O'Keefe Family

The O’Keefe Family

The Great Potato Famine of 1845-1850 brought death and misery to millions of impoverished Irish Roman Catholics.  One of the positive actions of this near 19th Century genocide was the immigration and subsequent habitation of Edward “Ned” Keefe (1815-1874), later O’Keefe, a native of Bincher Parish, County Tipperary, Ireland to Ocean Springs, Mississippi in the mid-1850s.  Here a middle-aged Ned O’Keefe and spouse, Mary Tracy (1832-1895), another Irish expatriate, commenced an Irish-American family that remains a viable part of Ocean Springs, Biloxi and the entire Mississippi Gulf Coast.(Lepre, 1991, p. 165)

The Ned O’Keefe family chronology at Ocean Springs is one of success.  Determined toil, perseverance, and good business acumen in an environment probably untarnished with Hibernian prejudice and because of its small size, predominantly Catholic society, and high ratio of immigrants to indigenous people, allowed Edward "Ned" O’Keefe to achieve his prosperity, primarily as a teamster and drayage contractor.  To further ameliorate the local situation, there were already several other Irish families at Ocean Springs, Mississippi: the Ames, Colligans, Egans, Shanahans, and Sodens.

The Primal Cottage

The first known property acquisition at Ocean Springs by Edward “Ned” O’Keefe, the family progenitor, occurred in February 1859, when he paid Andrew F. Ramsay $100 for Lot 5-Block 26 (Culmseig Map of 1854).  This ground is situated on the northeast corner of Rayburn and Porter.  It is assumed that the first O’Keefe domicile was erected here.  O’Keefe purchased Lot 4- Block 26, which was contiguous and north of Lot 5, in October 1867 from George A. Cox (1811-1887).  It is interesting to note that Margaret B. Foy (d. 1892), also from Ireland, lived just east of the O’Keefe family.  She settled here in February 1855, on the northwest corner of Porter and Jackson.  Her nephew, James Lynch (1852-1935), was legated her two-story home and subsequently operated a store and the renown Lynch Academy, which the J.J. O’Keefe children attended for some of their basic education.(Jackson County, Ms. Land Deed Bk. Bk. 7, p. 272 and Bk. 1, pp. 184-185 and Ellison, 1991, p. 35)

The O’Keefe lots on the northeast corner of Rayburn and Porter were sold to Eda Miller, wife of John Voght Miller, in December 1883, for $400 and a note of $50.(Jackson County, Ms. Land Deed Bk. 7, p. 272)

THE J. O’KEEFE LIVERY STABLE-Situated on the north side of Porter Street between Jackson Avenue and Washington Avenue, the O’Keefe Livery Stable served the Jeremiah J. ‘Jerry’ O’Keefe family and Ocean Springs for many years as a venue for drayage and transportation services.  The business commenced after the War of the Rebellion by Edward ‘Ned’ O’Keefe (1815-1874), an Irish immigrant.  After Ned’s demise, Jerry O’Keefe (1860-1911), his only son, continued in the livery and drayage business eventually becoming the town’s undertaker probably in the early 1890s.  By 1926, the O’Keefe family had let the building to William F. ‘Willy’ Dale (1899-1990).   Here he commenced the Dale Motor Company.  Willy repaired motorcars and sold gasoline and petroleum products here for many years.  The building is extant and is use by the Bradford-O’Keefe Funeral Homes.

Civil War

After returning to Ocean Springs from the Civil War in which he served with Company A-Live Oak Rifles of the 3rd Mississippi Regiment, Ned O'Keefe became a teamster and started a livery business.  He supplied transportation service to the multitude of visitors who arrived at Ocean Springs by steam packet and later railroad train.  When people passed on, his carriages were used to transport their bodies to the local cemetery, as well as their mourners.  Before his demise in 1874, Ned O'Keefe and his wife had two children: Jeremiah ‘Jerry’ Joseph O’Keefe (1860-1911) and Mary Helen O’Keefe (1863-1878).(Howell, 1991, p. 440 and p. 555)  

1878 Yellow Fever

The 1878 Epidemic started at New Orleans in July and took nearly four months to run its course through the Mississippi and Ohio River Valleys.  When it was over, the nation recorded more than 100,000 cases of fever and a mortality rate estimated as high as 20,000 people.  Particularly hard hit were the cities of Memphis (approximately 6,000 deaths), New Orleans (between 4,000 and 5,000 deaths), and Vicksburg where about 1,000 victims fell to the pestilence.   Fever cases and deaths occurred as far north as St. Louis on the Mississippi River and Louisville, Kentucky and Gallipolis, Ohio on the Ohio River.  The economic impact to the nation was over $100,000,000 due to the suspension of industry and trade, lost wages, medical attendance, and relief for the thousands of sick and unemployed.  It is estimated that New Orleans lost $15,000,000 during the crisis.     

By late September 1878, health conditions in Mississippi had gotten so grave that Governor John M. Stone made a proclamation.  Part of which read as follows:  "I, J.M. Stone, Governor of the State of Mississippi, do recommend that on Friday, the 30th day of September, all Christian people throughout the State repair to their respective places of worship and offer up their united petition in prayer to God, that He will withdraw from our people this terrible affliction, and that He, in His infinite goodness and mercy, will restore them to health and bring peace to their mourning households".

Since the yellow fever quarantine had shut off the people of Ocean Springs from the outside world, conditions were very difficult.  The Ocean Springs Relief Society was formed in early September 1878, to assist those in need.  H.H. Minor Sr. (1837-1884) was president, Robert A. Van Cleave (1840-1908)-treasurer, and J.M. Ames, secretary.  The society collected $767.25 with the Howard Association of New Orleans, the citizens of Galveston, Texas, and the Moss Point Relief Committee being the largest contributors.    

There were approximately one hundred seventy-five cases of yellow fever recorded at Ocean Springs from the nearly six hundred people believed to have been here at the time.  From this population about thirty deaths were recorded.  Many were small children and unfortunately Mary Helen O'Keefe (1863-1878) died from the fever at Ocean Springs on September 5, 1878.  Miss O'Keefe was probably buried at the Evergreen Cemetery in Ocean Springs.

O’Keefe Boarding House plat-The O'Keefe Boarding House was located on the northeast corner of Jackson Avenue and Porter Street in Lot 6 of Block 27 of the Culmseig Map (1854) of Ocean Springs.   The structure was a two-story, wood framed edifice with 2824 square feet of living area under roof.  There was a lower and upper gallery on the south and west side of the building of 1710 square feet.  The dining room was attached to the main building and had an area of 874 square feet.  The kitchen appears to have been detached and to the north of the building but was connected by a covered breezeway. The lower floor of the structure was moved to 2122 Government Street in 1910, after the edifice present today, was erected in 1909 by Jeremiah J. O’Keefe (1860-1911) as his family home.  Today the former O’Keefe-Dale building at 911 Porter is utilized as the Bradford-O’Keefe Funeral Home.

O’Keefe Boarding House

In February 1881, Mary Tracy O'Keefe commenced her boarding house and store operations on the northeast corner of Jackson Avenue and Porter Street at Ocean Springs.  The structure was an attractive and hospitable inn.  It is very likely that the O’Keefe boarding house had a strong Irish flavor and catered to Hibernian families from New Orleans and Irish born railroad workers. (The Pascagoula Democrat-Star, February 4, 1881, p. 3)

In January 1891, when Alfred E. Lewis was erecting the Artesian House, a two-story edifice on Jackson Avenue and diagonally opposite the O’Keefe place, Jerry O’Keefe’s boarding house was referred to a Jerry O’Keefe’s Hotel.(The Biloxi Herald, January 10, 1891, p. 4)

The O’Keefe boarding house property was purchased by, Ned O'Keefe, in two parcels.  The first lot was bought from Enoch N. Ramsay (1832-1916), in April 1867, and described as Lot 6 of Block 27 (Culmseig Map of Ocean Springs) and comprised 52 feet on Jackson and 200 feet on Porter.  In August of the same year, Ned Keith acquired Lot 5 of Block 27 (Culmseig Map of Ocean Springs) from George A. Cox (1811-1887).  This tract became the site of his livery stable.(The Pascagoula Democrat-Star, February 4, 1881, p. 3 and JXCO, Ms. Land Deed Bk. 62, p. 475 and Bk. 62, p. 476)

Not all boarders in O’Keefe’s inn were Irish.  In August 1896, the Pascagoula Democrat-Star reported that one Alphonse Gauthreaux of Donaldsonville, Louisiana "beat his board, decamped, stole a pocket book containing $5.00 and prayer beads, shoes and some clothes....whereabouts unknown".(The Pascagoula Democrat-Star, August 14, 1896, p. 3)

In 1895, the O'Keefe family was tragically struck by fire on two occasions.  The most devastating occurrence was in February when Mrs. Mary O'Keefe's gown caught fire from the hearth and she died as the result of her burns.  Later in the fall of the same year, the kitchen was badly gutted by a fire caused by a defective flue.  Jerry O'Keefe gave a generous donation to the fire department which was very effective since this was the first fire fought with the assist of fifteen new fire wells which provided ample water.(The Daily Picayune, February 19, 1895, p. 9 and The Pascagoula Democrat-StarSeptember 20, 1895)

O’Keefe Children-Although born at New Orleans, the children of Jeremiah J. O’Keefe (1860-1911) and Alice Cahill O’Keefe (1864-1921) were reared at present day 911 Porter Street.  John A.W. O’Keefe was a leader of men and made his career in public service and the military.  Mary C. O’Keefe was an outstanding educator and is memorialized with our Mary C. O’Keefe Arts and Cultural Center on Government Street.  Jeremiah J. “Ben” O’Keefe II was a funeral home proprietor at Biloxi and Ocean Springs.  J.H. ‘Jody’ O’Keefe was a sugar chemist and lost his life in a diving accident while working in Cuba.  L-R: Jeremiah J. ‘Ben’ O’Keefe (1894-1954); Joseph H. “Jody” O’Keefe (1897-1932); Mary Cahill O’Keefe (1893-1981); and John A.W. O’Keefe (1891-19).

