When looking at Fort Maurepas and its place in history, one comes to realize that the locating of Fort Maurepas at Ocean Springs by Iberville was an accident! The erection of its replica on Front Beach at Ocean Springs in 1980-1981 has also been criticized by many and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History [MDAH] in particular. It is only the current results of the ‘economic miracle’ of Katrina that has brought about what we hope is the final page in ‘the Fort Maurepas saga’-Fort Maurepas Park, a pro bono publico venue that most all will be pleased and enjoy.
From February 1699 until April 1699, Iberville and his cohorts explored the Mississippi River delta to as far north as St. Francisville, East Feliciana Parish, Louisiana and eastward from Istrouma [Baton Rouge] to Dauphine Island and Mobile Bay, with the aid of local Indian tribes discovering: Lake Pontchartrain and the Bayou St. John portage from a site on the Mississippi River to Lake Pontchartain. This river locale would become Bienville’s great city of New Orleans. As their provisions became exhausted, the Frenchmen had to hurriedly decide where to erect a fort and leave about eighty men to defend the French claim to much of what is now the central USA. Ocean Springs was actually the third choice for Fort Maurepas after sites on Lake Pontchartrain and at Gautier, Mississippi on the West Pascagoula River were negated. Mitigating circumstances primarily: distance from the fleet’s base at Ship Island; shallow water, and oyster reefs all led Iberville to choose the high bluff on today’s Lover’s Lane in Ocean Springs as the French beachhead in La Louisiane.(McWilliams, 1981, pp. 89-92)
It is the author’s hope that this history of past and present events relating to Fort Maurepas and Fort Maurepas Park has enlightened those who care about our past and future. May every citizen enjoy the benefits that Fort Maurepas Park will provide. If you do nothing but climb the stairs, the view of Biloxi Bay and Deer Island are worth the effort. Please thank our Mayor, her loyal and brilliant staff, your Aldermen, and FEMA! Vive Le Roi-Vive La France-Vive Les Ocean Springs. AuRayvoir.
Fort Maurepas (1699-1702) and French Colonial History at Ocean Springs
A Reconstructed French Colonial Fort
On April 8, 1699, an expeditionary force of French soldiers, sailors, and laborers with their French Canadian cohorts commenced construction of the first French fortress in the lower Mississippi River Valley. These brave men were led by Pierre LeMoyne, Sieur d'Iberville (1661-1706), him self a native of Canada, operating under the patronage of King Louis XIV (1638-1715) of France. Iberville's mission was to locate the mouth of the Mississippi River and establish a French presence on the Mexican Gulf Coast to discourage Spanish and English incursions into the area claimed by France. Some French strategist feared that if the English controlled the mouth of the Mississippi that their holdings and commercial enterprises including the lucrative fur trade of interior North America were doomed.
The basis of the French claim was the exploration by Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle (1643-1687). La Salle reconnoitered the Mississippi River locating its deltaic mouth in April 1682. He claimed for France the vast area between the Rocky Mountains and the Alleghenies drained by the Mississippi and all of its tributaries. We know this territory as Louisiana, i.e. belonging to Louis (Louis XIV). La Salle called the Great River, Colbert, in honor of the French Minister of Marine.
The small fort was located on a narrow peninsula on the east side of the Bay of Biloxi within the present day limits of the city of Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Iberville named this French Colonial outpost, Fort Maurepas. It was named to honor the French Minister of the Marine (Navy), Jerome Phelypeaux de Maurepas, Comte (Earl) de Pontchartrain.
Several locales in North America bear the name Maurepas or Pontchartrain: Lakes Maurepas and Pontchartrain in southeastern Louisiana and Point Maurepas on the island of Michipicoten (Ontario) in Lake Superior. The Fort Maurepas settlement was also called Biloxi for the local Siouxan Indian tribe which lived on the Pascagoula River.
Plan of Fort Maurepas by Remy Reno
Fort Maurepas was designed by Remy Reno, the draftsman of Iberville, utilizing the system of military fortification developed by Marshall Vauban, nee Sebastian Le Prestre (1633-1707). Iberville's men utilized available materials for the fort's construction which covered an area of one-half acre. Bastions, palisades, living quarters, warehouses, and other structures were fabricated from indigenous trees, i.e. oak, hickory, and pine. Maurepas was armed with at least twelve cannon (possibly eight pounders) taken from the French frigates, La Badine and Le Marin.
