Ghosts along the Coast
The Dixie White House
Destroyed by Hurricane Camille
Dixie White House
Lost Forever – the Dixie White House
The old home, when being leased by the Herndons was called Beaulieu. It was said to resemble the inclusions of both the Cabildo in New Orleans and one of the wings of the original White House in Washington. The mansion was artfully crafted with stately columns and arches that dated to the 1850s.
In January 1961, the “Dixie White House” was purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Claude Schneider of Slidell.
Members of the Pass Christian Garden Club immediately were aroused upon hearing that the Schneiders were considering the demolition of the historic old home. In solution to their problem, they recruited community newcomer Liz Pritchard, who arm in arm with Ruth Gordon, then secretary of the Pass Christian Chamber of Commerce, formed a committee to preserve the old mansion. This action was the impetus that later lead to the formation of the Pass Christian Historical Society with several fund-raising promotions that followed. Even the Schneiders became members of the Society, and temporarily stayed their plans to tear down the building.
However, several months passed as the drive for funds floundered – and when matters seemed bleak – their prayers were answered. Mrs. Thomas Jordan, on visiting the vacant home, decided she wanted the place as a summer residence. On October 5, 1966, in celebration of the act of sale, Mrs. Jordan was formerly welcomed at a meeting of the Pass Christian Garden Club which was joined by members of the Pass Christian Historical Society. The reduced selling price to the new owners was indicative that the Society must have raised at least $15,000 in their fundraising efforts.
One of the grand home’s earliest owners was retired General William S. Harney, a famed cavalryman of the Mexican War and the Indian Wars. In 1880, he hosted former President U.S. Grant at Beaulieu.
In the winter of 1912-13, President Woodrow Wilson celebrated his 56th birthday with Miss Alice Herndon and her mother, Mrs. Thomas Herndon. At the time of President Wilson’s visit, the home was actually owned by Mrs. John M. Ayer of New Jersey, in which state, Wilson, in 1910, had been elected Governor after having been president of Princeton University. In 1947, her daughter sold the grand home to New Orleans engineer Andrew M. Lockett, Sr.
The house was described as a roomy home that was a fine example of Colonial architecture, modified by the old French and Spanish tiles which prevailed in Pass Christian in earlier years. The structure was set on massive arch columns of old Spanish architectural beauty. There was a fireplace in each of the six bedrooms with high ceilings and wide windows. The dining room table was habitually set for 25 persons. One of the bathtubs was imported Italian marble weighing several tons.
Historically, the home was built in 1854 by John Bache of New Orleans. He sold it prior to the Civil War to George Jonas, president of the Canal Bank of New Orleans. The next owner was General William Selby Harney who saw action in the Florida Indian campaigns and won fame in the Mexican War for bravery and leadership. He received additional fame in the campaigns against the Sioux Indians in the northwest. Although in active service during the Civil War, he was retired in 1863, because of suspicions that he was a Southern sympathizer. The Dixie White House served as a nursing home in its last years – before being razed following heavy damages due to Hurricane Camille in 1969.
One owner of the “pre-Dixie White House” property was General William Selby Harney, who is worthy of more than passing mention.
Harney (August 22, 1800 — May 9, 1889) was born near Nashville, Tennessee, and entered the United States Army at the age of 18 as a second lieutenant and was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel of dragoons after showing fitness as a soldier in numerous expeditions into Florida against the Indians. He was a colonel and the ranking cavalry officer under General Winfield Scott, in the Mexican War, during which his charge up the heights of El Telgrafo turned the tide of battle at Cerro Gordo, for which he was, on April 8, 1847, breveted a brigadier-general.
After the war he was stationed in the northwest where he defeated the Sioux Indians in the battle of Sand Hill, adding greatly to his reputation. In years immediately before the Civil War, he was in command of the department of the West at St. Louis, near which Ulysses S. Grant was stationed at Fort Jefferson.
Because Harney was suspected of Southern sympathy he was deprived of his command. “Perhaps he was never trusted during the war, for no active command was given him, and he was finally retired in 1863.” In retirement he divided his time between St. Louis and “his estate at Pass Christian, Mississippi.”
There were grounds for suspicions of Southern sympathy, perhaps, for here he openly was an admirer of Jefferson Davis, who from 1877 to his death in 1889, lived in nearby Mississippi City at Beauvoir (Jefferson Davis’s former home, later a Confederate Veteran’s Home). Yet, curiously, he also was a friend of General Grant, according to an old story told on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and was host to Grant at the Pass.
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Charles Pattison of New Orleans was the source of the story which tells of how as a boy he attended the little private school conducted by Miss Polly Monroe where also in attendance was his dog that followed him each day and would lay beneath his desk.
The dog became a hero on the day that General Grant, on a visit to General Harney, paraded past the neighboring old Monroe home and school room. “The dog rushed to the picket fence and barked furiously at the parade just as Grant’s carriage was rolling by,” said Pattison, and Miss Polly, a true Southern Belle, exclaimed to the dog, “I never had any respect for you, but now you have my greatest admiration. In fact, I think you are a very smart dog and you may enter my class whenever you wish.”
President Woodrow Wilson and Family