Sunday, December 20, 2009

Beauvoir Restored

Davis' 'beautiful view' restored

A recent trip to Biloxi, Miss., permits one to happily report that Jefferson Davis' home, Beauvoir, has returned to its former self after suffering severe damage from Hurricane Katrina three years ago.

Although most post-Katrina media attention focused on New Orleans, the Gulf Coast of Mississippi also was hard hit. Small towns such as Pass Christian and Waveland were virtually destroyed. And Beauvoir took a direct hit, being just across the highway from the Gulf.

Davis, the only president of the Confederate States of America, received the home as a gift from an old friend, Sarah Dorsey, and moved into one of the wood and stucco outbuildings formerly used as a school and office after the war.

While Davis' wife, Varina, was not anxious to move to Beauvoir, eventually she acceded to Davis' wishes and joined him there to help him write his memoirs. He insisted on paying a token monthly rent of $50 to Dorsey, and upon her death the home was left to him in her will.

It is a Greek revival house whose strength of construction comes from its cypress wood along with long-leaf heart pine. The original roof was slate imported from Wales.

In the years since Katrina, workers, volunteers and $4 million in repairs have left the main house (the name means "beautiful view") and front grounds looking much like they used to. Work is beginning on the new library, which was destroyed, water reaching almost to the second story, where the books and many other artifacts were located. Only about 20 percent of the contents could be found or saved.

The large green shutters on the windows only partially protected them, and a firm specializing in accurate renovation of antique properties has reproduced many of the glass panes, bubbles and ripples included. The original wooden window frames and mullions remain; only the glass was replaced.

The front door has been replaced, with its two long glass panels bearing an acid-etched design that looks like lace curtains in the glass.

The interior of the house has been meticulously restored.

After painstakingly removing several layers of paint on the beautiful entry hall ceiling and walls - it was done in the trompe l'oeil technique favored at the time - restorers were able to match the paint exactly.

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