from New Orleans and railroad workers.  Son, Jeremiah, met his future wife, Alice Cahill (1864-1921), a New Orleanian whose family came to Ocean Springs for a visit and stayed at their lodge.  The couple were wedded in 1887.  Neighbor and friend, Jeff Davis Egan (1864-1907), a very skilled carpenter made the young newly-weds a pair of cut glass doors for a wedding present.  Young Egan's parents were John and Julia Elwood Egan who owned the Egan House south of the O'Keefes on Jackson Avenue.

Not all boarders were Irish.  In August 1896, the Pascagoula Democrat-Star reported that one Alphonse Gauthreaux of Donaldsonville, Louisiana "beat his board, decamped, stole a pocket book containing $5.00 and prayer beads, shoes and some clothes....whereabouts unknown".

In 1895, the O'Keefes were tragically struck by fire on two occasions.  The most devastating occurrence was in February when Mrs. Mary O'Keefe's gown caught fire from the hearth and she died as the result of her burns.  Later in the fall of the same year, the kitchen was badly gutted by a fire caused by a defective flue.  Jerry O'Keefe gave a generous donation to the fire department which was very effective since this was the first fire fought with the assist of fifteen new fire wells which provided ample water.

After Mrs. O'Keefe's demise, Alice Cahill O'Keefe in addition to rearing her children, Edward Joseph (1889-1890), John William Aloysius (1891-1985), Mary Cahill O' Keefe (1893-1981), Jeremiah Joseph II (Ben) (1894-1954), and Joseph Hyacinth (Jodie) (1897-1932), ran the boarding business.  Her husband, Jerry, expanded his undertaking service to create the O'Keefe Funeral Service in 1892. 

Politically, Jerry O'Keefe was elected the first Alderman from Ward 2 in 1892, in the newly incorporated Ocean Springs, and served in that office for two years.  He also was a road overseer in Beat Four being in charge of Jackson Avenue from the beach to O'Keefe Corner on Porter Avenue and from O'Keefe Corner to the Illing Place.

In 1909, Jerry O'Keefe built a large family home behind the boarding house.  This 2 1/2 story mansion of Beaux-Arts "polite" design, Corinthian columns, and wide galleries has become a symbol of O'Keefe prosperity and financial calamity.  The Jeff Egan glass doors of 1887 were placed on the new house in 1906.  Unfortunately, the O'Keefes lost their Porter Avenue property in 1938, and the doors were removed to Biloxi.  At this time, the O'Keefes vowed to return to Ocean Springs in the future, and reclaim their ancestral property.  In late November 1987, Jeremiah J. O'Keefe III fulfilled the family prophesy when he repurchased the Porter Avenue residence and restored it to its former brilliance.(JXCO, Ms. Land Deed Bk. 71, p. 580-581)

In July 1910, the old wooden boarding house was sold to Samuel Backous (1855-1921), a farmer from Indiana who had recently returned to Ocean Springs from Texarkana, Texas.  Backous and his wife had sold their Texas farm, and planned to reside at Ocean Springs permanently.  In September 1907, they had purchased the NW/4, NW/4 of Section 29, T7S-R8W from E.E. Clements of Buncombe County, North Carolina.(JXCO, Ms. Land Deed Bk. 32, pp. 616-617)

The old boarding house was moved to the Backous place in 1910.  The upper story was removed.  It is speculated that it was transported over the shell roads of Ocean Springs using a method popular at this time:  When one wished to move a house, he called his neighbors together and organized a hauling bee or halerie.  With a dozen yoke or oxen and three wagons, they soon had the house underway with no difficulty.

First they took the beds off two wagons, and in place of the regular coupling poles they used long logs perhaps thirty feet long.  They jacked up the house then ran poles under it.  Next they chained them up to the two front pair of wheels, thus supporting the house, and it was ready to roll.  They hitched five or six yoke of oxen to each of the wagons, and away they went across the open prairie.(Post, 1974, p. )

The Backous family developed their twenty acre site on Old County Road (Government) into a farm, and probably utilized the boarding house as a home.  In July 1921, Samuel Backous died suddenly while working in his field.

The O'Keefe Boarding House is extant serving as the National Registered Home of Mrs. Alvah E. Clark at 2122 Government. 

 

REFERENCES:

Regina Hines, Ocean Springs 1892, (2nd Edition), Lewis Printing Services:  Pascagoula-1991), pp. 67, 69, and 82.

Lauren C. Post, Cajun Sketches, (Louisiana State University Press: Baton Rouge-1974),

Bradford-O'Keefe Funeral Home Brochure, pp. 1-2.

The History of Jackson County, Mississippi, "O'Keefe", (Jackson County Genealogical Society:  Pascagoula-1989), pp.

300-301.

The Jackson County Times"Local and Personal", July 23, 1921.

The Pascagoula Democrat-Star“Ocean Springs Items”, February 4, 1881.

The Pascagoula Democrat-Star, September 20, 1895.

The Pascagoula Democrat-Star, August 14, 1896, p. 3.

The Ocean Springs News"Local News", March 19, 1910.

The Ocean Springs News"Local News", July 23, 1910.

 

Personal Communication:

Mary Ann Lightsey Clark

Regina Hines Ellison