"I would see the house while we were walking on the beach, with no thought of ever living here."
Jo Ann Cox Crimm admired the old house at the south end of Jackson Avenue in Ocean Springs; so did husband Harlon. Jo Ann, an Ocean Springs native and daughter of former police chief Matt Cox, and Harlon had lived in Georgia for several years. About 12 years ago, they moved to Ocean Springs, where they were in the process of renovating a townhouse in Gulf Oaks in August 2005. Hurricane Katrina destroyed that dream.
Meanwhile, the Creole cottage the Crimms admired sustained extreme damage in the storm. At the time, it was owned by the Hudacheck family, who were determined to not only rebuild the house but have it restored to its original form.
The house will be one of the first on the 64th Annual Mississippi Gulf Coast Spring Pilgrimage; its tour time is 1 to 4 p.m. April 12, and it's hosted by the Ocean Springs Garden Club. The Pilgrimage, which features several Mississippi Gulf Coast homes, buildings and sites, runs from April 12 to 17 and spans much of the Coast, from Pass Christian to Moss Point and Pascagoula. There is no charge for the tours, which are presented by various garden clubs. Booklets which include addresses and background on the sites are available at visitor's centers on Interstate 10 in Bay St. Louis and U.S. 90 in Biloxi; at chambers of commerce, the Mary C. O'Keefe Cultural Center in Ocean Springs and the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi and through local garden clubs.
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The Crimms' house, known as Egan Cottage, was built during the 1850s. Its original owner, John Egan, was the first postmaster of Ocean Springs.
"The post office was just down here, near the end of the driveway by the oak tree," Harlon said. The Convent of St. Theresa was on the Front Beach side of the property until another hurricane, Camille, destroyed it in 1969, he said.
A small house is connected to Egan Cottage; this 19th-century structure is what is left of a hotel operated by Julia Egan. It's part of the reason the Crimms came to live in the house that Jo Ann had admired for years.
"We have two children and eight grandchildren, and we needed space for heads to sleep," Jo Ann said, laughing. The little house holds two bedrooms and a bath, and what was the garage is being converted into more guest space.
Katrina's surge essentially broke Egan Cottage apart, Harlon said. The kitchen's impressive and unusual metal vent hood was
found in the yard and replaced when the house was restored.
"I said, 'We need to get that fixed,'" Jo Ann recalled, looking at the fixture's nicks and scrapes. "But then I said, 'No, that survived Katrina.'"
The battle scars remain.
After Katrina, the Hudachecks, who had owned Egan Cottage since the 1960s, restored the house. The Crimms have kept in close contact with their daughter Mary Anne Hudacheck Deierlein, who has answered several questions the couple have had about their new-old home.
"We're just delighted with what they've done," Jo Ann said. Ceilings are 12 feet, like in the original house. The front porch is built of hardy Brazilian walnut, and doors were custom made to fit the original house's proportions. Several of the interior doors include original door knobs.
Updates in the house include unusual onyx sinks in the baths and honey onyx in the shower in one bath. A stained glass window in that bathroom by artist Mabelle Bowers includes real shells. Wood moulding by Rick Harris mimics that originally in the house.
The Crimms moved into the house in September, and the family enjoyed their first Thanksgiving football game on the front lawn.
When family members aren't visiting, they just enjoy the ever-changing view available and life on Front Beach in Ocean Springs.
"Opening the doors on Sunday morning and hearing the music drifting from the church service at Fort Maurepas Park is a sweet experience," Jo Ann has said.