When Iberville departed for France in May 1699, he left a garrison of seventy-six men and ten officers. They were given cows, hogs, a bull, seed (peas, corn, and beans), and ship stores to survive until his anticipated return in 1700. The crops planted failed due to a severe drought, but fortunately the garrison was supplied from the French base at St. Domingue (Haiti). Monsieur Sauvole was left in command with Jean Baptise LeMoyne, Sieur de Bienville (1680-1768), the brother of d'Iberville, second in command.
During Iberville absence, Bienville explored the surrounding area making brief stops at Pensacola, Mobile Bay, Pascagoula River, Lake Pontchartrain, and the Mississippi River discovering the future site of New Orleans. On the Great River, he encountered an English corvette, Carolina Galley, and convinced Captain Bond and his Huguenot settlers to retreat back to the Gulf.
This point of detour just south of New Orleans is still called English Turn (Detour-a-l'Anglais), and marked the commencement of a long period of time (1699-1763) in which the French controlled the Mississippi Valley from the Rocky Mountains to Biloxi. Iberville returned to Fort Maurepas in January 1700 aboard Renommee. The report of an English ship in the Mississippi River gave strong impetus for the Frenchmen to construct a small fort there. Fort Mississippi (Boulaye) (1700-1707) was completed in the spring of 1700.
Under Commandant Sauvole, the French continued good relations with the local Indian tribes in the vicinity of Fort Maurepas. They traded European goods (guns, axes, powder, etc.) for food and animal skins while absorbing the wood lore and culture of the Indian.
Conditions at Fort Maurepas were generally miserable as insects (gnats and mosquitoes), snakes, alligators, disease (especially yellow fever), and the paucity of drinking water were prevalent. In addition morale was low as the Canadians long accustomed to trapping and voyaging refused to farm. Drinking of spirituous liquor was also a problem.
By 1701, Iberville decided to move the garrison to a site on the Mobile River at Twenty Seven Mile Bluff. This settlement called La Mobile (Fort Louis de la Louisiane), for the local Indians, was established in the spring of 1702.
Locating here allowed the French to be nearer the Spanish settlement at Pensacola. France and Spain had recently become allied and had initiated a conflict with England called the Queen Anne's War (1702- 1713) in North America. Another advantage at La Mobile was that the river gave them access to the interior of Alabama were trading with larger Indian nations was possible.
Fort Maurepas was abandoned in the early months of 1702. It is generally believed that the structure was burned or dismantled to prevent an enemy of the French to utilized it. The French returned their capital to the area of the "Old Fort" at Ocean Springs briefly in 1719 before establishing a post (Fort Louis) at Biloxi in 1720.
1949 Historical marker
On November 20, 1949, an historical marker commemorating the establishment of Fort Maurepas by Iberville at Ocean Springs in April 1699 was placed on US Highway 90 and Front Beach Drive. Iola Y. Davidson spoke on the history of the French Beachhead followed by Mrs. Charles McDaris of Gulfport, representing the DAR. John D. Smith, Southern District Highway Commissioner, also spoke about the Fort Maurepas marker.(The Daily Herald, November 21, 1949, p. 1)
Local interest in Fort Maurepas began in 1967 when Colonel Rudolph Fink and J.K. Lemon began collecting maps and charts from the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. This information was shared with the history aficionados of the Gulf Coast resulting in an interest to locate the original site of Fort Maurepas.
1699 Historical Committee
In March 1971, a group of citizens organized at Ocean Springs to promote an interest in historical events of the past, present, and future of the Ocean Springs, Mississippi area. This association was called the 1699 Historical Committee. The 1699 Historical Committee is responsible for the annual Iberville Landing Commemoration (April), seeks to have the Fort Maurepas marker returned from the Cabildo, and was instrumental in the Fort Maurepas replication.
In 1973, the 1699 Historical Committee, State Representative Marby R. Penton (1922-1995), and Secretary of State Heber Ladner (1902-1989) saw their years of work come to fruition when the Mississippi Legislature passed House Bill No. 1361 which appropriated $300,000 to "purchase land for the location of the Fort Maurepas historical site, provided that said site is entered in the National Register of Historical Places". In the same year, archeologists from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History began a survey to locate the site of Fort Maurepas. Most of their efforts were concentrated in the Lover's Lane area of west Ocean Springs.
Although some trenching was done, conclusive evidence for the structure was never discovered. One theory why the fort was not found was that the scientists were not allowed to explore a particular location (Poitevent) where cartographic and surface evidence indicated the fort to be situated. Others believe the original site of Fort Maurepas on the high bluff at Fort Point was eroded long ago by wave action and violent storms.
The Gulf Regional Planning Commission released its study titled, "Reconstruction of Fort Maurepas", also in 1973. This detailed study dealt with the history and significance of Fort Maurepas, and the costs to acquire land and build an historically accurate replica.