The Jeremiah J. O’Keefe Family

Jeremiah Joseph O’Keefe(1860-1911), called Jerry, was born at Ocean Springs on February 5, 1860.  He met his future wife, Alice Cahill (1864-1921), a New Orleanian, whose family came to Ocean Springs for a visit and stayed at the O’Keefe lodge on Porter Street.  The couple wedded in the Crescent City at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church on April 3, 1888. Their children all born in the Crescent City were: Edward J. O’Keefe (1889-1890), John W. A. O’Keefe (1891-1985), Mary Cahill O’Keefe (1893-1981); Jeremiah J. “Ben” O’Keefe II (1894-1954), and Joseph H. “Jodie” O’Keefe (1897-1932).(NOLA, MRB 13, p. 105, The Daily Picayune,  April 1, 1888, p. 9 and The History of Jackson County, Miss., 1989, pp. 301-302) 

Alice Cahill was born at New Orleans into an Irish immigrant family. Her parents, Thomas Cahill (1819-1865) and Mary Britton (1832-1906), an 1852 Irish immigrant, were also the parents of: Margaret Cahill Connors (1856-1931) m. Michael Connors; John L. Cahill (1858-1926) m. Margaret Orrell (1855-1958); and Ellen Cahill Hill (1862-1940) m. Stephen J. Hill (1861-1935).

Mary Britton Cahill expired on April 9, 1906 at 2822 Palmyra Street at New Orleans.(The Daily Picayune, April 12, 1906, p.  7)

Margaret Cahill Connors died at the O’Keefe home at Ocean Springs on January 28, 1931.  Her funeral was held at St. Alphonsus Catholic Church and transported to St. Patrick No. II Cemetery in the Crescent City for internment.  (The Times-Picayune, January 29, 1931, p. 2)

Ellen Cahill Hill (1862-1940) passed on July 9, 1940 in New Orleans.  She had married Stephen J. Hill who expired at 3117 Jena Street in December 1935.  They were the parents of Thomas J. Hill Jr.; Joseph S. Hill; Mary Hill Vogt; and Mrs. Charles R. Brennan.  Her son, Thomas J. Hill Jr. once served as the Clerk of the City Commission Council of New Orleans.(The Times-Picayune, December 14, 1935, p. 2 and July 9, 1940, p. 2)

After Mrs. Ned O'Keefe's demise in February 1895, Alice Cahill O'Keefe in addition to rearing her children: Edward Joseph O’Keefe (1889-1890); John Aloysius William O’Keefe (1891-1985) m. Amelia Castenara (1905-2000); Mary Cahill O' Keefe (1893-1981); Jeremiah Joseph ‘Ben’ O’Keefe II (1895-1954) m. Teresa “Tess” Josephine Slattery (1894-1995); and Joseph Hyacinth (Jodie) (1897-1932), ran the family boarding business on Porter Street.  Her husband, Jerry, had already expanded his undertaking service to create the O'Keefe Funeral Service in 1892.

Although born at New Orleans, the children of Jeremiah J. O’Keefe (1860-1911) and Alice Cahill O’Keefe (1864-1921) were reared at present day 911 Porter Street.  Edward Joseph O’Keefe died in his infancy; John A.W. O’Keefe was a leader of men and made his career in public service and the military.  Mary C. O’Keefe was an outstanding educator and is memorialized with our Mary C. O’Keefe Arts and Cultural Center on Government Street.  J.J. ‘Ben’ O’Keefe II was a funeral home proprietor at Biloxi and Ocean Springs.  J.H. ‘Jody’ O’Keefe was an Ocean Springs businessman and sugar chemist and lost his life in a diving accident while working in Cuba. 

Politically, Jerry O'Keefe was elected the first Alderman from Ward 2 in 1892, in the newly incorporated town of Ocean Springs, and served in that office for two years.  He also was a road overseer in Jackson County Beat Four being in charge of Jackson Avenue from the Front Beach to O'Keefe’s Corner on Porter Street and Jackson Avenue and from O'Keefe’s Corner to the Illing Place on Washington Avenue.(Ellison, 1991, pp. 5-7)

318 Jackson Avenue

The 1885 O’Keefe Castle-Seven Gables

The “O’Keefe Castle” also known as the O'Keefe-Saxon House and 'Seven Gables' at present day 318 Jackson Avenue was erected by Jeremiah J. O’Keefe (1860-1911), circa 1885, on a lot acquired from Kate Peniston M. Jourdan (d. 1943) and Augusta Sophia M. Jourdan (1858-1952) of New Orleans.  In 1855, the Jourdan-McGehee families had become involved in the hostelry business at Ocean Springs as they owned the Seashore House on Jackson Avenue and Front Beach, opposite the Ocean Springs Hotel.(Jackson Co., Mississippi Land Deed Bk. 11, pp. 410-412 and Bellande, 1994, p. 25)

The spinster Jourdan sisters were the daughters of Augustus W. Jourdan (d. 1860) and Mary Josephine McGehee (1837-1878).  Mr. Jourdan was an attorney and in the hierarchy of the Louisiana Democratic party.  There is some degree of certitude that he was appointed by Louisiana’s governor to have the Louisiana’s Napoleonic Code modified to concur more readily with the English law of other states.(The Times-Picayune, February 24, 1949, p. 13)

Augusta and Kate Jourdan were aristocratic women of New Orleans.  Augusta was a gifted writer and had been an honors graduate of the Peabody Normal Seminary in the Crescent City.  When she graduated in July 1878, she gave dissertations in Latin and French.  She was a member of the Quarante Club, one of the oldest and most prestigious Women’s literary organizations in America.(The Daily Picayune, July 7, 1878, p. 15, The Daily City Item, July 14, 1878, p. 2 and The Times-Picayune, February 24, 1949, p. 13)  

In the early years of the 20th century, Augusta and Kate Jourdan settled in the Saint-Mande district of Paris.  They traveled to Egypt from where Augusta wrote essays of their adventures, which were published in The Daily Picayune in June 1908.  Both woman died in France and their corporal remains were interred in the Metairie Cemetery with their parents.(The Daily Picayune, June 21 and June 228, 1908 and The Times-Picayune, February 24, 1949, p. 13 and November 7, 1952, p. 2)

Miss Mary C. O’Keefe acquired this beautiful home from her siblings in July 1930.  It was sold to Cecile Brodeur Saxon (1893-1980), by Mary C. O’Keefe in August 1933.  Mrs. Saxon was the mother of Rose Annette Saxon (1924-1998) who in March 1944 married Miss O'Keefe's nephew, Lt. Jeremiah J. O'Keefe III (b. 1923), a young USMCR fighter pilot, at Camp Pendleton, Ocean Side, California.(Jackson Co., Mississippi Land Deed Bk. 63 p. 524-525 and Deed Bk. 66, pp. 46-48 and The Daily Herald, March 13, 1944, p. 7)

Miss Mary C. O’Keefe’s great niece, Susan M. O’Keefe Snyder (b. 1952) and her spouse, Christopher T. Snyder, acquired the “O’Keefe Castle” in March 1982.  In early 1997, Paul Campbell, general contractor, and Carl Germany, architect, were hired by the Snyders to undertake a major interior renovation of their historic home.  With the heavens watching and the luck of the Irush, the Snyder home was spared the wrath of Karina in August 2005.(Jackson Co., Mississippi Land Deed Bk. 730, p. 116)

The 1909 Neoclassical Mansion [circa 1940]

It is believed that the 1909 Jeremiah J. O’Keefe home at present day 911 Porter was modeled on that of the Dr. Case-H.F. Russell edifice, which stood on the southwest corner of Washington Avenue and Porter Street until it was demolished in the 1930s.(The Jackson County Times, September 29, 1934 and J.K. Lemon, 1993) 

In 1909, Jerry O'Keefe built a large family home behind the O’Keefe boarding house.  This 2 1/2 story mansion of Beaux-Arts "polite" design, Corinthian columns, and wide galleries has become an iconic symbol of the O'Keefe family prosperity and financial calamity.  Built on the colonial style with massive pillars, at a cost approaching $10,000, the Jerry O’Keefe mansion was lauded in 1909, as a handsome addition to the numerous beautiful edifices situated in Ocean Springs.(The Ocean Springs News, November 27, 1909, p. 1) 

In 1964, Miss Mary Cahill O’Keefe who at this time was domiciled on Porter Street two houses east of her childhood home related her memories of the 1909 O’Keefe home place as follows:  “as having beautiful lawns, and tennis courts and as the scene of many gay young parties.  With the four children of Jeremiah [O’Keefe] the house was filled with young people and the tennis courts were a popular place.  The house was originally surrounded by a picket fence and with wonderful oak trees and green lawns, the marvelously attractive Colonial house and all, it was a real beauty spot.”(The Ocean Springs News, August 6, 1964, p. 3)

