The LaPointe-Krebs House and Museum
Preserving History for our Future
Located on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in Pascagoula, the LaPointe-Krebs house, built in 1757, is the oldest structure in Mississippi and is the oldest scientifically confirmed building in the entire Mississippi Valley. Dating from the French Colonial period, the LaPointe-Krebs house (formerly known as the Old Spanish Fort) pre-dates the American Revolutionary War by over two decades.
LaPointe Krebs House History
THE HOUSE THROUGH 1820
“A place that ever was lived in is like a fire that never goes out.”
And so it is with this place.Those who have lived on this site and in this building left us with clues that have been carefully unearthed and studied by archaeologists and architectural historians.
Excavations beneath the floor have revealed that Pascagoula Indians inhabited this site as late as the mid-1700’s at the time of the early French settlers. Later a small structure was built on top of the remains of the earlier Indian occupation.
An account published in 1775 by English naturalist Bernard Romans describes a ravaging hurricane that struck the Krebs plantation in 1772. According to Romans, the hurricane “left the houses uncovered and his smith’s shop almost all washed away. All his works and outhouses were blown down.” The house that survives today is consistent with French Canadian construction styles much earlier than 1772, and recent dendrochronology dating of timbers in the house proves that the house was not destroyed but did require some repairs as a few timbers dating to 1772 were found.
Flags flown over the Pascagoulas
By the 1820s, the house had passed through several generations of Krebs family members and had stood under the flags of many nations. Although other changes are yet to come, the house today has been authentically restored to its appearance in 1820.
And as Eudora Welty said,
“Its being is intact, forever fluttering within it.”
FRENCH SETTLEMENT ON THE GULF: THE HOUSE IS BUILT
Although Mississippi is known today as the “Hospitality State,” to the first Europeans who tried to settle here it was anything but hospitable. They found the Pascagoula Indians to be friendly, but they were not prepared for the hot and humid weather, fierce hurricanes, hunger, disease, and deprivation that they encountered.
In spite of these difficulties, a few adventurous French Canadian souls attempted to make a home here and to encourage others to do so. The first to settle permanently was probably Jean-Baptiste Baudreau dit Graveline, a merchant whose name appears in early Mobile records. Baudreau petitioned for and received land on the West Pascagoula River stretching north from the Gulf several miles and west toward Biloxi Bay. He established a plantation and cattle farm at present-day Martin’s Bluff and also had a house at Belle Fontaine on the Gulf.
- Another one of the early colonists who withstood the misfortunes and remained when others fled was Joseph Simon de La Pointe, a carpenter from Longueil, Canada, who arrived with D’iberville on the second voyage of 1700. La Pointe’s name appears in several Biloxi, Mobile, and Pascagoula records of the time.
Around 1718, La Pointe petitioned Governor Cadillac of Louisiana for property near the Pascagoula River, and he received a grant of land located-directly across-from Graveline’s property. Although there is no conclusive documentation as to the exact location, the La Pointe tract is considered to be in vicinity of this very site.
A 1726-era map and drawing by Dumont de Montigny shows the “Habitation du Sr. de La Pointe au Pascagoula” as well as property belonging to a Madame de Chaumont, a concession upriver. The La Pointe and Chaumont concessions are also shown on this 1732 map by D’Anville.
In the fall of 1719 Jean Francois Dumont and his detachment of six solders were welcomed at LaPointe’s plantation enroute from Dauphin Island to establish a second settlement on the mainland near Old Biloxi. They had forgotten to bring a supply of fresh water with them when they left Dauphin Island and were pleased when they finally reached the Pascagoula River. He described these events in his memoirs.
“Finally, at about eleven the morning, we saw a wide expanse of water between two points of land. It was, at last, the river that we had been seeking for so long. We stopped our boat to drink our fill of this liquor that, for us, was like the nectar of the gods. This river is known by the name of the River of the Pascagoulas, after an Indian nation that is friendily with us. Entering this river, we saw on the right-hand side a fine plantation that belonged to the Sr. de la Pointe, a Canadian who in the time of M. de Crozat, had come to establish himself there. His house has two stories, not to mention the granary, couryard, kitchen, storage barns, corrals, numerous livestock, and slaves; the latter were Indians at that time, but some time after, he had Africans. This habitant recieved my detachment and me very well. He is widowed but has for company two rather good-looking daughters and two sons. I stayed there for two days to recover from the fatigues that I had undergone. The third day, after breakfast, we left and crossed the river, two leagues in breadth at that point, to go dine with another habitant named Graveline, a Canadian who was also among the first settlers there and who also showed great courtesy toward us.”