By 1975, Fort Maurepas zealots saw the Mississippi Legislature apportion $250,000 to the State Building Commission for a site to be administered by the Department of Archives and History. With this money, two tracts of land were purchased in February and March of 1976 by Governor Cliff Finch and Secretary of State Heber Ladner representing the State of Mississippi.(The Ocean Springs Record, March 11, 1976, p. 2) The most westerly tract of approximately 5.7 acres was the former location of the Edwards' summer home. In 1899, Dr. Jasper J. Bland (1850-1932) bought the property, and opened the Beach Hotel (Jackson County Deed Book 20, pp. 248-250).
Eventually, he enlarged the structure to three stories renaming it the New Beach Hotel in 1909. By 1921, the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart were occupying the site utilizing it as a summer orphanage. It later became their retirement home. Hurricane Camille damaged the structure in 1969, and it was torn down by Clarence Galle in 1971. The Missionary Sisters sold the tract to the Richelle Corporation of Metairie, Louisiana in February 1974 (Jackson County Deed Book 448, p. 546).
Richelle planned to develop the property as the Twin Bluff Condominiums, but were foreclosed on and sued by the First National Bank of Jackson County (Chancery Court Case No. 29,412). The Bank was awarded the land, which they sold to the State on March 1, 1976 (Jackson County Deed Book 554, pp. 644-645).
The other contiguous parcel of about two acres was sold by the Missionary Sisters to Donald M. Bradburn in September 1975. Bradburn later conveyed to the Ocean Springs Yacht Club who sold to the State on February 16, 1976. (Jackson County Deed Book 543, p. 387 and Book 554, pp. 646-647).
Fort Maurepas replica
In 1979, the State Legislature appropriated $350,000 for the construction of the Fort Maurepas replica. Fred Wagner of Bay St. Louis was named project architect and the New Orleans firm of Koch & Wilson associate architects. In September 1980, the State Building Commission awarded a contract for $273,000 to the Carter & Mullins Construction Company of Columbia. House Bill No. 1296 (March 1981) allowed for $950,000 in Federal revenue sharing funds to complete Fort Maurepas. The first phase of construction was completed in August or September of 1981. It consisted of an exterior stockade (154 feet x 154 feet) constructed of single, treated pine post about eight feet tall. The square enclosure encompasses an area of about .54 acres. The southeast corner of the Fort Maurepas replica is a blockhouse or bastion (Royal Bastion). It is triangular in plan about twenty feet tall and served as the Governor's House and cannon fortification. No other bastion was commenced. The only portion of the inner palisade completed is a twenty eight-foot section, which runs west of the Royal Bastion and includes the main gate (seven feet wide). This wall is approximately twelve feet tall and is built triple log thick. No interior buildings have been constructed, i.e. soldier's lodges, bakery, or general warehouse. Unfortunately in 1982 and 1983 the Mississippi Budget Commission took measures to avert State budget deficits. With a deficit of $85 million facing them in 1983, the Commission approved a $9 million cut in agency appropriations, which included $900,000 for the completion of Fort Maurepas. Since this time State and Federal funds for the completion of Fort Maurepas had been suspended indefinitely.
With the State of Mississippi apparently not financially capable of committing funds to complete the Fort Maurepas project, it was felt that if the City of Ocean Springs got title to the property something might be done to accomplish this goal. By February 1991, under the leadership of District 113 Representative, Alvin Endt, the House voted to transfer the title to the City of Ocean Springs. After Senate approval and Governor Ray Mabus's signature, Mayor Kevin Alves on April 25, 1991, received the quitclaim deed to the two tracts containing the Fort Maurepas Reconstruction from the State of Mississippi by the Department of Archives and History and Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks. The State of Mississippi retained all mineral rights and stipulated that the city maintain the fort as a historic site and include in its annual budget sufficient funds to maintain the structure. (Jackson County Deed Book 975, pp. 113-117).
A ceremony was held at the Fort Maurepas replica on July 21, 1991 where Mayor Kevin Alves accepted the title to Fort Maurepas from Archives and History representative, Elbert R. Hilliard. U.S. Representative Gene Taylor addressed the group and said that the fort was "worthwhile to the preservation of our heritage", and pledged his support on seeing the replica completed.
On August 20, 1991, the Environmental Concerns Committee of the Greater Ocean Springs Chamber of Commerce proposed to the City of Ocean Springs that the marsh, wetlands, contiguous upland and wooded habitats which were adjacent to Fort Maurepas be declared an "inner city" nature preserve. The City Council accepted the proposal, which additionally provided for the protection, management, and development of a natural history program for the area. Discouragement of activities which might degrade the aesthetics, biological, scientific, or educational value of the area surrounding Fort Maurepas was another goal. (Minutes of the City of Ocean Springs, Mississippi (8-20-1991), pp. 582-583).
