Hancock County

Hancock County house moved from Stennis buffer zone gets another new life

Follow Anita on

KILN -- For a third time, love has brought to life the little farm house on Road 298 in the Kiln.

The latest family member to revive the house sees its original loss through the eyes of a 9-year-old, when the government took her family's farm.

She did not understand why. But she remembers, in the early 1960s, seeing houses rumble down the road with regularity in Hancock County, where families were cleared from rural communities to make way for rocket testing at Stennis Space Center.

"It was my only home that I knew," said Kathy Hendry, 60, a retired school teacher. "I saw my parents really grieve over that . I understood the government was taking our land, but I didn't understand about NASA and the test rockets.

"We could never go back to the old place, ever, that old place, the place of home."

Life without modernity

A father and son had built the farm house in 1941 and 1942 for the family of Oswald Moran Sr. and his wife, Mable Moran, in a place called Pigeon Roost near the Catahoula community.

The surrounding woods imbued the homestead with a sense of isolation.

The Morans raised eight children there. A ninth, Sonny Moran Jr.'s twin brother, died of diphtheria when they were babies.

The house was solid, with cypress exterior and heart pine interior walls and ceiling joined by tongue and groove. Oswald Moran Sr. insisted those walls remain paint-free, inside and out.

The Moran children learned fast: If you wanted to eat, you worked.

Sonny Moran was 10 years old when they moved into the house. He rose at 4 a.m. to milk 30 cows, a chore he repeated after school. The family sold the milk to a Picayune creamery. All the equipment had to be cleaned with water pumped by hand.

Winter mornings, the home's floors were so cold it was best to walk on your heels until the fireplace was stoked. The family got indoor plumbing in 1948.

They raised and sold corn, turnip greens, watermelons and sweet and Irish potatoes. They cured meat in a smokehouse.

Their transportation to the general mercantile -- where you could pick up a washing machine, clothes or groceries -- was a team of oxen hitched to a wagon.

In 1950, the Morans traded in their plow for a tractor.

"We thought we were cross town, uptown, downtown," Sonny Moran said. "The mules were gone. We didn't have to walk anymore."

Moran, 83, looks at the heart pine floors today and recalls how one of his brothers, Jervis, used to skate into the parlor from the kitchen, jump up to tap the ceiling, call out "Oo-weee!" and roll on to the front hall. Their father always fussed.

Sonny Moran laughs as his eyes follow his brother's path, picturing the scene.

Leaving Pigeon Roost

Sonny Moran married before he was drafted into the Army in 1952 for the Korean War, where he served in the infantry. Mary Louise Moran, who graduated high school a year behind her husband, spent two Thanksgivings and two Christmases without him.

When he returned, the couple tried city life in Gulfport. They were not impressed. They returned to the farm in 1957 and built their own house, where they raised five children, two of whom have died.

Their oldest daughter, Kathy Hendry, is the only child who remembers the old farm. Her grandmother cooked from daylight until dusk. The family ate around a big cypress table.

Her grandmother let her do pretty much what she wanted: Clomp around in high heels, paint an iron yellow and the brick fireplace red. Hendry can still hear the sound of those heels on the wood floor.

Her father had a good job with the Forestry Service, but he kept farming, too. He still farms. The work just won't leave his hands or his mind.

"He'll die farming," Mary Louise Moran said.

Residents out, NASA in

But he's not farming in Pigeon Roost.

That's because a man came by in 1961 while Mary Louise Moran was shelling peas on the porch. He told her the houses around those parts were going to be bought up by the government, and he mentioned some ridiculously low price. She shooed him off.

Soon enough, government agents returned. Stennis Space Center needed their property for its 125,000-acre buffer zone around the rocket-testing facility then being built. Sound waves from the tests were capable of harming people and even undermining buildings.

"The buffer zone contained 695 homes, 14 churches, 2 schools, 17 stores, several other commercial buildings, and platted subdivisions containing about 7,600 building lots " says a matter-of-fact history on NASA's history website.

Every day when she gathered eggs from the hen house at the old place, Mary Louise Moran cried.

"I cried and cried," she said. "We all cried when we left."

The family held onto the land, granting the federal government a perpetual easement so it remains vacant. Sonny Moran still has an acre in the buffer zone. He pays taxes on it every year.

Covering the old

The Morans bought acreage in Kiln, about 4 miles from the buffer zone. The old farmhouse, which had survived the great hurricane of 1947, was moved in two sections in 1964 to the new farm.

Some Mennonites had tried to farm the property, but gave up and moved back north. Sonny and Mary Louise Moran moved their family into a two-story Saltbox-style house the Mennonites had built.

After being moved, the old family home survived Camille in 1968, but modernization almost did it in over the years.

Paneling went up on the walls, acoustical tiles on the ceilings and carpet on the floors. The old wooden windows were replaced with aluminum ones, the kitchen wall torn out to make a dining area.

The front porch was even enclosed.

After Sonny Moran's mother died in 2001, he bought the house.

"Everything was brown," Kathy Hendry said, "and the outside looked like a haunted house."

Sonny and Mary Louise Moran had different ideas about renovations, but Kathy Hendry had a vision for the house. Her husband, Michael Hendry, knew how to do the work.

They acquired the old farmhouse and started renovations in January 2002.

Nothing was up to code. Termites had invaded through the chimney, necessitating removal of the old fire place.

Restoration to memories

The Hendrys restored the house to match Kathy Hendry's childhood memories. They updated two bathrooms and a kitchen and added central heat and air.

Today, the old house looks much as it did during her father's childhood, but brighter. The walls and ceilings in two bedrooms -- their mother's room and the one where the Moran boys slept -- have been stripped to unpainted heart pine, as have floors throughout the house, with the exception of the kitchen. The Hendrys whitewashed one bedroom because of termite damage.

In the boys' old bedroom, handmade quilts are draped over wooden racks Sonny Moran made in high school shop class.

Family antiques decorate the rooms, including a dresser that belonged to Kathy Hendry's great-great-grandmother. An old pie safe in the kitchen was the first piece of furniture purchased for the old farmhouse when it was first built. The front door still has its original lock and key.

Ceilings in the entry hall, living room and kitchen are bead board, painted white to brighten the interior. The aluminum windows have been pulled out and replaced with larger wooden windows, including some from the original house.

Outside, Michael Hendry built working wooden shutters for the windows, painting them barn red. And there's another big change. The cypress siding, some of which had to be replaced, has been stained a blue-gray.

A lucky oversight

When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, the Hendrys thought the old house was a goner. A tree fell atop the front porch and pulled it loose. Fortunately, as it turned out, the porch had not been properly reattached when the house was moved, so the jolt did not undermine the foundation.

The Hendrys live in Wiggins, but visit the old house at least once a week and even manage to keep the flower beds weeded.

Michael Hendry replicated the cypress kitchen table from Pigeon Roost as a gift to his wife one Valentine's Day. They enjoy inviting family for holidays, and have even hosted weddings here. The family's first Thanksgiving in the house is one of the best Kathy Hendry remembers.

Their work to revive the old house, she said, "is an act of love."

Related stories from Biloxi Sun Herald