Saturday, February 16, 2008

The bicentennial observance of the birth of Confederate President Jefferson F. Davis will take place throughout this year, with the highlight being the reopening of Beauvoir, his final home, in Gulfport, Miss., on June 3.

The magnificent Southern shrine, which survived a pre-emptive strike by Hurricane Camille in 1969, was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The cost of the restoration is expected to exceed $4.1 million for the house alone; the total restoration will run about $20 million, and donations are still being accepted.

The reopening ceremonies will feature a keynote address by Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour.

Yesterday, Alabama was scheduled to hold one of the first celebrations of the year, on the west portico of the Alabama Capitol, where Davis was inaugurated. Bertram Hayes-Davis, great-great-grandson of the Confederate president and chairman of the bicentennial committee, was to place his hand on a Bible held by a descendant of Howell Cobb, president of the Confederate Congress under Davis.

Another event will take place on April 27 in Ridgefield, Clark County, Washington, with the dedication of Jefferson Davis Park, which will be home to the Vancouver Jefferson Davis highway marker. It was the final commemorative highway marker presented to the citizens of Washington state on June 18, 1939, marking the end point of the Jefferson Davis Highway. It originally sat near the Vancouver, Canada, line and was moved several times.

On the weekend of May 31 through June 1, the Davis Family Reunion will be held at Rosemont Plantation in Woodville, Miss., along with a re-enactment of Davis’ inauguration as president of the Confederacy.

Events will be held throughout the Southern states to mark the bicentennial of Davis’ birth on June 3, 1808, in Fairview, Ky. He lived there the first few years of his life before his family moved to Wilkinson County in Mississippi. He returned to the Bluegrass State to attend Transylvania College in Lexington before receiving an appointment to West Point, graduating in 1828 at age 20. Kentucky’s celebration will take place June 6 through 8 at the Davis Obelisk in Fairview.

The reopening of Beauvoir will be the obvious highlight of the year’s festivities. After the devastation of the hurricane, the exterior of the mansion has been rebuilt to 1852 standards, according to Mr. Hayes-Davis. It has “all of the external framing done — the windows, doors, all done to the way it was. It’s a brand-new 1852 house,” Mr. Hayes-Davis said recently.

Architects and conservators came into the demolished structure and scraped down walls and frames to be able to replicate the exact colors in which it had been painted.

Amazingly, most of the original shutters were intact and could be reused with some minor repairs.

The interior still will have to be redone, according to Mr. Hayes-Davis, and that is anticipated to take another two to three years. However, the restored Beauvoir is “a stronger entire house, with steel cables running from the floor and foundation up to the roof,” he said. The rehabilitators used the basic floor plans of original owner James Brown to assure authenticity in the rebuilding process, and it will remain the oldest house on the Gulf Coast.

Several other buildings on the premises were destroyed and are not scheduled to be rebuilt. The presidential library, for instance, is in what is now considered the high water/flood area. An entirely new structure will be built 150 feet farther west, with 8-foot concrete piers supporting it above the ground.

Mr. Hayes-Davis said many of the furnishings and artifacts were lost in the storm’s surge and winds and have yet to be replaced. Some of the furnishings were spared; with water a foot deep, they floated within the destroyed walls, and some could be salvaged.

Negotiations are under way for production of a 4½-hour documentary on Davis’ life, to be released in the fall.

The nationwide events are being led by members of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of Confederate Veterans along with local heritage organizations, which also have offered their support to the bicentennial effort.

Martha M. Boltz, a frequent contributor to the Civil War page, is a member of the Montgomery County Civil War Round Table.

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