Old Spanish Fort
The Old Spanish Fort was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2011, The Gombach Group.
The Old Spanish Fort (Old French Fort), located at 200 Fort Street, Pascagoula, Mississippi, is a three-room rectangular structure with one story and attic and measures 37 feet in depth and 62 feet 3 inches in length. The Old Spanish Fort walls are framed of cypress and cedar, with oyster shell concrete fill. An added one-story porch with square posts joined by plank railing encloses the north, south, and west elevations. Exposed rafters project approximately two feet beyond the porch plates. The gable roof, with broken pitch on the facade or south side, is covered with wooden shingles (not original), and the two interior chimneys on the ridge are stucco over brick. Modern double-hung sashes fill the various-sized window frames, which show no marks of older sash installation and were perhaps cloth-covered originally. Doors are recent, except for the batten type on the west elevation, and none of the strap-hinged shutters are original, although pintle marks in the frame indicate earlier ones were in place.
The original building consisted of one large room and two smaller ones which occupied the area of the present middle room. At an undetermined date, a one-room addition was made on the east, to be followed by one on the west. Although there is evidence of two other rooms having been built on the northeast and southwest corners, they no longer exist, and the present layout is three rooms on a single axis. The original oyster shell concrete floor was first covered with wood, raised approximately 18 inches, and more recently with concrete. Random-width boarding is laid tongue-and-groove in the attic, which is reached through a trap door near the west fireplace of the middle room. (A twentieth-century exterior stairway which formerly led to the attic has been removed.) Walls are covered in a plaster made of ground oyster shells, and in the east room is a panel which shows the bousillage (mixture of clay and moss) underneath. Ceiling beams are exposed and some are grooved. The two double chimneys provide fireplaces at each end of the middle room and a single fireplace in each adjoining room. All are similarly treated, with hearths elevated several feet and thick wooden shelves above handmade brick surrounds. Broad wooden planks form the casings for windows and doors.
The land on which the Old Spanish Fort is located was part of a concession on the Pascagoula River made early in the eighteenth century by the French government to the Duchesse de Chaumont. In accordance with the stipulation that such grants in the province of Louisiana be colonized and cultivated, a contingent of 300 settlers arrived in January, 1721. Presumably at that time a palisaded complex on the shore of Chatahoula Lake (now Krebs Lake) was erected under the supervision of Sieur Joseph Simon de la Pointe, who had earlier served with Sieur Lemoyne de Bienville, second royal governor of Louisiana. Marie Simon de la Pointe, daughter of Sieur de la Pointe, married Hugo Ernestus Krebs, who emigrated to Mobile from Germany in 1730 and died in 1776 (his will was filed in New Orleans, written in the Spanish language). Bernard Romans, botanist and surveyor in the employ of the British government, gave the following description of the Krebs property in A Concise Natural History of East and West Florida (1775):
"...the greatest fury of it [hurricane of August 30-September 3, 1772] was spent on the neighborhood of the Pasca Oocolo river; the plantation of Mr. Krebs there was almost totally destroyed, of a fine crop of rice, and a large one of corn were scarcely left any remains, the houses were left uncovered, his smith's shop was almost all washed away, all his works and out houses blown down...."
In the same source, Krebs' version of the cotton gin, although apparently not unique even then, is documented two decades prior to Eli Whitney's invention.
The name "Old Spanish Fort" had its origin in the Spanish provincial period of the late eighteenth century, when the building was supposed to have been used as a fortified residence by Don Enrique Grimarest, an officer of the Spanish army who married Ana Narbona, granddaughter of Hugo Ernestus Krebs. The Old Spanish Fort remained in the possession of Krebs descendants until 1914, and in 1950 Jackson County granted a 50-year lease of the property to the Jackson County Historical Society. The building [Old Spanish Fort Museum] presently houses a collection of artifacts relating to the diverse periods of Gulf Coast history: French, Spanish, English, Mississippi territorial, and Confederate. The Krebs cemetery, still owned by the family, is located a short distance to the east of the fort.
Although the Old Spanish Fort is consistently referred to in secondary sources as the oldest structure in the Lower Mississippi Valley, verification is not presently available. There are factors which support the attribution, however, not the least of which is nearly two centuries of occupancy of the site by the same family. An eighteenth century map of the Chaumont concession (the original is deposited in the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris) depicts among a number of buildings a carpenter shop which a strong local tradition asserts to be the present fort. Another map, "Carte de la Louisiane" prepared by D'Anville in 1732, designates the "Habitation du Sr. Lapointe" on the site. The question, of course, is not whether buildings were there early in the eighteenth century, but whether the Old Spanish Fort was one of them. A 1940 Historic American Buildings Survey did conclude, on structural evidence alone, that it could indeed date from the 1720s.
Deiler, J. Hanno. The Settlement of the German Coast of Louisiana and the Creoles of German Descent. Philadelphia: American Germanic Press, 1909. Pp.25-7.
Historic American Buildings Survey. "Old French Fort" (De La Pointe-Krebs) , Pascagoula, Mississippi, 1940. 1 sheet: "Restored Elevations and Stages of Development in Plan."
Interview with Mrs. Henry W. Gautier, Director, Old Spanish Fort and Museum, Pascagoula, Mississippi, March 7, 1971.
Map Collection, Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Jackson, Mississippi: "Carte de la Louisiane," D'Anville, 1732. "Carte de la Riviere des Pascagoula, 18th century.
Office of the Chancery Clerk, Chancery Court Building, Pascagoula, Mississippi: Deed Books 4, pp.530-3; 40, pp.128-9; 117, pp.374-82.
"Old Spanish Fort" Subject File. Collections, Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Jackson, Mississippi.
Rapier, George S. "The Last Will and Testament of Hugo Ernestus Krebs." New Orleans Genesis. X (March, 1971), 153-7.
Romans, Bernard. A Concise Natural History of East and West Florida. New York: 1775. Reprinted by Pelican Publishing Company, New'.Orleans, 1961. Pp.3 and 98.
Rowland, Dunbar. History of Mississippi. The Heart of the South. Chicago-Jackson: The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1925. Vol. I, p.213.
† Dawn Maddox, Historian, Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Old Spanish Fort, Pascagoula, Jackson County, Mississippi, nomination document, 1971, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.