Boarding House

In 1909-1910, with the new O’Keefe family residence completed on West Porter, the old, wooden, O’Keefe boarding house was sold in July 1910 to Samuel Backous (1855-1921), a farmer from Indiana, who had recently returned to Ocean Springs from Texarkana, Texas.  Mr. Backous and his wife had sold their Texas farm, and planned to reside at Ocean Springs permanently.  In September 1907, they had purchased the NW/4, NW/4 of Section 29, T7S-R8W from E.E. Clements of Buncombe County, North Carolina.(Jackson Co., Mississippi Land Deed Bk. 32, pp. 616-617 and The Ocean Springs News, July 23, 1910)  

The O’Keefe boarding house was moved to the Backous place in 1910.  The upper story was removed.  It is speculated that it was transported over the shell roads of Ocean Springs using a method popular at this time:  When one wished to move a house, he called his neighbors together and organized a hauling bee or halerie.  With a dozen yoke or oxen and three wagons, they soon had the house underway with no difficulty.  First they took the beds off two wagons, and in place of the regular coupling poles they used long logs perhaps thirty feet long.  They jacked up the house then ran poles under it.  Next they chained them up to the two front pair of wheels, thus supporting the house, and it was ready to roll.  They hitched five or six yoke of oxen to each of the wagons, and away they went across the open prairie.(Post, 1974, p. )

The Backous family developed their twenty-acre site on Old County Road, now Government Street, into a farm and pecan orchard, and probably utilized the boarding house as a home.  Only the first floor of the old structure was relocated to present day 2122 Government Street where it became the residence of Mary Anne Lightsey Clark, the widow of Alvah Clark (1918-1990).  The Clark home was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987, as an individual listing. It remains in the Clark family.(Bellande, 1994, p. 65 and Kemp Associates Ltd., 1996, p. 15)

William F. 'Willy' Dale (1899-1990)-Willy Dale has been described as a “hard working, good businessman and mechanical wizard”.  He was a passionate fisherman and speedboat racer.  Here circa 1927, Willy is shown with two drum that he caught in Biloxi Bay near Gulf Hills.[Courtesy of H. Randy Randazzo-Arlington, Virginia]

Willy Dale

Unfortunately, what has become Ocean Springs’  “architectural jewel”, the former 1909, Jeremiah J. O’Keefe (1860-1911) home at present day 911 Porter Street was lost by his heirs during the Great Depression, when it was repossessed in December 1938, by the Home Owners Loan Corporation, a federal government corporation.  The family had a mortgage balance of $5612.17 on their prized residence, when it was sold by this governmental agency to William F. Dale in December 1939, for $3850.(Jackson Co., Mississippi Land Deed Bk. 71, pp. 580-581 and Bk. 74, pp. 158-160)

William Frederic Dale (1899-1990) was born March 4, 1899, at Ocean Springs.  He was known in the community as Willy Dale.  His parents were George William Dale (1872-1953) and Harriet ‘Hattie’ Rose Seymour (1876-1956), the daughter of Narcisse Seymour (1849-1931) and Carolyn V. Krohn (1847-1895).  They were married on December 9, 1897 at the St. Alphonsus Catholic Church.  George W. Dale was baptized into the Roman Catholic Church on June 27, 1897, several months before his marriage to Miss Seymour.(Lepre, 1991, p. 78)

Mechanical genius

As a young man Willy Dale learned to repair automobiles.  In May 1926, he went into business as the Dale Motor Company.  He opened a 3500 square-foot garage on West Porter, in a structure, which was once the locus of the J.J. O’Keefe Livery Stable.  Dale’s garage was of the most modern on the entire coast.  Dale's machines and tools were mostly electrically powered, state of the art for the period.  Among his inventory of apparatuses were: the electrical valve resurfacing and reseating tool; electrical riveting; counter-sinking machine for relining brakes; cylinder hones; aligning gauges for front wheels; acetylene welding and cutting torch; weaver wrecker for hauling in disabled vehicles; air pump; Weaver tire change stand; Humpy-Cooper re-babbiting machines and other appurtenances applicable to automobile repair.  At this time Willy Dale was the local Chevrolet dealer.  He also sold Texaco gasoline, oil, and greases and his Porter Street auto service business.(The Jackson County Times, June 12, 1926)

It appears that Willy Dale must have initially rented the “O’Keefe Livery Stable Lot”, east of the O’Keefe home on West Porter because in August 1927, he obtained a lease from the O’Keefe family on the tract where he operated his garage and sold Texaco products.  Mr. Dale later vended Shell gasoline here.(Jackson Co., Mississippi Land Deed Bk. 70, pp. 196-200)

Motorboat Racing

Willy Dale was a passionate man and motorboat racing and fishing were his salient avocations.  His Ocean Wave and Ocean Kid were the only competitive speedboats at Ocean Springs.  These watercraft were powered by a Lockwood Motor, since Willy’s Dale Motor Company was the agent for Johnson and Lockwood outboard motors.  Willy raced his boats very successfully in the late 1920s at most of the Gulf Coast regattas as this was a very popular sporting event at this time. 

During the W.F. Dale ownership from 1939 to 1986, the O’Keefe home at 911 Porter Street was used primarily as a restaurant and lounge although it was once leased to Perkinston Junior College.  In the spring of 1941, Willy Dale hired Clarence Kornman (1890-1973) of Biloxi to move the former O'Keefe residence back 32 feet from its former location.  Mr. Dale planned to convert the structure into an apartment house with additional space for a restaurant and another business.(The Daily Herald, March 3, 1941, p. 6)

On August 31, 1959, college classes began in the former O’Keefe home and Dale’s Restaurant.  The regional junior college offered seventeen evening classes and one morning class in practical nursing, which included a simulated twelve-bed hospital.  Subjects available for prospective scholars to enroll in the evening curriculum were: English, English literature, algebra, trigonometry; general business, accounting; shorthand, general psychology; sociology, American government, world history, personal health, speech, music appreciation and introduction to teaching.  Admission to the Perkinston classes was open to high school graduates or mature individuals demonstrating the ability to utilize the material offered by the lecturer.(The Ocean Springs News, May 27, 1959, p. 1 and August 27, 1959, p. 1)   

One of the great success stories of Ocean Springs was the return of the O’Keefe family residence on Porter Street to the family.  When they lost it in the late 1930s, the J.J. ‘Ben’ O’Keefe Jr. family relocated to Biloxi and resided on Fayard Street behind the O’Keefe Funeral Parlor at 601 West Howard Avenue.  A young Jeremiah J. “Jerry” O’Keefe III (b. 1923) and his sister, Alice O’Keefe Sebastian (1922-2011), vowed that someday, they would reclaim their former home in Ocean Springs.(Alice O’Keefe Sebastian, September 13, 1999 and The Ocean Springs Record, July 3, 1986, p. 2, July 10, 1986, p. 2, and December 3, 1987, p. 1)  

This was accomplished in July 1986, when the W.F. Dale family sold the O’Keefe mansion to Gulf National Life, an O’Keefe family corporation.  The O’Keefe family held a ‘homecoming party’ and celebrated with music, food and friends at their ‘new home’ in Ocean Springs on July 2, 1986.  At the O’Keefe fete long time owner, Willy Dale, commented in regards to his almost fifty year ownership of the property: “The first day was fun and the last day was fun.”  J.J. ‘Jerry’ O’Keefe III responded:  “Mr. Dale has taken real good care of this property for us.”(Jackson Co., Mississippi Land Deed Bk. 863, p. 159 and The Sun Herald, July 3, 1986, p. A-1)

The Egan Doors-were a wedding gift to Jerry O’Keefe (1860-1911) from Jefferson Davis Egan (1864-1907), his childhood friend.  From 1938 until 1971, the O’Keefe cut-glass doors remained at Ocean Springs in Miss Mary C. O’Keefe’s cottage, which was located on West Porter between Dale’s Garage and the W.S. Van Cleave Store, now the locus of Five Seasons, a health store.  After Miss O’Keefe’s domicile was demolished to erect the Villa Maria in the early 1970s, the doors were stored in Biloxi.  They were installed on the O’Keefe mansion during its restoration, which was completed in December 1987.

