History – Beauvoir was built by James Brown from 1848 to 1852 on the beach in Biloxi, Mississippi. Beauvoir is a classic antebellum mansion adapting the Creole cottage elevation to protect it from hurricanes and storm surges. It was constructed as a vacation home and beach house. Jefferson Davis, the first and only President of the Confederacy, purchased the home and retired there in 1877 where he lived until his death in 1889. His widow, Varina, eventually inherited the property and sold it to the Mississippi Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans after they agreed that the property would be used as a Confederate Veterans Home for all the veterans of the war and their widows. When the last of the soldiers' widows left the home in 1957, the estate then became a memorial to Jefferson Davis and the Confederate Soldiers. To this day it serves to commemorate his legacy and to all of the brave soldiers who lost their lives in the Civil War. Beauvoir is listed on the National Registry as a landmark historic site, which is the highest designation that can be given to a residential property.
Beauvoir was nearly destroyed by the 24 foot storm surge of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Volunteers in the post-Katrina clean up cataloged nearly 1000 building parts believed to have been recovered from the debris field which formerly belonged to the mansion. Lathan carefully fit each piece of this puzzle back together so that each component of the mansion was accurately restored as possible.
Lathan's Contributions: Lathan was awarded a contract for the total restoration, from recreation of the brick foundations and piers, all of the interior plaster and finishes, as well as the new slate roof. Elements of the home which were damaged and unable to return to their oritinal position (broken floor joists, etc.) were cut down to replace smaller elements and still able to remain in the home. Lathan estimates over 95% of the remaining wood in the home is original, though much of it has been re-positioned.
The original slates were provided by Penrhyn quarry in Wales, United Kingdom according to the builder's records from 1849. These slates were originally imported through New Orleans and Lathan was able to attain slates from the same quarry in the United Kingson, which is still in business nearly 200 years later. The brick piers were constructed from bricks cast in a kiln in Madison, Mississippi which webt out of business in the late 1870's. Lathan was able to locate and salvage bricks from this kiln which has been out of business of over 125 years.
Lathan's careful detail and dedication to authentic replication and restoration of this mansion restored this masterpiece landmark of antebellum construction to its original beauty. The museum's curator has said "If Jefferson Davis walked back through the front door today, he would recognize everything as it was." The mansion was reopened on June 3, 2008, also Jefferson Davis' 200th Birthday, to it's fully resorted and historically original state.