From THE MEMOIR OF LIEUTENANT DUMONT, 1715-1747: A SOJOURNER IN THE FRENCH ATLANTIC translated by Gordon M. Sayre, edited by Gordon M. Sayre and Carla Zecher. Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture. Copyright © 2012 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. www.uncpress.unc.edu
The drawing of the La Pointe settlement shows a compound including a large house, a chapel, and several other buildings located inside a stockade. Outside the stockade, close to the river, are two small buildings called “scierie a bras,” which has been translated to mean either “carpenter shop” or “sawmill.” It is possible that this house may have evolved from one of these two buildings.
By 1733 the Chaumont plantation had been abandoned, but the La Pointe settlement survived. In 1734, records show that it was the site of the wedding of M. Baudreau of Isle Dauphine known today as Dauphin Island.
On La Pointe’s death, the property passed to his daughter, Marie Simon de La Pointe, the first wife of Hugo Ernestus Krebs, a German immigrant who would become a prosperous farmer and entrepreneur. Krebs is known to have designed and constructed a cotton gin, described in Bernard Roman’s journal of 1775, predating Eli Whitney’s invention by 25 years.
Krebs inherited the property upon the death of his wife in 1751. The most recent archaeological work on this building shows that it was probably repaired or rebuilt around 1775, after the devastating hurricane of 1772, shortly before Krebs’ death in 1776.
The property remained in the continuous ownership of the La Pointe- Krebs family for some 200 years, perhaps one of the reasons this building has survived to this day, in spite of devastating hurricanes, numerous alterations, and changing national dominion. It was perhaps because of Spanish control from 1779 to 1810 when troops were garrisoned in the area as protection against the British that the house became to be known as the Old Spanish Fort.
In 1942 the parcel of land on which the building is located was deeded to the people of Jackson County to be held in trust for the citizens. At this time the La Pointe Krebs House began yet another life- as a public treasure. A popular gathering place from the earliest of days, the house and grounds have hosted many special events through the years. And as the oldest structure in Mississippi and one of the oldest residences in the entire Mississippi Valley, it has been a welcome center of hospitality, indeed.
FRENCH DOMINION ON THE GULF: EXPLORATION AND COLONIZATION
As the seventeenth century drew to a close, three great European nations competed for territory in the New World, convinced that wealth and power would be gained by domination. England had succeeded in colonizing the eastern seaboard and had begun pushing inland. Spain, moving north from its claims in Mexico and the Caribbean, had established missions and military garrisons in the southwest and on the Florida peninsula, having been unsuccessful in setting up a colony on the Gulf after Hernando DeSoto’s expedition. France, equally unsuccessful in its attempts to colonize the Carolinas, had established a strong presence along the Great Lakes in Canada and on a few islands in the Caribbean. But the vast interior of the continent was unclaimed, and the French would use the great Mississippi River as a highway to explore this uncharted land.
In 1682, Rene’ Robert Cavalier de La Salle, descended the Mississippi to its mouth staking claim to the entire Mississippi Valley for France, calling it Louisiana in honor of King Louis XIV. To strengthen their position against French encroachment, the Spanish set up outposts in the Texas territory and along the Gulf of Mexico as far west as Pensacola. However, they left a vast expanse of land in between, which the French quickly moved to possess.
In 1699, the French Canadian explorer Pierre leMoyne, Sieur D’iberville, and his brother, Jean Baptiste leMoyne, Sieur de Bienville, established Fort Maurepas near present-day Ocean Springs, the first French fortification on the Gulf. Three years later, the administrative center of the colony was moved to Mobile Bay, where it remained until a disastrous hurricane in 1717 and destroyed it’s port.
In spite of the fact that they found the natives of the area friendly and willing to engage in trade, the French failed in their first attempts to settle the area along the Gulf because the land was swampy and there was no safe harbor.
To encourage settlement and profit from trade, in 1712, the French crown awarded the colony’s management to the merchant Antoine Crozat, who, in return, received a monopoly on trade. In 1717, the colony was turned over to John Law, a Scottish banker, who was assisting the French government with its finances. Laws Company of the West later merged with the Company of the Indies, attracted large sums of money in return for stock from many investors eager to make a profit in the New World.
Colonists were sent to the area, but many perished at sea or succumbed to disease and starvation. Others abandoned their new home within a few years when promised supplies from France did not arrive. John Law’s “Mississippi Bubble,” as the speculation was called, had burst by 1720, and the investors lost their money as their stock turned out to be worthless. Law’s colony reverted to the crown in 1730.
Although the French would only retain control of the Gulf Coast east of the Mississippi, until 1763 their influence on the area was irrevocably established.