An adjunct to this tale is that of the fabulous, cut-glass portals on the O’Keefe mansion that had been constructed by Jefferson Davis Egan (1864-1907), the son of Irish immigrants John J. Egan (1827-1875) and Julia Egan (1833-1907), as a wedding gift for his childhood friend, Jerry O’Keefe (1860-1911).  From 1938 until 1971, the O’Keefe cut-glass doors remained at Ocean Springs in Miss Mary C. O’Keefe’s cottage, which was located on West Porter between Dale’s Garage and the W.S. Van Cleave Store, now the locus of Five Seasons, a health store.  After Miss O’Keefe’s domicile was demolished to erect the Villa Maria in the early 1970s, the doors were stored in Biloxi.  They were installed on the O’Keefe mansion during its restoration, which was completed in December 1987.(Ellison, 1991, p. 67, Alice O’Keefe Sebastian, September 13, 1999 and The Ocean Springs Record, December 3, 1987, p. 1)

The 1909 J.J. O’Keefe home on Porter Street was restored under the supervision of Lloyd J. Vogt (1941-2002), a Biloxi and New Orleans architect, and Maria C. Bargas, architect at Ocean Springs, worked on the historical certification for the structure’s placement on the National Register of Historic Places.  It was opened in early December 1987, after a $1 million dollar restoration.  The edifice became the funeral parlor for Bradford-O’Keefe Funeral Home, which it has continued to do so to the present day.(The Sun Herald, July 3, 1986, p. A-1and The Ocean Springs Record, December 3, 1987, p. 1)

The Entrepreneurial O’Keefe Brothers

At Ocean Springs, from about 1913 and throughout the 1920s, the O’Keefe Brothers, John A.W. O’Keefe, J.J. ‘Ben’ O’Keefe II, and J.H. ‘Jodie’ O’Keefe, continued aggressively in their entrepreneurial projects.  In addition to the funeral parlor, they were involved in a Ford automobile dealership, livery and drayage, coal delivery, construction materials, gasoline retailing, and a taxi and limousine service. 

‘White House’ Tract

The locus of many of the O’Keefe Brothers commercial activities in Ocean Springs were centered on their valuable commercial lot situated on the southeast corner of Washington Avenue and Robinson Street opposite the L&N Depot.  In February 1906, Jeremiah J. ‘Jerry’ O’Keefe (1860-1911), their father, acquired the ‘White House’ property from Mary Artemise Rodriguez Marie (1840-1912), the widow of Antonio Marie (1832-1885), a Spanish, immigrant mariner and pioneer settler of Bayou Puerto, now Gulf Hills.  The consideration was $1100 for the tract which had one hundred-seventy feet on Robinson Street between Cash Alley and Washington Avenue and ran south two hundred twenty-five feet.(Jackson Co., Mississippi Land Deed Bk. 35, p. 642)

The White House tract was located just east of the Commercial Hotel, which was situated on the southeast corner of Washington Avenue and Robinson Street.  It had been erected by R obert A. VanCleave (1840-1908) in 1880.  This event was noted in the Pascagoula newspaper as: Van Cleave's new hotel on the depot grounds is going steadily forward to a speedy completion and gives employment to a number of workmen.  He seems to believe in the right way of doing things - that is employing home folks when he has work to be done.(The Pascagoula Democrat-StarJanuary 16, 1880, p. 3)

The first person to develop the White House tract was Charles Ernest Schmidt (1851-1886) and Laura Coyle Schmidt (1857-1931), his spouse.  In February and August 1877, they acquired this land from E.W. and Mary T. Clark of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Charles E. Schmidt was born in New Orleans of Ernst Schmidt and Euphrosine Schoser, immigrants from Baden, German.  Charles E. Schmidt came to Ocean Springs and met Laura Coyle, the daughter of an immigrant, Menorcan father, Francisco Coyle (1813-1891) and Magdalene Ougatte Pons (1813-1904).  They married in October 1874 at St. Alphonsus Catholic Church.  Their son, Francis Ernest Schmidt (1877-1954), later owned a bakery on Washington Avenue from 1901-1938, and served as Ward One Alderman (1915-1922 and 1925-1929) and Mayor of Ocean Springs from 1935-1938.  A son of F.E. Schmidt, Charles Ernest Schmidt (1904-1988), would write Ocean Springs French Beachhead (1972), the first and only comprehensive history of the city, and also serve as Mayor (1961-1965).  Two other sons, Frank O. Schmidt (1902-1975) and Harry J. Schmidt (1905-1996) would become prominent physicians on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.(Jackson County, Ms. Land Deed Bk. 3, pp. 103-106 and Lepre, 1991, p. 303)

The journal du jour, The Pascagoula Democrat-Star, had the following items published between 1879 and 1881 concerning the Schmidt’s White House: Mr. Charles E. Schmidt, commonly called "Handsome Charlie" has opened a retail family grocery store and says he will sell goods as cheap as anybody.  Schmidt keeps almost everything good to eat in his store and at his other establishment (White House) everything good to drink.(November 7, 1879).

When you go to Ocean Springs call at the White House and see Charlie and Frank.(November 7, 1879).

Last Saturday in the early evening, the kitchen of the White House caught fire.  Proprietor Charles E. Schmidt, had help from friends in battling the blaze.  Postmaster VanCleave brought two garden and house sprinklers.(November 26, 1879).

The White House is the place to get liquid refreshments.(February 4, 1881, p. 3).

White House and the Vahle & Egan Livery-situated on the south side of Robinson Street opposite the L&N Depot, these buildings and land were owned by Mary A. Rodriguez Marie (1840-1912) after Charles E. Schmidt (1851-1886) built the White House.  The Vahle & Egan Livery burned in early December 1900, the same evening that the Ocean Springs Drug Store on Washington Avenue and Porter Street was torched by alleged arsons.  Casper Vahle (1869-1922) and Herman Nill (1863-1904), his brother-in-law, and proprietor of the Ocean Springs Drug Store, soon departed Ocean Springs to commence commercial enterprises at Biloxi and then Gulfport-then a new port town rapidly developing west of Mississippi City.  J.J. ‘Jerry’ O’Keefe acquired the White House tract from Madame Marie in 1906 and demolished the White House in 1911.  The O’Keefe Brothers would develop this tract and acquire adjacent land between 1913 and the late 1920s.  The White House is the structure east of the Vahle & Egan Livery.[from Along the Gulf, Dyer, 1895]

In August 1881, Charles E. Schmidt made the decision to sell the White House.  He advertised it in The Pascagoula Democrat-Star of September 2, 1881 as follows:

FOR SALE

White House Billiard and Beer Saloon

With fixtures is offered for sale at a great bargain.  The White House is opposite and near the depot.  Apply to Chas. E. Schmidt

In November 1881, the Schmidt family sold the White House to Antonio Marie for $1200.  After Antonio Marie died intestate in December 1885, Madame Marie began leasing the White House.  In October 1887, she entered into a two year contractual agreement with John Vogt Miller.  The rent for the first four months was set at $5.00 per month, and $8.00 per month for the remaining twenty months.  Mr. Vogt expected Madame Marie to repair the doors, windows, and blinds of the building.(JXCO, Ms. Land Deed Bk. 6, p. 19 and Bk. 11, pp. 10-12) 

Madame Marie allowed Herr Vogt the use of the following articles in her building: 20 beer glasses, 8 chairs, 1 baseball club and deer horns, 2 round tables, 1 large mirror, 2 plaster images, 1 marble top wash stand (damaged), 1 ice stand, and 1 beer closet ( 1 door off).

By December 1892, the Vahle family, formerly of New Orleans, took a long lease on the White House property and built a livery stable here just west of the White House.  Casper Vahle (1869-1922), the proprietor, oversaw the erection of the 1200 square-foot barn.  In March 1894, Richard Egan (1858-1896) joined Casper Vahle to form Vahle & Egan.(The Pascagoula Democrat-Star, December 28, 1892, p. 3)

In 1895, Charles L. Dyer in Along the Gulf stated that while visiting Ocean Springs: The firm of Vahle & Egan furnished us with carriages upon all occasions and we were rather surprised to find in a town of this size such a finely equipped livery stable.  Messrs. Casper Vahle and Richard Egan are both young enterprising, energetic business men and have built up a fine trade since their partnership, which commenced in March, 1894.  Previous to this, both members of the firm had conducted livery stables of their own.  They have a number of fine driving horses and several speedy matched pairs and a number of carriages to select from, among which are tally-hos, three and two-seated surries, buggies, wagonettes, transfer wagons, and they also have several teams for heavy hauling.

After the untimely death of Richard Egan in 1896, the business appears to have dissolved as Soden & Illing were operating a livery at this location in 1898.  By 1900, Mrs. Marie had moved to Biloxi.  In December of that year, she entered into another lease agreement with Casper Vahle.  This lease was for five years, January 1901 to January 1906, and called for a $5.00 per month rental.  Vahle must have decided to purchase the White House from Artemise Marie as the deed records of Jackson County indicate Mrs. A. Marie of Biloxi sold "the frame building known as the "White House" and a certain parcel of land, situated on the south side and opposite the L&N Railroad depot" to Casper Vahle on December 12, 1900.(Jackson Co., Ms. Land Deed Bk. 22, pp. 208-209)

The Fire

Casper Vahle and Herman Nill (1863-1904), his brother-in-law, and owner of the Ocean Springs Drug Store, on the northwest corner of Washington Avenue and Porter Street, were victimized by vandals in early December 1900.  The Pascagoula Democrat-Star of December 7, 1900 reported its demise in "Ocean Springs Locals" as follows: The most distressing scene witnessed in our town for a long time was the burning of the Ocean Springs Drug Store and Vahle's Livery Stable Monday night.  The fire was discovered about midnight by Walter Davis the night operator for the Cumberland Telephone Exchange, which was on the second floor of the drug building. The fire alarm being given the two companies responded immediately and by heroic efforts saved the Illing House, A. Switzer's Store and Mrs. M.A. Case's property from similar fate.  The flames spread so rapidly that nothing was saved from the drug store, and had it not been for the rain during the evening, which made the housetops wet several other buildings would probably been lost. Mr. Herman Nill, proprietor of the drug store and his family were in New Orleans at the time and the place was temporarily in charge of Dr. E.A. Riggs, who lost everything in his office which was also a room in the building.  The drug store was insured for $3,900 in the Home Insurance Company, of New York, probably half its value with the stock.  There was no insurance on the livery stable.  The telephone exchange was completely destroyed, but will be installed again as soon as possible.

