Tombstone shards from the Ocean Springs Hotel Cemetery
(image made November 1991. Courtesy of Janice L. Thetford (1933-2002).
LOCATION: The Ocean Springs Hotel Cemetery was located in the W/2 of Section 37, T7S-R8W in the city of Ocean Springs. The cemetery was removed by a Works Progress Administration work party about 1935. Today, an approximate location for this small burial ground is in a residential area of Ocean Springs a few hundred feet south of Cleveland Avenue in the 800 block.
HISTORY: In the late 1840s, William L. Porter (b. 1811) came to Ocean Springs from Tennessee and opened a mercantile store. By March 1850, this business was prospering and he began to invest in local real estate with Thomas C.Porter, possibly his uncle or older brother, who was the port tax collector from 1853-1857 at New Orleans. The Porters bought Lots 2 and 3 of the Widow LaFontaine Claim now referred to as Claim Section 37, T7S-R8W.
Today these lots are located on the Front Beach commencing east of "Many Oaks", the John B. Honor Estate (now Zala-Jensen), and going to Washington Avenue. Their north boundary is Government Street. Lot 2 and 3 comprise about 81 acres, and were once owned by John Westbrook, husband of Felicity LaFontaine and Jean Baptiste Ladner (1783-1840+), husband of Julienne LaFontaine..
In August 1851, Martha E. Austin (1820-1898), the wife of Dr. William G. Austin of New Orleans (1812-1894) and probably the sister of William L. Porter, bought an undivided half interest in the lots from her uncle, Thomas C. Porter. In the warranty deed, Thomas C. Porter reserved one half acre in the western boundary of the tract "as to include the grave of his deceased wife, Deborah Porter" (1891-1850).(JXCO, Ms. Land Deed Bk. 4, p. 517.)
In 1853, Martha E. Austin (1818-1898) and her husband, Dr. William Glover Austin (1814-1894) of New Orleans erected the Ocean Springs Hotel (1853-1905) near the southwest corner of Jackson Avenue and Calhoun (now Cleveland). The site where Deborah Porter was buried became the Ocean Springs Hotel Cemetery. It was just northwest of the hotel.
The Austins sold their hotel to Rachel Harbough Martin (1813-1854+), the wife of Warrick Martin (1810-1854+), on December 24, 1853. The price was $20,000. The Martins were natives of Pennsylvania and were residents of New Orleans at the time of the purchase. (JXCO, Ms. Land Deed Bk. E, pp. 561-563).
An unusual incident was reported by The Ocean Springs Record in July 1986. The newspaper related that the tombstone of Deborah Porter had been found at Pointe aux Chenes east of Ocean Springs. Ocean Springs historian, C. Ernest Schmidt (1904-1988), returned it to his home at Jackson Avenue and Cleveland, which is very near the location of the Ocean Springs Hotel Cemetery. The tombstone lies horizontal in his front yard today which is now owned by Pat Mitchell. Schmidt remembered the cemetery when he was a boy living at Ocean Springs. He told The Ocean Springs Record "it was surrounded by a heavy ornate iron fence and contained four graves".
Other older residents of the area remember the cemetery to be rather small (approximately 12 feet x 12 feet). They can recall a work party employed by the WPA (1935) removing the remains of those buried there, and interring them at the Evergreen Cemetery on Fort Bayou. Mr. Flateau (1888-1955) who had an antique store at Fontainebleau is believed to have sold the old cemetery fence from his shop there.
The New Orleans Christian Advocate reported that in August 1855, Martha E. Austin lost an infant son to pneumonia at Ocean Springs. The name of the child was Thomas Porter Austin. The infant Austin was probably buried in the hotel cemetery with Deborah Porter, the wife of his namesake.
Another probable person buried in the Ocean Springs Hotel Cemetery is a Mr. Strout who perished during the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1878. A recently discovered cache of correspondence by Mary Porter Plummer Buford (ca. 1808-1878), probably a sister of William L. Porter, who died at Ocean Springs from the fever, and her husband, Albert G. Buford, of Water Valley in Yalobusha County, Mississippi reveal many interesting events occurring during the late summer and fall of 1878 in Ocean Springs and Biloxi. Wally Northway of Jackson, Mississippi owns the letters and has most generously provided copies to the author. An excerpt from a letter (Mary P. Buford to A.G. Buford) in the Buford Collection dated August 19, 1878 reveals:
Well the excitement has reached us at last. Mr. Strout one of the proprietors of the hotel died last night, and Dr. Dunlop dispatched the board of health this morning that he died of black vomit and the place is in a ferment. The citizens have protested against the remains being carried through town (presumably to the Evergreen Cemetery on Fort Bayou) and he will be buried in the hotel yard.
In recent times, people living along Jackson Avenue and Calhoun have discovered fragments of tombstones in their yards. Former residents had utilized these shards as borders for plants and flowerbeds. Although these old marble markers are broken, most letters are legible. No positive identification of any individual can be discerned with any degree of certitude, but the dates are compatible with the Ocean Springs Hotel era.
Thomas Porter Austin d. August 1855 as an infant
Consort of Thomas C. Porter
Born May 20th 1801
Died September 15th 1850
Mr. Strout...................d. August 18, 1878
Ray L. Bellande, Ocean Springs Hotels and Tourist Homes, (Bellande: Ocean Springs, Mississippi-1994).
C.E. Schmidt, Ocean Springs French Beachhead, (Lewis Printing Services: Pascagoula - 1972), p. 20.
E.M. and Ema Tipton, Marriages & Obituaries From The New Orleans Christian Advocate (1851-1860), (Tipton Printing & Publishing Company: Bossier City, Louisiana - 1980), p. 89.
The New Orleans Daily Picayune, "William G. Austin, M.D., Recently appointed quarantine physician at Mississippi Station", February 24, 1889.
The Ocean Springs Record, "Tombstone Back Where It Belongs", July 24, 1986, p. 1.
US Census Jackson County, Mississippi 1850.
J.K. Lemon - December 1991.
Wally Northway - May 1992
Deanne Stephens Nuwer - May 1992
Janice Thetford - October 1991