- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 22, 2005

BILOXI, Miss. — Planted in the ground beyond the yellow police tape that surrounds Beauvoir, Jefferson Davis’ historic home, is a sheet of plywood bearing a spray-painted message.

“Halftime Score, Katrina 1, Beauvoir 0,” says the sign, which adds: “But the game is not over yet.”

Although most of the buildings on the property, about 100 yards from the Gulf of Mexico, were demolished by Hurricane Katrina, the house of the only Confederate president remains standing.

It and the adjacent presidential library were severely damaged, but not so badly that they can’t be restored.

Many historic artifacts survived and the house, built 153 years ago on a set of 12-foot-high brick pillars, was spared the massive tidal surge that accompanied Katrina’s 150 mph winds.

Officials at the Dixie landmark vow to rebuild.

“It definitely will be restored,” said Richard V. Forte Sr., chairman of the combined board of directors and trustees of Beauvoir, a French name meaning “beautiful view.”

“We have the original blueprints, we know exactly how to do it,” he said, adding that the most severe damage wreaked by Katrina was to the home’s distinctive front porch.

“It just ripped it,” Mr. Forte said. “The rest of the house is basically sound.”

Damage to the main house was comparatively minor. Just about every other structure on the 51-acre Beauvoir property was battered by the storm.

Large cracked slabs of marble that once adorned the front entrance are strewn along Highway 90, which runs along the coast in front of the house.

Although several of the oak, cedar and magnolia trees on the property remain rooted, the Spanish moss that once hung from them is no more.

The storm destroyed the small cottage on the house’s east side known as the Library Pavilion, where Davis penned “The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government” at the end of his life.

A pile of brick rubble nearby is all that remains of a Confederate veteran’s home built in 1924. Other structures leveled include a small kitchen building behind Davis’ home, a separate house where Beauvoir’s executive director lived on the grounds, and a replica building of a Confederate barracks.

“So we lost a lot of things,” said Mr. Forte.

He said plans are in the works to build replicas and a new house for the director, as well as a replica of the Library Pavilion.

Construction on the replicas will begin after the restoration of Davis’ house and the Presidential Library is complete. In the meantime, Beauvoir officials are scouring the property and surrounding area for artifacts swept away by the wind and seawater.

Beauvoir was built between 1848 and 1852. One of the early owners was novelist Sarah Anne Ellis Dorsey, a devout Southern partisan, who invited Davis to live at the home in the late 1870s to write his memoir.

Davis and his wife, Varina, accepted the offer in 1877 and moved into the Library Pavilion. The couple later arranged to purchase the entire property, but Dorsey died before the sale and left it to them in her will.

Davis died in 1889, and his family eventually sold the property to the Sons of Confederate Veterans. At one time, as many as 2,000 Confederate veterans and their family members lived in barracks built on the property.

Mr. Forte, a lifelong Mississippian who has devoted his life to history, said the main house has survived other major storms, including the onslaught by Hurricane Camille in 1969, but he had feared the worst when Katrina hit.

As he was driving through rubble along Highway 90 three days after the storm, “all I wanted was to see that house still standing and to know that it could be fixed,” he said. “When I saw that, I felt a lot better even though it looked the way it did.”

The house’s listing on the national and state historic registers puts Beauvoir in good financial standing to rebuild, but the restoration projects “will cost a lot of money of course,” Mr. Forte said. “We hope to raise that money one way or another.”


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