1210 Beach Blvd., Biloxi, MS
Built in 1905
Mississippi Landmark, 2006
The O.G. Swetman Home, the Victorian Colonial Revival third-generation home of Chevis and Marica Swetman, was built by his grandfather, O.G. Swetman (president and chief executive officer of the Peoples Bank from 1951-1963), along Biloxi’s beachfront in 1905. Designed by W.T. Harkness, it was built for $3000, with brickwork by John Eistetter & Son. Original longleaf yellow pine used to manufacture the lumber for the home was salvaged from a hurricane. Colonial Revival details included Ionic columns on the porch, the balustrade above, hipped dormers and period doorways.
When O.G. Swetman built the home, it contained 5 chimneys which he later had shortened, stating that he was concerned that low flying aircraft from a nearby airbase would hit them. Fortuitously, he did not have the chimneys removed all together.
Chevis Swetman relayed a story about his grandfather, O.G. Within 1 year of when the home was first built, a spiteful yardman of a neighbor burned the structure to the ground. The Swetman’s filed a claim with their insurance company and shortly thereafter received a check for $1000. O.G. kept the check in his wallet for some time, claiming that he had never been worth $1000, until his wife was able to convince him to cash the check. The insurance company went out of business days later after it had paid substantial sums to property owners in the San Francisco fire.
Chevis had decided to ride out Hurricane Katrina in their home, sending his wife and son to the Peoples Bank, of which he is CEO and President. He reconsidered as he watched the power of dark waves beating against the watermark his family had recorded during Hurricane Camille in 1969. As morning broke, he headed out the back door to join his family at the bank for the night.
The next afternoon, as winds calmed, Chevis and Marcia waded through knee-deep debris to find their house leaning, broken and battered. Debris was everywhere. Portions of the boardwalk had broken loose and drifted underneath the home, ripping it from its piers and causing the front facade to sag forward 5-8 feet onto the ground. The entire front portico and west wall were blown out by the storm surge as well as half of the front of the structure, but the primary long side studs coupled with the sturdy brick chimneys kept the the home from being completely dismantled. Chevis believes the shortened chimneys likely saved the house. The chimneys supported the roof, preventing further collapse of the home. “The walls had caved in on the bed, most of the plaster and the stairs were gone, and there were tree limbs and boardwalk in the living room,” said Marcia. “We were sure we were going to lose [the house].”
Weeks passed and the Swetman’s relinquished hope. They were removing wood mantels and other architectural details to prepare the home for demolition. Two members of volunteer teams from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Mississippi Heritage Trust and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History approached the Swetmans and encouraged them to pursue restoration, explaining that a good house mover could jack it up. Marcia and Chevis were astounded but hopeful.
During the first weeks after Katrina, building materials were in short supply so the Swetman’s reached out to neighbors, who offered the bits of pieces of their own demolished homes to help them rebuild.
Kosciusko House Movers was ultimately hired to stabilize the house. They began by digging under the house, removing dirt and sand and sliding support beams beneath. Unfortunately, the original chimneys that had served as stabilizers for the home had to be removed in order to facilitate lifting. A series of inflatable rubber pads were placed in critical points and filled with air gradually over three weeks, raising the structure a few inches at a time. By November, the painstaking process righted the home. It was lifted higher on concrete foundation piers and “hardened,” a process that reinforces the structure with plywood sheathing beneath the siding and connects all structural elements with bolts, straps and anchors. Rewiring, re-roofing, and re-plastering all followed.
“Once we knew our house could be saved, [we] began to feel better about the whole world,” said Marcia. “It was that good old construction that let us do it. There’s a lot to be learned from looking at the insides of an old house.”
- 1905: A beachfront home is purchased by O.G. Swetman, President and CEO of the Peoples Bank.
- 1906: That home is burned by a neighbor’s yardman and rebuilt.
- 1969: The home suffered no loss during Hurricane Camille, although flood water reached into the yard.
- 2005: Hurricane Katrina batters the home but Chevis and Marcia Swetman decide to save it after receiving guidance from a team of MHT, MDAH and NTHP volunteers.
The Swetman house is a private residence but may be seen from Beach Boulevard.
“In Biloxi, the Swetman House Rises out of the Rubble,” by Rosa Lowinger, The National Trust for Historic Preservation.
“The Buildings of Biloxi: An Architectural Survey,” 2000 Edition, published by The City of Biloxi.