In the heart of Pass Christian once stood the Dixie “White House,” a mansion that served as President Woodrow Wilson’s vacation home during the 1913 holiday season.
Its story goes back to 1851, when John Bache, a Louisiana native, acquired a lot in Pass Christian for $1,000. Over the years, he crafted a grand mansion, drawing inspiration from the architectural splendors of the White House’s West Wing and the Cabildo in New Orleans. The result was a unique blend of Spanish and French colonial architecture adorned with stately arch columns.
At some point prior to the Civil War, the home came to be known as Beaulieu, which is French for Beautiful Place.
According to Landmarks Pass Christian’s website, Beaulieu featured six bedrooms, each equipped with a fireplace, high ceilings and wide windows. The bathtub, a masterpiece crafted from imported Italian marble, and a dining room table designed for large feasts added to its grandeur.
Beaulieu passed through several hands before finding itself in the possession of General William Selby Harney, an American cavalryman renowned for his roles in the Indian Wars and the Mexican-American War. According to Mansions of Pass Christian’s website, Harney allegedly hosted President Ulysses S. Grant at Beaulieu in 1880, marking the first recorded visit to the Mississippi Coast by a sitting U.S. President.
President Woodrow Wilson
In 1914, Beaulieu became nationally famous for serving as the winter retreat for President Wilson during his first term. Wilson, along with his wife, Ellen, and three children, sought solace in Pass Christian to escape the pressures of political life in Washington, D.C., and relax after a particularly grueling first nine months in office.
Pass Christian’s residents were informed that their small town was to house the first family during the holidays, and excitement quickly spread. With this in mind, the Wilsons decided that staying in a popular coastal hotel was out of the question. The new owner of Beaulieu, Mrs. Marie Louise Ayer, offered the mansion to President Wilson as a quiet retreat. At the time, it was leased to Miss Alice Herndon, who graciously hosted the presidential family.
Christmas Day 1914 witnessed the Wilsons arriving at the mansion, partaking in a holiday feast before beginning their relaxation on the Mississippi Coast. President Wilson, an avid golfer, visited the Mississippi Coast Country Club, which is now the Great Southern Golf Club, almost every day of his stay on the coast. Wilson and his secret service agents even intervened in a house fire during one of their drives.
As the Wilsons prepared to bid farewell to Pass Christian, nearly 6,000 residents attended a grand reception at Beaulieu on Jan. 10, 1915. Among the large crowd were small children, affluent locals and visitors as well as Confederate veterans who were particularly interested in meeting the president. It was this massive reception that led to Beaulieu becoming affectionately referred to as the Dixie “White House.”
The house was later sold to Mr. and Mrs. Claude Schneider of Slidell, who planned to demolish it. The Pass Christian Garden Club worked with local resident Liz Prichard and the secretary of the Pass Christian Chamber of Commerce, Ruth Gordon, to form a committee to save the historic mansion. After raising around $15,000, the committee assisted a Mrs. Thomas Jordan in purchasing the home as a summer retreat while preserving its unique history.
The committee that saved the mansion later evolved into the Pass Christian Historical Society, and the mansion became a local nursing home. Unfortunately, Hurricane Camille severely damaged the original structure in 1969. It was demolished the following year, but a near replica was built in its place in 2008 at 767 East Scenic Dr.
Today, a historical marker at the intersection of East Scenic Drive and Lang Avenue in Pass Christian marks the fascinating history of the Dixie White House and President Woodrow Wilson’s stay there.