Caspar Vahle and Herman Nill and his family left Ocean Springs shortly after the conflagrations and settled at Gulfport.  On February 10, 1906, Madame Marie sold the White House property to Jeremiah J. ‘Jerry’ O'Keefe (1860-1911).(JXCO, Ms. Land Deed Bk. 35, p. 642) 

 

Several years later Jerry O 'Keefe demolished the White House on Robertson Street.  It had apparently deteriorated with age and neglect.  Its demise was related in The Ocean Springs News of August 19, 1911: The dilapidated old lady that has stood for years opposite the depot-antiquated relic of byegone days- is now being torn down by the owner, Jerry O'Keefe.  The old structure was at one time one of the principal business places of the town.  It was known as the White House, and was a hotel and barroom.  Old residents tell of great doings at the old tavern.  Of late years it has fallen into decay and has not been inhabited for a long time.  Something more substantial and ornamental will doubtless be built in its place.

Ocean Springs Livery Stable and Ford Agency

By July 1914, John and Ben O’Keefe were local agents for the Ford automobile and Prest-o-lite, an exchangeable acetylene gas tank for the running lights of an automobile.  The O’Keefe Brothers through their Ocean Springs Livery Stable provided transportation at Ocean Springs.  In their stable of motor cars was a Cadillac touring car and large enough to accommodate seven passengers in comfort.  They advertised in the local journal as follows:     

J. O’KEEFE

The Ocean Springs Livery Stable

UNDERTAKING

Modern Automobile Service

Fine cars, careful drivers, reasonable charges.  Ford agents.  Prest-o-Lite tanks refilled.  All orders promptly attended to.

Telephone 46

(The Jackson County Times, September 26, 1914, p. 1)

They sold rural mail carriers, Walter Armstrong (1878-1945) and Fred Newcomb (1880-1932), their Ford automobiles.  Mr. Armstrong delivered the US mail to the Larue-Latimer communities while Newcomb handled the East Beach-Fontainebleau-Vancleave route.(The Ocean Springs News, August 1, 1914) 

The O’Keefe Brothers sold their Ford agency to W.B. Hollingsworth who had come to Ocean Springs in March 1915, from South Bend, Indiana.  Mr. Hollingsworth rented the John B. Honor place on Front Beach for one year.  In November 1915, Orey Young & Son bought out the Hollingsworth Garage and Ford Agency.(The Ocean Springs News, November 4, 1915, p. 1)

In October 1915, Fred Davidson (1885-1915+), a native of Illinois and the son of Jerome T. Davidson (1845-1918) and Jessie Montgomery Davison (1859-pre-1930), bought the Buick, Overland, and Hudson agencies from W.B. Hollingsworth who returned to the Hoosier State.  The Davidson family acquired present day 420 Martin Avenue, the Mestier-Sheehan House, in February 1917.  At this time there were fifty-two automobiles at Ocean Springs.  Dr. O.L. Bailey (1870-1938) had bought nine since 1906.(The Ocean Springs News, October 11, 1915, p. 5)

O’Keefe Brothers Commercial Hotel Tract

Jerry O’Keefe and sons owned a large tract on Robinson Street and later the northeast corner of Washington Avenue and Robinson Street in the years between 1906 and 1944.  Here they operated a Ford automobile dealership, livery and drayage service, coal delivery business, sold and transported construction materials, gasoline retailing, and operated a taxi and limousine service. 

In December 1953, Wendell Palfrey (1896-1956) constructed a 2100 square-foot, Arkansas tile, building on a portion of this land, which he leased to the U.S. Postal Service. The building was later the location of the Salmagundi Gifts shop, which closed in January 2014. Salmagundi was founded circa 1963 by Lois Marye Robertson Raum (1926-1967) and Pam Smith of Pascagoula in the Farmers and Merchants Bank Building on Washington Avenue.  The business later moved across the street into the former US Post Office on the southeast corner of Robinson and Washington.  Jeannie Steveson, the last proprietor, acquired the business from Mary and Bob Costa circa 1991.(The Ocean Springs Gazette, January 16, 2014, p. 1)

Commercial Hotel tract-Salmagundi Gifts

[view south from L&N tracks down Washington Avenue between 1913 and 1920]

Van Cleave-Commercial Hotel [1880-1920]-Robert Adrian Van Cleave (1840-1908), was a founding father of the Town of Ocean Springs.  He arrived at Ocean Springs in 1867 from Yazoo County, Mississippi with his new bride, Elizabeth R. Sheppard (1842-1912).  She was the step-daughter of entrepreneur George A. Cox (1812-1887).  With Mr. Cox, who came to Ocean Springs in the early 1850s, Van Cleave established a store on Bluff Creek to trade with the charcoal burners in that area.  This commercial venture led to the development of the present day village of Vancleave.  The hotel was called the Commercial Hotel when it was destroyed in a large conflagration on Early in the early morning of October 26, 1920.  H.F. Russell, a protégé of Van Cleave, sold the hotel tract to Ben O'Keefe and Jody O'Keefe on May 18, 1921 for $1500.  J.K. Lemon Jr. (1914-1998) remembers as a boy that circa 1925 the O'Keefe brothers had a livery stable, automobile service station, and a taxi service on Robinson Avenue.  The former hotel lot was utilized as a parking area.

The Commercial Hotel tract was situated on the southeast corner of Washington Avenue and Robertson Street, just west of the O’Keefe ‘White House’ parcel which had been acquired in February 1906.  The Commercial Hotel was erected in 1880 by R.A. Van Cleave (1840-1908) and was destroyed by fire in the early the morning of October 26, 1920.  After flames were discovered in the Commercial Hotel, immediately fire alarms consisting of fire bells, pistols, and engine whistles were sounded.  Unfortunately the entire structure was consumed by fire in only a few minutes.  Guest on the second floor made a hasty departure into the cool autumn darkness.  Although winds were light, firemen had difficulty securing a convenient water supply, and the building was quickly lost to the conflagration.  The Farmers and Merchants Bank Building opposite the inn on the west side of Washington Avenue had window damage from the intense heat originating from the hotel fire.  Although the structure was fully covered by fire insurance, H.F. Russell (1858-1940), the owner, stated that he would not rebuild on the site.  Commencing with the Ocean Springs Hotel in 1905, and the Shanahan House in 1919, the Commercial Hotel became the third Ocean Springs hotel to be lost to fire in these early years of the Twentieth Century.(The Jackson County Times, October 30, 1920, p. 1)

H.F. Russell sold the vacant Commercial Hotel lot on May 18, 1921 to Jeremiah J. ‘Ben’ O’Keefe II (1894-1954) and Joseph H. “Jody” O’Keefe (1897-1932) for $1500.  This acquisition now gave the O’Keefe brothers one hundred-ten feet on Washington Avenue and approximately three hundred front feet on Robinson Avenue opposite the L&N Depot.  Unarguably, a most advantageous location for business and commerce.  J.K. Lemon Jr. (1914-1998) remembers as a boy circa 1925 that Ben O'Keefe had a livery stable, automobile service station, and a taxi service on Robinson Avenue.  The former hotel lot was utilized as a parking area.(Jackson Co., Mississippi Land Deed Bk. 50, p. 400)

J.J. ‘Ben’ O’Keefe II held the Commercial Hotel property on Washington Avenue until October 1944, when he conveyed it to Isabel Hodges (1902-1981).  Here in December 1953, Wendell Palfrey (1896-1956) constructed on a 2100 square-foot, Arkansas tile, building which he leased to the U.S. Postal Service. The lot and structure cost $27,500.  It was completed by E.T. Hoffis, general contractor, in late April 1954, and turned to Oscar T. Davis (1894-1963), Postmaster of Ocean Springs, in June 1954.  The new post office had its main entrance on Washington Avenue and a side portal on Robinson Street.  Congressman William Meyers Colmer (1890-1980) was the primary speaker at the late April dedication of the new post office.(Jackson County, Ms. Land Deed Bk. 106, p. 120 and 140, pp. 484-488 and The Gulf Coast Times, December 10, 1953 and January 13, 1954, p. 14, and April 28, 1954, p. 1)

The old U.S. Post Office-Palfrey structure is extant at 922 Washington Avenue as Poppy’s, a unique gift boutique which was formerly located on West Porter.  Salmagundi, under the proprietorship of Jeanne and Jack Stevenson, natives of Mobile, operated here from about 1991 until they closed the portals in January 2014.(The Ocean Springs Record, October 6, 2005, p. A4 and The Ocean Springs Gazette, January 16, 2014, p. 1)

O’Keefe Transfer Company

After acquiring the Commercial Hotel tract the O’Keefe Brothers promptly built their office and garage fronting on Washington Avenue in late June 1921.  The building was one-story and 2500-square feet in area.(The Daily Herald, June 23, 1921, p. 5)

In July 1923, the O’Keefe brothers were awarded a contract for hauling materials for the construction of that portion of US Highway No. 90, “The Old Spanish Trail”, known locally as “The Million Dollar Highway”, between Moss Point and the Mississippi-Alabama state line.  They had just acquired six Ford trucks, which had been specially built for heavy duty tasks.(The Jackson County Times, July 7, 1923, p. 5)