CONSTRUCTION, DESTRUCTION AND RECONSTRUCTION: THE HOUSE RESTORED CHANGES TO THE HOUSE SINCE 1820 AND BACK AGAIN
Renowned Mississippi author Willie Morris has written that a writer’s imagination is stimulated by “Love of a place -where individual human beings, relationships, family histories, the link with generations gone not only matter but buttress everyday life.
The La Pointe-Krebs House is here today because of such love of a place. Over the years those who lived here altered the house to fit their growing families, to make it more comfortable, and to reflect the styles of the times. Changes ranged from the removal and enclosure of porches to the attachment of sheds and construction of outbuildings.
After 1820 the next major renovation occurred in the 1870s, when a raised wooden floor was installed. The fireboxes were filled and bricked in at this time and fireplaces were rebuilt with hearths at the new higher floor level. We can date this event because of artifact material found in the sealed fireboxes.
At this time, the doorways and windows were altered to accommodate the new floor height. We can see evidence of these changes on the door and window timbers. The roof was also altered at this time.
The first major 20th century change occurred in 1940 when the floor level was restored to the lower level and a new concrete slab was poured inside the house. No longer a residence, the hotre was acquired by the American legion as a meeting hall. During this time electricity and gas logs were installed,fireplace mantles removed, and new windows added. The side porch was reopened and other buildings on the site demolished.
In 1940, recognizing the historical significance of the house, researchers with the Historic American Building Survey documented the structure with scaled architectural drawings and photographs and recorded its condition It had fallen into disrepair and was in serious need of restoration. The house was sold by the Krebs descendants to Jackson County in 1942, to be held In trust for the citizens and to promote the county. Through its life as a public building many significant events have taken place on the property, and the house has served as a center of social life for the community, just as it has done since it was a welcome stop on the route between Mobile and New Orleans two centuries ago.
In 1950 the building was leased to the Jackson County Historical Society, who operated a museum here until the 1980s, when the adjacent museum building was constructed.
In 1980, the concrete floor was covered with a raised wooden floor set on concrete piers and new bricks were added to the fireplaces.
Serious planning toward restoration began in 1979 with the first significant historical research on the property ownership and archaeological testing’s. More thorough archaeological investigations as well as wood and paint analyses occurred in 1992 and 1994.
This house and property truly serve as a link with generations gone, as Willie Morris said, verbiage symbolized best by this quiet resting place, one of the Oldest family cemeteries still in use in the United States.
The construction methods and material of the walls forming the original center room (ca 1750) and eastern room (ca 1770) of the LaPointe Krebs house are unique and are the only example of this method on the Gulf Coast or anywhere else in the Colony of New France. The walls were formed from a material called tabby which is concrete-like and is created by mixing together slaked lime (in slurry form), with sand, ash, and locally found shell (primarily oyster) as aggregate. This mixture was poured into forms and allowed to harden.
Learn even more about Tabby.
The wooden timbers included in the wall sections of the tabby are not intended as load bearing members (as they are less than half the thickness of the wall) but instead were placed in the forms and included in successive pours to be an attachment point for windows and doors and at the exterior corners for protection of the tabby.
The western room of the house (ca.1790) is different and is constructed in the traditional Poteaux-sur-sole (“posts-on-a-sill”) method of construction where the upright structural timbers were connected to the bottom sill timbers and upper plate timbers by pinned mortise and tenon joints. The areas between this timber framing were then fully filled with a material called Bousillage.
Bousillage is produced by mixing Spanish moss, or other fibrous material and silty soil which was then sufficiently wetted and formed into moldable loaf shaped portions and packed into the empty spaces between the timbers for the full thickness of the walls. After the Bousillage had dried, it would be covered with a protective coating of lime based stucco-plaster and/or a lime wash.
Learn more about Bousillage.
The floors of all the rooms when first constructed were formed of above-grade tabby. The roof and the supporting timbered structure (King posts, rafters, purlins, and beams) were all originally hewn and then pit sawn timber. Today, most of these timbers are still in place. It is thought that the original roof ended at the exterior walls, but was later extended on the north, south and west sides to form the galleries and the two smaller rooms or “cabinets” that were part of the 1820 additions.
The location of the two cabinets can now be seen on the northeast and southwest corners of the galleries. This is shown by the additional timbering (part of the latest historical renovation) at the edges that would have supported the outer cabinet walls.
Based on remaining evidence, the house started out with two rooms and a fireplace but after 250 years of remodeling, the original fireplace was relocated, another one added, and additional subdividing interior walls were built, and by the turn of the 20th century the home had 4 rooms and the two attached cabinets.