Biloxi residents will get their first look at one of the city’s oldest structures Thursday when the restored Old Brick House is officially opened to the public.
The ceremony will begin at 5:30 p.m., with free refreshments for those attending.
The four-and-a-half-year, $741,000 project represents a successful effort to save a structure that has had a role in Biloxi’s history. The Back Bay site itself was granted by the Spanish to Jean Baptiste Carquote in 1790, and during the Civil War, the house served as the residence of Mayor John Henley, who led the defense against the Union fleet in September 1861.
The Old Brick House was saved from neglect by Biloxi garden clubs in the 1950s and it eventually became a city-owned and -operated venue that was popular for receptions and other gatherings.
Its location on the Back Bay of Biloxi, just east of Boomtown and northwest of Lee Street, and its front porch that actually faces the cool breezes of Back Bay, helped make it popular.
For the city, the project represents the latest milestone in a time-consuming process of restoring historically significant landmarks.
“Some people wondered if we would be able to save it after Hurricane Katrina,” Mayor A.J. Holloway said. “The front porch, which faces the Bay, had collapsed, a huge section of the brick wall facing the street was missing, and, of course, the house itself was inundated with nearly seven feet of water.”
Workers replaced or repaired the wooden floors, windows, walls, ceilings and wiring, and functional, period furnishings were installed, along with modern-day kitchen conveniences in the small kitchen. As part of the restoration effort, a ramp was added to the side of the front porch, providing easier access to the physically challenged.
Bill Raymond, the city’s Historical Administrator, said the issues involved in the Old Brick House restoration were not unlike those at the Biloxi Lighthouse, the Magnolia Hotel, City Hall and other historic properties.
“The challenge in each case is to repair the damage without creating new problems,” Raymond said. “Modern materials and methods many not be compatible with the historic material, so there is a constant struggle to make sure that repairs are sensitive to the historic nature of the building.”
In the case of the Old Brick House, the bricks themselves were an issue.
“The Old Brick House is made of soft hand-packed bricks, which were made on the Back Bay of Biloxi in the late 1830s and early 1840s,” Raymond said. “Today’s bricks are much harder, and had we repaired the building with just any brick they would have crushed the original bricks in the walls. With the assistance of historic masonry specialists, we were able to have bricks that would be compatible with the historic masonry.”
The project would not have been possible without the funding and technical assistance from FEMA, MEMA and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
Said Holloway: “The Old Brick House is new again, and it’s going to be as popular as it ever was.”
Your invite: To see an invitation to the ceremony on Thursday afternoon, click here.
Map: To see a map on how to enter the parking area, click here.
Video: To see a nine-minute video that includes before-and-after images of the Old Brick House and other city projects, click here.
Need a place? For rental information about the Old Brick House and the work-in-progress Magnolia Hotel, click here.