In late August 1927, the O’Keefe’s formally opened their new Liberty Pep Gasoline pumps at their filling stations.  As an inducement for their clientele to use the new petroleum fuel, they gave one gallon of motor oil free with each five gallons of petrol purchased.(The Jackson County Times, Local and Personal, August 27, 1927)

O’Keefe Service Station-In 1925, J.J. ‘Ben’ O’Keefe II (1894-1954) acquired a lot on the NW/C of Government Street and Bellande Avenue.  A gasoline service station was erected here which was leased to Liberty Oil, Standard Oil of Kentucky, and sold to Wofford Oil.  In this vintage made by George H. Granitz (1909-1981) from the McLeod Lodge F&AM building, one can observe the former O’Keefe structure being utilized by George T. Rehage (1878-1937), a native of NOLA.  Mr. Rehage was a tailor and operated a dry cleaning business here.  At 1011 Desoto [center right], one can observed the home of W.E. ‘Ed’ Wilson (1873-1926) and Ida Fayard Smith Wilson (1884-1978) and the Wilson Cash and Carry store just east of their residency.  The Texaco gasoline pump on the north side of Government is probably that of Philip J. Wieder (1887-1985).[Courtesy of the First Presbyterian Church of Ocean Springs]In late August 1927, the O’Keefe’s formally opened their new Liberty Pep Gasoline pumps at their filling stations.  As an inducement for their clientele to use the new petroleum fuel, they gave one gallon of motor oil free with each five gallons of petrol purchased.(The Jackson County Times, Local and Personal, August 27, 1927)

The O’Keefe’s also supplied construction materials in the form of cement, lime, plaster, gravel and sand for the erection of the 1927 Ocean Springs Public School on Government Street.  On October 9th, 1999, a historical marker was dedicated on the former school grounds in honor of Miss Mary Cahill O’Keefe (1893-1981), the sister of the O’Keefe Brothers and former school superintendent, for whom the building is now named.(The Jackson County Times, September 10, 1927)

601 West Howard Avenue

O’Keefe Funeral Parlor-Situated at 601 West Howard Avenue, opposite Nativity BVM Catholic Church, J.J. ‘Ben’ O’Keefe II (1894-1954) acquired the Frank Voivedich residence in March 1923.  On June 4, 1923, Mr. O’Keefe commenced his funeral business in Biloxi, which had been started by J.J. ‘Jerry’ O’Keefe (1864-1911) , his father at Ocean Springs circa 1890.  The O’Keefe Funeral Home was demolished in 1960 to erect a modern commercial building, which was leased to Goodyear who operated a tire sales and automobile repair business here for many years.  The O’Keefe family sold their large land holding on Howard Avenue, Fayard and Thomas Streets in May 1994.

O'Keefe Funeral Service-Bradford-O’Keefe Funeral Home

In March 1923, J.J. ‘Ben’ O’Keefe (1894-1954) acquired for $6800 the Frank Voivedich and Josephine Fayard Voivedich property at 601 West Howard Avenue and Fayard Street, opposite Nativity BVM Catholic Church.  The tract had 84 feet on West Howard Avenue and ran south on Fayard Street for 122 feet.  By early June 1923, the Frank Voivedich residence had been refurbished and transformed into the O’Keefe Funeral Service, a modern funeral parlor equipped to do a general undertaking business and conduct funerals.  Ben O’Keefe planned to continue his large business interests in Ocean Springs and had Joseph ‘Jody’ O’Keefe, his brother, assisting him there.(Harrison Co., Ms. Land Deed Bk. 135, p. 351 and The Jackson County Times, May 19, 1923, p. 5 and June 16, 1923, p. 5) 

The O’Keefe Brothers commercial activities increased dramatically in June 1923 when they received the contract to haul materials to build the last section of US Highway No. 90 through Jackson County from Moss Point to the Alabama state line.  They acquired six large, specially constructed Ford trucks for the work.(The Jackson County Times, July 7, 1923, p. 5) 

In May 1957, J.J. ‘Jerry’ O’Keefe III acquired the “Bradford Funeral Home and all property, ambulances, etc.” from Paul S. Bradford and Ruth Gates Bradford.  The merger of the Bradford Funeral Home and O’Keefe Funeral Service was not completed until July 1960.  The company now called Bradford-O’Keefe Funeral Service was situated at the former Bradford funeral parlor on East Howard Avenue where improvements and additional parking had been acquired on the north side of the street.(Harrison Co., Ms. Land Deed Bk. 422, pp. 317-326)

In 1960, the former O'Keefe Funeral parlor at 601 West Howard Avenue was demolished and a 6500 square-ft., Goodyear Service Center was built on its former location.  In addition to selling new tire, the Goodyear enterprise did front end alignments and wheel balancing, as well as replacing mufflers and tail pipes.  General Electric appliances were also sold.(The Daily Herald, June 17, 1960, p. 2 and November 2, 1960, p. 12)

Mrs. Theresa ‘Tess’ Slattery O’Keefe made a 15-year lease with Goodyear in May 1971 and the building and land were sold in May 1994 to James E. Sablich et ux by Tess O’Keefe and sons, Dr. John B. O’Keefe and Joseph Ben O’Keefe.(Harrison Co., Ms. 2nd JD Land Deed Bk. 21, p. 271 and Bk. 273, p. 204)

In 1964, Bradford-O’Keefe built the Ben O’Keefe Chapel at Ocean Springs.  It was located on the northwest corner of Government Street and Pine Drive.  The chapel was later closed, but became the temporary City Public Library in 1994-1995.  In August 1997, the structure was dedicated as the New Hope Center, a joint venture between the Gulf Coast YMCA and the O'Keefe Foundation.(The Ocean Springs News, August 6, 1964, p. 3 and The Ocean Springs Record, August 7, 1997, p. 1)

1929 Buyout

Shortly after the October 1929 Wall Street Crash, Ben O’Keefe acquired the interest of his siblings in the O’Keefe Funeral Service of Biloxi which had opened on June 4, 1923 at 601 West Howard Avenue opposite the Nativity B.V.M. Catholic Church and the O’Keefe Transfer and gasoline filling station enterprise on the southeast corner of Washington Avenue and Robinson Street at Ocean Springs.  Ben O’Keefe assumed about $28,000 in mortgages and other debt.  He also gave up his rights, title and interest to several tracts of land at Ocean Springs and New Orleans.  Among them were: the J.J. O’Keefe family home at present day 911 Porter; the ‘O’Keefe Castle’, also called the-‘Saxon House’ and ‘Seven Gables’, present day 318 Jackson Avenue; the old livery stable on Porter Street; the White House tract on Robertson Street; and the Mary C. O’Keefe domicile on Porter Street, which was sold in February 1970 to the Catholic Charities Housing Association in to erect the Villa Maria.(Jackson Co., Mississippi Land Deed Bk. 63, pp. 511-515 and Bk. 371, p. 506)

This vintage image was very probably executed at Biloxi, Mississippi between 1937 and 1940.  The event is also unknown but was of a major importance as it is composed of the Governor of Mississippi, the head of the Mississippi National Guard, the elected municipal leadership of Biloxi and three Harrison County Board of Supervisors.  [L-R: Biloxi City Commissioner John A. Swanzy (1881-1965); Governor Hugh Lawson White (1881-1965); unknown; Beat I Supervisor Walter L. Nixon Sr. (1895-1960); unknown; Adjutant General John W.A. O’Keefe (1891-1985); Biloxi City Commissioner F.A. Tucei (1889-1954); and Mayor Louis J. Braun (1890-1951).  John W.A. O’Keefe elected Mayor of Biloxi in August 1934 to succeed R. Hart Chinn (1888-1972).  Mayor O’Keefe announced in early February 1936, that he would resign as Biloxi’s Mayor on February 10, to take the position of adjutant general of the State of Mississippi.  He had been selected for the position in November 1935, by elect, Governor Hugh L. White.

John A. W. O’Keefe

John Aloysius William O’ Keefe (1891-1985) was born at New Orleans on February 24, 1891, the son of Jeremiah J. O’Keefe (1860-1911) and Alice Cahill O’Keefe (1864-1921).  At this time, the O’Keefe family was domiciled in the O’Keefe Boarding House’ on the northeast corner of Porter Street and Jackson Avenue at Ocean Springs, Mississippi.  The O’Keefe family had settled here in the late 1850s, when Irish immigrants, Edward "Ned" O'Keefe (1815-1874), a native of Bincher Parish, Tipperary County, Ireland, and Mary Tracy O’Keefe (1832-1895), acquired land on the northeast corner of Porter and Rayburn.(JXCO, Ms. Land Deed Bk. 7, p. 272 and Lepre, 1991, p. 165)

Education

John A. O’Keefe attended local schools and the Jesuit College at New Orleans.  There is a high degree of certitude that he attended the Lynch Academy, a private school at Ocean Springs, operated by James Lynch (1852-1935), an Irish immigrant and merchant.  This is corroborated by the 1900 Federal Census, which notes that “John A. O’Keefe is a student residing with his parents and siblings on Porter Street.”(1900 Jackson County, Mississippi Federal Census T623 812, p. 2B, ED 45)

Mr. Lynch’s school was situated on the northwest corner of Porter and Jackson Avenue, opposite the J.J. O’Keefe home at present day 911 Porter.  In early December 1896, James Lynch advertised his private school in The Ocean Wave as follows:

Preparatory School

To the general school instructions already offered, I will add a course of elementary classics and French, Algebra and Geometry, Stenography and Typewriting, as a preparatory for college or commercial studies. For particulars apply to James Lynch, Jackson Avenue-Ocean Springs, Mississippi.

