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)

The 1885 O’Keefe Castle

The “O’Keefe Castle” 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

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) 

[to be continued]

Jordan