Harrison County

What is a Gulfport home doing in The New York Times?

Len and Mary Blackwell said in June 2009 that the den is their favorite room of their house overlooking the Biloxi River.
Len and Mary Blackwell said in June 2009 that the den is their favorite room of their house overlooking the Biloxi River. jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com File

The usual way to sell a home in South Mississippi is to choose a real estate agent, put a for-sale sign in the front yard and post photos online. But a feature in The New York Times — that is a definite bonus.

“It was really unexpected and we were just surprised and honored they thought about us,” said Leonard Blackwell. The Coast attorney and his wife, Mary, are selling their home on the Biloxi River for $1.2 million. They’ve listed it with Leslie Williams, a broker associate at Coldwell Banker Alfonso Real Estate in Gulfport.

In his weekly real estate column, “What You Get,” New York Times reporter Mike Powell compares three homes for sale at the same price in three areas of the United States. The article featuring the Blackwell home went live on the Times’ website Wednesday.

Powell said he spends a couple of hours each week poking around Trulia, a real estate website, and never has a price point in mind before he starts researching.

For this week’s column, he thought, “We haven’t done a property in Mississippi in a while, let’s just cruise around.”

He came across the recently listed Blackwell home, which attracted him in part because it is inland, away from the beach. The history of the home was a bonus.

The “Old Ashton Place” was built in 1860, substantially rebuilt in 1948 and over the years has seen several updates and improvements. The house, on a sloping site well above the river, remained dry even through 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. Forty acres of the original property, once part of a dairy farm there, is now Ashton Oaks subdivision.

The Blackwells moved into the home in 1993.

“We’ve lived here almost 23 years and we’ve loved every minute of it,” Len Blackwell said, adding selling it will be bittersweet. The home sits on 6.4 acres and Blackwell said, “I’ve enjoyed being out on my tractor.”

Now they want to travel and see more of their two daughters and their families, including their three grandsons who live in Nashville and New York.

They didn’t have to hire a company to stage the home before it was listed. “Mary’s good at that,” Blackwell said. “Our house is not a museum. It’s more like a laid-back, comfortable place for us.”

They kept the character of the three-bedroom two-bath, 3,895-square-foot house while modernizing it and added a boathouse, double carport and a storage room/workshop to hold treasures accumulated over their lifetime. Pine from the property was cut, dried and preserved to build a deck that runs the length of the back of the house on the river side. The front porch looks out over a lawn shaded by massive Live oaks.

The kitchen was modernized in 2004. “Mary is a really good cook so the kitchen is a working kitchen,” Blackwell said. “The dining room has a picture window that looks out on the river. It’s a great place for holidays and company.”

Blackwell said his favorite room is the den, which also looks out over the river.

“The house has two fireplaces and one’s in the den,” he said. Over the mantel is a reminder to “Listen to the song of life.” Blackwell has never seen an alligator on the property, but he told the Times photographer about spotting deer, eagles flying overhead, a resident owl, woodpeckers and a “bluebird society.”

Blackwell said his father drove him past the house when he was a kid but he never imagined he would one day own it. He had the original plans when they bought the house and called the architect, Charles Allen, in Mobile. Allen, who was 95 and blind at the time, recalled designing their home and another in South Mississippi. “He started talking about the rooms. He described everything about it,” Blackwell said.

On the plans was the name of the company that supplied the antique carved wooden mantel, which was missing a piece of filigree when the Blackwells bought the home. William H. Jackson & Co., which has been in business since 1857, was able to supply the woodwork to restore the fireplace.

The article in the Times may help sell the house, but Blackwell said they hope the new buyer will see beyond the square footage and views. “We really want somebody who loves it as much as we do,” he said.

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