John A. O’Keefe’s sister, Mary Cahill O’Keefe (1893-1980), who would establish herself as an excellent educator of the French and English languages in the school systems of Shreveport and Monroe, Louisiana, and at Biloxi, and Ocean Springs, Mississippi, was an attendee of the Lynch Academy.  Miss O’ Keefe became Superintendent of public schools at Ocean Springs in 1929, and held this position until 1945.  She was also the first woman appointed to the Board of Trustees of Perkinston Junior College.(The Daily Herald, April 6, 1945, p. 3, c. 6 and Charles L. Sullivan, October 28, 2006)

By 1901, John A. W. O’Keefe was in New Orleans and under the tutelage of the Jesuits.  He was promoted from first sergeant to first lieutenant in the Jesuit Cadets.   Young O’Keefe received his A.B. degree from the College of the Immaculate Conception at New Orleans.  In 1911, the College of the Immaculate Conception of New Orleans was divided into Loyola University and Jesuit High School.  John A.W. O’Keefe graduated from Tulane University in 1911. (The Pascagoula Democrat-Star, December 3, 1901 and The Daily Herald, 50th Anniversary Souvenir Golden Jubilee, 1934, p. 50) 

Family

John A. O’Keefe married Amelia “Nicki” Castanera (1905-2000), the daughter of Captain Frank B. Castanera (1870-1934) and Amelia Desporte (1880-1953), in December 1929.  Amelia Castenera was the Queen of Les Masques, a Biloxi Mardi Gras krewe, in 1927, and taught school at Biloxi.(The Daily Herald, February 12, 1927, p. 1)

In 1937, John and Nicki O’Keefe adopted a Jackson, Mississippi born baby girl and named her Patricia Mary O’Keefe (1937-2009). Patricia M. O’Keefe was born on September 27, 1937.  She was a graduate of the Immaculate Seminary at Washington D.C. and a 1959 graduate of Chestnut Hill College at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Patricia married Ensign Badger Conley Smith III on July 4, 1959 in the Walter Reed Memorial Chapel at Washington D.C. Ensign Smith had graduated from St. John's College, Washington D.C. and the US Naval Academy in 1959.(The Daily Herald, July 8, 1959, p. 8)

Patricia Mary O'Keefe married Frank Obrimski in May 1965.  She worked for the Library of Congress for fifteen years. Patricia died on September 20, 2009 at Garrett Park, Maryland.  She and Frank Obrimski were the parents of Margaret Obrimski Bonacorda and Sharon Obrimski Portillo.(The History of Jackson Co. Ms., 1989, p. 302 and The Sun Herald, October 4, 2009)

The O’Keefe’s Troubled Thirties

Joseph H. ‘Jody’ O’Keefe (1897-1932)

Jody O’Keefe worked as a sugar chemist primarily in Cuba, although he had worked at a sugar beet factory in Mt. Clemons, Michigan in the fall of 1927.  At the time of his demise on August 1, 1932, he was the assistant superintendent of the Matanzas Sugar Company at Matanzas, Cuba.  Jody O’Keefe fractured several neck vertebrae in a diving accident while swimming in Matanzas Bay.  His older brother, John A.W. O’Keefe (1891-1985), was also a sugar chemist in his early life.  Ocean Springs produced several more sugar chemists, Louis Jean-Baptise Mestier (1883-1954) and Eugene W. Illing (1895-1978).[L-R: Jeremiah J. ‘Ben’ O’Keefe (1894-1954), top row; Jody O’Keefe [sitting], Mary Cahill O’Keefe (1893-1981), and John W.  O’Keefe (1891-1985).[Courtesy of Maureen O’Keefe Ward]

Jodie’s Death

The O’Keefe family like many other Americans faced the Depression with determination and hope.  Several years after the infamous October 1929 stock market crash, their brother, Joseph Hyacinth “Jodie” O’Keefe (1897-1932), died on August 1, 1932, from neck and cervical injuries incurred while springboard diving at Matanzas Bay, Cuba.  Miss O’Keefe and her New Orleans friends, Mrs. J.T. Nix, Rosary Nix, and James T. Nix, had just visited Jodie at Matanzas, where he was a sugar chemist and assistant manager of the Matanzas Sugar Company.  They were on a Caribbean cruise and the vessel had stopped in Havana for a few days.(The Daily Herald, August 2, 1932, p. 1)

Joseph Hyacinth O’Keefe (1897-1932) was born at New Orleans on February 13, 1897, the son of Jeremiah J. O’Keefe (1860-1911) and Alice Cahill (1864-1921).  Joseph H. O’Keefe was called “Jody”.  He was a graduate sugar chemist from Loyola University at New Orleans.  Young O’Keefe began his career in the sugar industry in 1920, with most of his technical work at sugarhouses in Cuba.  When the sugar season ended in the Caribbean tropics, he would return to Ocean Springs to work in operated family enterprise.(History of JXCO, Ms., 1989, p. 302) 

Prior to entering the sugar refining business, young Jodie O’Keefe was employed by a large oil company in Caddo Parish, Louisiana.  In June 1918, he returned to the family home at present day 911 Porter Avenue in Ocean Springs from this assignment in the Shreveport area of North Louisiana.(The Jackson County Times, June 15, 1918, p. 5)

In May 1923, Jody was helping Ben with his business interests at Ocean Springs.  Ben had bought an old home in Biloxi on West Howard Avenue opposite the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary to open a modern funeral parlor.(The Jackson County Times, May 19, 1923, p. 5)

In 1925, Jodie O’Keefe worked in Cuba until mid-July, when he returned to Ocean Springs.  He was the assistant superintendent of two sugar refineries.  Cuba produced more than 5,000,000 tons of sugar this year.(The Jackson County Times, July 18,1925, p. 3)

In April 1927, J.H. O’Keefe returned from Central Espana of the Matanzas Sugar Company in Cuba.  He had been here since December 1926, as first assistant superintendent of the refinery.  O’Keefe reported that sugar production was down, but the price for the commodity was sufficient to make the industry profitable.(The Daily Herald, April 19, 1927, p. 9)

Jody traveled widely in his profession and in October 1927, went to the northern climes of Michigan where he was employed at a large sugar beet factory in Mt. Clemens, northeast of Detroit.  O’Keefe returned from Michigan in December 1927.(The Jackson County Times,  October 9, 1927, p. 2 and December 27, 1927, p. 5)

John W. A. O’Keefe flew to Havana, Cuba via Atlanta-Miami to recover his brother’s corpse.  He accompanied Jody’s corporal remains on its return to America via New Orleans.  They sailed from Cuba aboard the United Fruit Company’s freighter, Cataga.(The Daily Herald, August 5, 1932, p. 2)

Jodie H. O’Keefe’s funeral was held on August 9, 1932 in Ocean Springs.  It was one of the largest ever held on the Mississippi coast.  A Requiem Mass was celebrated at St. Alphonsus Catholic Church by Father Joseph H. Chauvin (1867-1959) with assistance from four Biloxi priests: Fathers O’ Sullivan, McGlade, Maloney, and Mulrooney.  Hundreds were in attendance.  In respect for Ben O’Keefe, Jody’s brother, funeral directors from Coast cities and Mobile conducted the funeral services.  Arthur Lang of Gulfport was in charge.  He was assisted by: H.A. Fails, Moss Point; Calvin Dees, Perkinston; and Joseph Thompson and James Duffee of Mobile.(The Daily Herald, August 9, 1932, p. 2)

Jody O’Keefe’s corporal remains were carried to the Evergreen Cemetery at Ocean Springs on August 9, 1932 for interment.(The Daily Herald, August 9, 1932, p. 2)

CWA and the O’Keefe Airfield

While in business at Biloxi, John W. A. O’Keefe continued his involvement in the military.  At this time he held the rank of Captain in the U.S. Army Air Corps reserves.  In April 1932, Captain O’Keefe was sent to the Air Corps headquarters in New York for two weeks duty.(The Daily Herald, April 11, 1932, p. 2)

In 1933, John W. A. O’Keefe was appointed Civil Works Administration aeronautics advisor for Mississippi.  The CWA was part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ to combat the lethargic American economy of the Depression.  It also was an economic failure and was disbanded by April 1934.  In March 1934, John A.W. O’Keefe had retired as the Grand Knight of the Biloxi Council Knights of Columbus relating that his active position as CWA aeronautics advisor and his third term as Grand Knight, as salient reasons.(The Daily Herald, March 20, 1934, p. 5)

In November 1934, the town of Newton, Mississippi and the Newton County American Legion Post dedicated their new $12,000 airport in honor of Major John A.W. O’Keefe, former CWA aeronautics adviser for Mississippi.  The event was highlighted by a visiting U.S. Army Air Corps aircraft from Maxwell Field, Alabama National Guard planes from Birmingham, and eighteen commercial southeastern United States, including a tri-motor airship.  Mayor John Summers of Newton made the presentation to Major O’Keefe.  U.S. Senator Byron ‘Pat’ Harrison (1881-1941) also spoke at the dedication.  The Newton County airfield is no longer called O’Keefe Field.  It is now known as James H. Easom Field.  It is located at 266 O’Keefe Road one mile southeast of. Newton, Mississippi.(The Daily Herald, November 13, 1934)