On June 10, 1992, an organizational meeting was held at the Ocean Springs City Hall to form the Fort Maurepas Society. The purpose of this group is to outfit, maintain, and complete the construction of Fort Maurepas. After a slow first year, the Fort Maurepas Society is progressing and plans to present the citizens of Ocean Springs with some interesting programs commencing this fall. They tell me that "a few good men" will be coming from Fort Toulouse in October. Be there!
After the formation of the Fort Maurepas Society, the Fort Maurepas replica became the site of annual reenactments for about ten years. In the spring of 1992, Commandant Ray L. Bellande went to the Fort Toulouse replica at the Fort Toulouse-Jackson Park near Wetumpka, Alabama and invited the French Colonial animators there to participate in the first reenactment at Fort Maurepas, which was held in early October 1993.
Compagnies Franches de la Marine performing manual of arms
Fort Toulouse danseurs
Arrival of Iberville
Ouisconsin Northwest Trading Company
Iberville and marines landing at Ship Island to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Iberville's landing
In late August 2005, Hurricane Katrina essentially destroyed the Fort Maurepas replica on Front Beach Drive at Ocean Springs. The large bastion on the southeast corner of the structure was floated some forty-feet north of its foundation by the tempest. Most of the existing palisades were destroyed or severely damaged by the tidal surge on the morning of August 29th.
(image made September 2005)
In the fall of 2005, the remains and debris of the battered and inundated Fort Maurepa replica were removed. The large, bastion timbers were saved. Mayor Connie M. Moran called for a public meeting at the Ocean Springs Community Center on the eve of April 27, 2006 to discuss the future of the site. Frank Burandt of Greg Cantrell Inc., landscape architects, of Kenner, Louisiana will present their design for the site. Mayor Moran said of the Fort Maurepas replica: "It was very user unfriendly and it was vandalized constantly, despite the installation of lighting and security cameras. We want this [new park] to be a place everyone can enjoy."(The Sun Herald, April 24, 2006, p. A3)
In mid-June 2006, about one hundred residents of Ward II, in which the Fort Maurepas replica sat for almost twenty-five years, overwhelmingly approved the preliminary plan of Frank Burandt, landscape architect, for a beach park on the beach front site situated between Washington and Jackson Avenues. Fort Maurepas Park will feature a Great Lawn outlined by a low brick wall, which in plan view replicates a Marshall Vauban (1633-1707) fortification, similar to that erected by Iberville's men in April 1699. Marshall Vauban served Louis XIV (1638-1715) of France as a military engineer. There will be a stage on the north side of the Great Lawn. The south side of the Great Lawn will be graced with statuary and historical markers commemorating the five centuries of local history. Other amenities of the Fort Maurepas Park will be a two-story pavilion with toilets, a playground for children, picnic tables, and a boardwalk on the southwest perimeter of the Fort Maurepas Nature Preserve.(The Ocean Springs Record, June 29, 2006, p. A1)
Eric Clark, Mississippi Secretary of State, revealed in a letter to Mayor Connie Marie Moran on July 24th, that the preliminary plans of the City of Ocean Springs to create a Fort Maurepas Park on the site of the Katrina damaged-destroyed Fort Maurepas replica meet with his approval and satisfy the requirement that Ocean Springs maintain the State donated property as an historic site. To quote from Mr. Clark: "The State conveyed the property to the City of Ocean Springs in 1991, and the deed requires the City to maintain the property as an official historic site. I have concluded that the plan described above honors that requirement and I am happy to give my approval. I wish you well with this project, and with your efforts to rebuild and improve your beautiful city."(The Ocean Springs Record, August 17, 2006, p. A10)
Breaking Ground- 29 August, 2006
[l-r: Alderman-at-Large Julia Weaver; Asst. Police Chief George Mulvaney; State Senator Tommy Moffett; Ray L. Bellande; Alderman Greg Denyer; Ken P'Pool, MDAH; John Gill, ?, Mayor Connie Marie Moran; Police Chief Kerry Belk; State Representative Henry Zuber; ?, Fire Chief Mark Hare; Frank Burandt of Greg Cantrell & Associates; ?; and Scott ? with Senator Trent Lott.
