Saturday, April 18, 2009

Beauvior is a Beautiful View

When Hurricane Katrina hit Biloxi, Mississippi in 2005, it managed to destroy a good portion of coastline. However, one national treasure was spared, although it was nearly ruined. Beauvoir (pronounced Bov-wah, which means “beautiful view” in French) was the last residence of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Katrina took out five of the seven buildings on the premises, and severely damaged the house. Since that time, restoration has been non-stop. The house was opened for tours last year on Jeff Davis’ birthday. Two of the outbuildings have been duplicated, and the grounds have been cleaned up. Now progress is under way to replace Varina Howell Davis’ rose garden, the vineyard, the presidential library, and a new museum. The interior of the house has been painted by hand (18 months in the process) to replicate its original condition and color. Window panes that were broken in the hurricane have been replaced with historical accuracy as well.

The home was originally built between 1848 and 1852 by James Brown, a wealthy Mississippi planter. With the onslaught of the Civil War, Mr. Brown was forced to evacuate. Frank Johnson bought the property in 1873, but kept it less than two months before selling it to Sarah Dorsey, a wealthy intellectual. When Jefferson Davis visited the estate in the mid-1870’s, he was so impressed that he accepted Sarah’s offer to write his memoirs there. In the late 1800’s following the president’s death, Varina and daughter Winnie moved to New York City, accepting positions to write for Joseph Pulitzer. In 1903, the estate was sold to the Mississippi Division, United Sons of Confederate Veterans, and The Jefferson Davis Soldiers Home opened at Beauvior that year, which provided a residence for Confederate veterans, their wives, widows, servants, and orphans. In 1941, the main house was opened to the public, and in 1956, due to lack of state funding, the Soldiers Home was closed.

The current site encompasses 51 acres of the original estate, and includes the magnificent house, a veteran’s cemetery, and the Tomb of the Unknown Confederate Soldier. Beauvior lives up to its name, with spectacular views of the gulf coast, where progress is currently under way to restore the beach. The estate also brags Oyster Bayou waterfalls, nature trails, and historic gardens.

While visiting Biloxi recently, I made a point to visit Beauvoir, and now I’m glad I did. The tranquility and stunning scenery are awe-inspiring. I can see how President Davis was so inspired by the estate’s beauty that he decided to write his memoirs there.

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