Biloxi Mayor

John A.W. O’Keefe was elected Mayor of Biloxi in July 1934 to succeed incumbent Mayor Robert Hart Chinn (1888-1972), called Hart Chinn.  Chinn had born on April 9, 1888 at Vandalia, Audrain County, Missouri the son of James Buchanan ‘Buck’ Chinn (1857-1912) and Martha Ella Hart (1857-1938).  In 1890, Buck Chinn came to Biloxi to start the Biloxi Milling Company with fellow Missourians, E.G. Burklin, R.D. Chinn and Mr. Brewton.  In April 1893, the Biloxi Milling Company commenced operations making flour and meal.(The Biloxi Herald, January 7, 1893, p. 8 and April 22, 1893, p. 1)

R. Hart Chinn

 R. Hart Chinn (1888-1972), called Hart, was unarguably the most controversial and belligerent politician ever to serve the people of Biloxi.  He was first elected Mayor of Biloxi after Mayor John J. Kennedy (1875-1949) resigned from office in June 1933 to become Comptroller of Customs at New Orleans.  Mr. Chinn became Biloxi’s Mayor by winning the August 25, 1933 general election.  Incumbent Mayor Chinn lost his reelection bid to John W.A. O’Keefe (1891-1985) in August 1934.  After Mayor O’Keefe resigned in February 1936 to become Mississippi’s Adjutant General.  Hart Chinn lost to Louis J. Braun (1890-1951) in the April 1936 election to replace Mayor O’Keefe who had relocated to Jackson, Mississippi.  Hart Chinn did serve another term as Biloxi’s Mayor in the early 1950s.

After a brief military career during WW I, Lt. Hart Chinn returned to Biloxi where he made his livelihood as manager of the Foster-Fountain Packing Company.  He married Mrs. Vera L. Dukate Bond (1886-1977) on November 11, 1918 at Camp Sherman, Ohio.(The Daily Herald, November 14, 1918)

Vera Dukate was the daughter ofWilliam K. M. Dukate (1852-1916), a native of Fredericksburg, Washington County, Indiana and Linda Rose Lienhard (1859-1939), born in Harrison County, Mississippi, the daughter of Peter J. Lienhard (1812-1873), a Swiss immigrant, and Malinda B. Seaman (1826-1890).  Linda Rose and Mr. Dukate had married in her mother’s residence at Biloxi, Mississippi on April 27, 1878.  The Dukate children were: Elbert L. Dukate (1881-1943) m. Corrine Desporte (1882-1973); Eula T. Dukate (1882-1894); Vera L. Dukate (1886-1977) m. Brantley A. Bond (1880-1966) and R. Hart Chinn (1888-1972); Leola May Dukate (1888-1967) m. William L. Ewing (1888-1967); Irma Dukate (1890-1974) m. Daniel J. Gorenflo (1888-1965); and Beulah L. Dukate (1900-1983) m. Carl E. Matthes (1896-1972).(The Pascagoula Democrat-Star, May 3, 1878, p. 3 and Lepre, 1991, p. 99)

Vera Dukate Bond was the mother of two daughters:  Vera Leola Bond (1909-1989) m. Leslie Baltar Grant (1908-1986) and Whillamene Linda Bond (1911-1998) m. Hawthorne Eddy.

In July 1933, Mayor John Kennedy (1875-1949) of Biloxi resigned his position to accept the post of Comptroller of Customs, New Orleans, Louisiana for the Gulf District, which included Mississippi, Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Texas.  His recommendation for this Federal position had come from U.S. Senator Byron Patton ‘Pat” Harrison (1881-1941) of Gulfport, Mississippi and appointment by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945).  R. Hart Chinn was elected Mayor of Biloxi at the August 25, 1933 general election.  In the Democratic primary held earlier, Mayor Chinn ran against Walter H. ‘Skeet’ Hunt (1887-1960) and Dr. George F. Carroll (1884-1962). 

During Chinn’s brief first tenure as Mayor of Biloxi, he became involved in a heated argument on August 22, 1934 at a Biloxi City Council meeting with City Commissioner John A. Swanzy (1881-1965).  R. Hart Chinn struck Mr. Swanzy in the head with a paperweight.  Mayor Chinn and William Parks, his secretary, was also involved in the altercation with Commissioner Swanzy.  R. Hart Chinn was charged with assault and battery with intent to kill by the Harrison County grand jury.(The Daily Herald, August 22, 1934, p. , August 24, 1934, p. 1, and October 3, 1934, p. 1)

O’Keefe’s Mayoral campaign

The 1934 Biloxi Mayoral election was held at Biloxi on July 17, 1934.  John W. A. O’Keefe ran against R. Hart Chinn, Mayor incumbent, and defeated him by three hundred fifty-six votes.  There were 2029 total votes cast in the Mayoral election.  John W. A. O’Keefe had campaigned with enthusiasm and based his candidacy on five issues: reduction of taxes; industrial development to spur employment; harmony between elected officials for the greater good of Biloxi; hard work and endeavor; and honesty in the office of Mayor.  Mr. O’Keefe related to the electorate that he would not waste time with trite conversation, but would toil diligently to place Biloxi where it belongs.  He promised if elected that:  “you’ll find Biloxi a better place to live in four years.”  (The Daily Herald, July 18, 1934, p. 1, July 10, 1934, p. 1, and July 14, 1934, p. 1)

Mayoral candidate O’Keefe was not meek on the stump.  He criticized his opponent at several public forums.  Repeatedly future Mayor O’Keefe related that Mr. Chinn was often absent from his office and that Chinn had attempted to obfuscate the election by introducing issues with other men, communities, and States.  O’Keefe was alluding to the rumor running amok at Biloxi that Senator Huey P. Long of Louisiana was involved behind the scenes in the Biloxi mayoral race.  The Louisiana Conservation Commission had an office in Biloxi at this time and it was alleged that they supported R. Hart Chinn.  When asked about this, Huey Long stated that he didn’t even know that Louisiana had a Conservation Office in Biloxi.(The Daily Herald, July 12, 1934, p. 1)

Washington Nationals arrive at Biloxi in 1935-This vintage image was made in the winter of 1935 at the L&N Depot at Biloxi, Mississippi. BiloxI Mayor elect John A.W. O’Keefe and City Commissioners F. A. Tucei and John A. Swanzy are welcoming Clark Griffith (1869-1955), president and owner, of the Washington Nationals of the American League.  The Nationals held their spring baseball training at Biloxi for several years during the early 1930s. Clark Griffith arrived here in mid-February to complete arrangements for the opening of the 1935 baseball spring training session. [L-R: Mayor John W. A. O'Keefe (1891-1985); Frederick A. Tucei (1889-1954), City Commissioner; Clark C. Griffith (1869-1955), owner Washington Nationals; John A. Swanzy (1881-1965), City Commissioner. Image by Anthony V. Ragusin (1902-1997) from the Ray L. Bellande Historical Imagery Archives and The Daily Herald, February 19, 1935, p. 

City Commissioners

With John A.W. O’Keefe, the Biloxi voters elected two City Commissioners John A. Swanzy (1881-1965), a longtime incumbent, and F.A. Tucei (1889-1954), a political newcomer.  Mr. Swanzy swept into office in the first primary.(The Daily Herald, August 14, 1934, p. 1)

Captain Castanera expires

The summer heat and intensity of the Mayoral election were stilling boiling in Biloxi when Nicki C. O’Keefe lost her father on August 21, 1934.  Captain Frank B. Castanera (1870-1934) had been born in Pascagoula, Mississippi and received a Jesuit education at Spring Hill College in Mobile.  He settled at Biloxi in 1893 and organized the Biloxi and Ship Island Tow Boat Company in February 1897 with J.B. Roberts.  The steam tug Biloxi built by the Taltavull Shipyard for Frank B. Castanera was used in the towing operations along the Mississippi coast.  Circa 1900, he was in the retail lumber and general supply business in Biloxi.  In 1905, he was appointed a member of the Ship Island Bar Pilots' Association, and served as a pilot between Ship Island and Gulfport until the commencement of World War I.(The Daily Herald, August 21, 1934, p. 1)  

During the Great War, he offered his services to the Government as a member of the U.S. Shipping Board.  While at sea duty in the post-War years, Castanera met with a many   adventures on the seas.  Two notable events at this time of his life reported in the Biloxi News of April 25, 1926, were the saving of the life of an ill seaman by radio diagnosis with a land based physician, and the rescue of the abandoned Norwegian steamer Johanne Dybwad in the stormy North Atlantic.(The Biloxi News, April 25, 1926, p. 1  and May 2, 1926, p. 7)

Captain Frank B. Castanera had married Amelia Desporte (1880-1953) at Biloxi on June 30, 1897.  In addition to Amelia C. ‘Nicki’ O’Keefe, their other children were: Eugene Ernest Castanera (1898-1932); Ursula C. Provensal (1900-1991) married Sidney W. Provensal (1888-1977); Delauney Castanera (1903-1935) married Louise Tremmel; and Theodore Castanera (1905-1978) married Bessie Welch (1914-1989).(Harrison Co., Mississippi Circuit Court MRB 11, p. 211)

 

[to be continued]

Jordan