Ray L. Bellande, Local Historian
[images courtesy of Terry Dickson and The Ocean Springs Record]
Ground was broken for the Fort Maurepas Park on August 29th, 2006 at the site on Front Beach Drive with primarily local dignitaries and neighbors in attendance. Mayor Connie Moran opened the session with a welcoming statement to the small audience on the grounds. She was followed by Ray L. Bellande, local historian, who gave a brief history of the old Hansell-Edwards-Bland property on which the 1981 Fort Maurepas replica had stood until Katrina's wrath erased it last August 29th. Ken P' Pool from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History in Jackson,Mississippi closed the speech making with a review of the French Colonial history of the area and Ft. Maurepas' importance to the French effort in securing La Louisiane and establishing their future colony from here. Invited dignitaries then shoveled dirt to signify the commencement of the $1.3 million dollar project. Practically the entire cost of Fort Maurepas Park development will be derived from FEMA funds, the Katrina Benefit Fund owned by the City, and the Department of Natural Resources Tidelands Fund, thus placing no additional burden on taxpayers.(The Ocean Springs Record, August 31, 2006, p. A1)
Project in limbo?
In mid-October, the Board of Aldermen were informed by Adrienne Howell, City Clerk, that the anticipated $629,000 FEMA money intended for Fort Maurepas Park could be used ONLY to replace what was on the site, i.e. the 1981 fort replica. The Board believed that the FEMA grant was for the new park and voted not to spend any more money on the park project until it could be ascertained with certainty that funding was secure for the $1.3 million dollar project. Mayor Moran aspired that FEMA would accept the Fort Maurepas Park proposal as a qualified replacement for the destroyed Fort Maurepas replica.(The Ocean Springs Record, October 12, 2006, p. A1)
In January 2007, Mayor Moran related that an announcement of the historical site assessment of the Maurepas Park property would soon be released. This investigation was performed by contractors hired by the Department of Homeland Security for FEMA to ascertain in particular that no Native American artifacts on the proposed park site. By mid-January, the State Historical Preservation Office confirmed that an archeological survey of the park site, which included soil borings found nothing adverse to prevent the construction of Maurepas Park. The future of the project rests with financial assistance from FEMA, which is expected to pay 75 per cent of the estimated $1.3 million cost. A grant from the Department of Marine Resources [DMR] of $297,000 is anticipated to be given for parking, sidewalks, and for boardwalks to access the Fort Mauepas Nature Preserve. A private donation of $100,000 has been made for a playground for the park.(The Ocean Springs Record, January 11, 2007, p. 1 and January 18, 2007, p. A8)
Project alive and well
After the tenth public hearing on the proposed Fort Maurepas Park was held on July 2, 2007, the Board of Alderman elected to revise the current plan for the facility. Alderman Matt McDonnell of Ward II, the ward in which the proposed park will be located, proposed that the revisions include: use pervious materials for the thirty-two parking spaces; scale down the two-story pavilion; pull back the platforms in the marsh area; add low-level lighting; and maximize the green space. This proposal will be presented to the OS Historical Preservation Commission on July 12th and the Board of Mayor and Aldermen on July 17th.(The Sun Herald, July 9, 2007, p. A2)
Bids for the Maurepas Park pier were opened July 3rd and contract was let construct a new, 650-foot pier with concrete pilings, lighting, a pavilion mid-way between the foot of pier and the T-head area at the head of the wharf. The modern structure will have running water and an area to clean fish. By mid-October 2008, the $722,000 water front structure was under construction with piles being set and a projected January 2009 completion date. The Department of Marine Resources will build an oyster reef at the termination of the pier to enhance fishing and rework the old reef off of the Katrina destroyed and abandoned Martin Avenue Community Pier to the west.(The Ocean Springs Record, July 10, 2008, p. A1)
The pier was completed in February 2009 by Brown and Mitchell Engineering of Gulfport. It was dedicated on March 21, 2009 and name in memory of Chester M. McPhearson Jr. (1924-2006), who served the City as its Mayor from 1981 to 1989 and Ward IV Alderman from 1953-1961.(The Ocean Springs Record, March 19, 2009, p. 4) .
Construction started in early March 2009
Maurepas Park contracts awarded
On December 16, 2008, the City awarded Orocon Construction of Biloxi the contract to build Maurepas Park. The agreement excluded landscaping and irrigation from the nearly $2 million estimated cost for the bay-front recreational site, which is funded by FEMA, State tidelands money, Katrina donations, and private pecuniary resources.(The Sun Herald, December 17, 2008, p. A9)
On April 20, 2009, Marlene Hilton Moore, Canadian artist and sculptor, was awarded the contract to design and create a statue of Iberville for Maurepas Parc.
Ray L. Bellande modeling for Iberville statue
[image made by Mayor Connie Marie Moran on April 28, 2009]