Family wants name spelled right
FONTAINEBLEAU—It’s spelled F-O-N-T-A-I-N-E-B-L-E-A-U and no other way
will do. For over 90 years the
Davis family and their neighbors have been correcting people who give the
spelling of their community’s name a different twist.
One sees it Fontainbleau and even Fountainblue.
But the Davises know how to spell it, says Charles Davis.
His grandmother, the community’s first and only postmistress, Louise
Richter, named it in 1892.
“It was not named after the Fountain family.
That has a lot to do with it (misspelling the name),” explains his
wife, Beryl Fountain Davis.
“It really used to bother my mother-in-law and our children will tell
you right off. You’d better spell
it right,” Mrs. Davis said.
“We’re always telling our children to be really proud of where they
came from and to do thing that will reflect good things about it,” Mrs. Davis
When a post office was created to serve the sparsely settled community,
its new postmistress, Mrs. Richter, had to have an official name.
She decided to call it Fontainebleau, after Fontainebleau, France.
Fontainebleau post office only lasted 20 years, from 1892 to 1912, but
the name has lived on.
From early times, the beachfront area of Fontainebleau along the
Mississippi Sound was called Belle Fontaine Point.
Today it is usually called Belle Fontaine Beach.
A letter in the Pascagoula Library files written in 1941, by the late
Flora Bilbo, who had gathered much of the area’s history, said the name Belle
Fontaine comes from its good water.
“…All of the earlier inhabitants claimed that Belle Fontaine had the
best water on the coast and spoke of the spring as being the belle of
fountains,” she wrote.
Originally, Fontainebleau encompassed the land east of Davis Bayou and
west of the mouth of Graveline Bayou, south of Interstate 10 and north of
Mississippi Sound. The area was a
grazing land for cattle and sheep, a rich timberland with several sawmills and
Among the early settlers of the area were the Bilbos and Ramsays.
Walter R. Bilbo and his sons, William N. and Samuel M. Bilbo founded
Belle Fountain Baptist Church in the settlement in 1890.
The Bilbos are buried in the old church cemetery.
Until recent years, Belle Fountain Baptist was the only church in
Fontainebleau. The old church was
replaced in 1960 by a modern sanctuary.
Other settlers were the Webbs, Davises and Nobles.
Later the Richters, Byrds, Garlicks, Hollingsworths and others moved to
Fontainebleau. Wealthy snow birds,
like the Leavells and Bridsalls, also maintained winter homes there.
But these homes were victims of the hurricanes that have struck the coast
in the past 40 years.
The Richters were also Northerners.
Frank August Richter was from New York State and his wife, Louise
Knieriem Richter, was from Jonesville, Wis.
They had lived in Humboldt, Iowa, before coming to the Mississippi about
1891. “They were looking for new
frontiers and decided to move south,” Davis said.
In 1890, John B. Lyons of the Lyons Company of Chicago bought a vast area
of Fontainebleau. After Lyons’
death in 1910, his widow, Emily, deeded the land to the Lyons Company.
Robert W. Hamil of Chicago had married a Lyons daughter and the 57,000
acres of land was acquired by the Hamil Corporation, where they grew pecans,
citrus and other fruit.
Still in existence today are a few of the wooden houses Hamil farms built
for the workers and their families.
The Hamils also had an estate on Belle Fontaine Beach. The late Riley Webb was the caretaker of the estate from
about 1912 until his death in the early 1920s.
Webb’s family stayed on at the Hamil’s and his son, Aubrey, has
continued looking after the property. Webb
said the rambling Hamil home—15 rooms and nine fireplaces—was destroyed in
the tidal wave of Hurricane Camille.
“I was brought up with them and they were some of the finest people you
would ever know,” Webb said of the late Robert W. Hamil and his family.
The Hamils divided their time between Chicago and their Mississippi beach
home. When they would come south,
they would often entertain the owners and executives of large companies, like
Campbell Soup and Peabody Coal, Webb recalls.
But in hard times of the Depression, the Hamil’s sprawling farmlands
had to be auctioned. “I remember
I sat in the front row of the tent they had erected,” recalls Charles Davis,
who was a small boy then. “They
auctioned off all the property east to Graveline Bayou,” he said.
“They sold it as cheap as $1 to $1.50 an acre.”
Davis’ uncle, Charles Richter, bought the 20-acre site where the
Davises now live.
Charles Richter was railroad station agent at the Fontainebleau depot for
most of the time that the station operated between 1905 & 1934.
“People came down from Vancleave by horse and buggy to ride the
train,” Davis said. The station
was closed in 1934, after Hamil Farms had gone out of business and the building
was destroyed by fire in 1937.
Walter Fuller of Gautier recalls the Hamil’s large pecan groves and
satsuma orchards off the Old Spanish Trail.
He said the workers would shell the pecans in railroad boxcars, where
they were piled high without bagging, and shipped to market.
“The freeze about 1918 killed all the fruit and vegetables around these
parts. I remember Mama and Papa
saying how hard it was,” Fuller said.
There were many sawmills, processing the community’s abundant supply of
yellow pine. Fuller said one of
these was operated by Jerry Oliver at the site of today’s Sunplex Industrial
Park off Mississippi 57. The locals
called the sawmill site the Bear Pond, because of the wildlife there.
Dick Taylor and his family once owned the area.
Another sawmill was operated by Barnes and Davis of Meridian in the St.
At one time, there was a small school near the church, where the children
of community learned the three R’s. In
1914, Fontainebleau children and their peers in Gautier, Graveline and Martin
Bluff, who were also attending one-room schools, were sent to the new Lyons
Consolidated School. They school
was located at Hilda, a flag stop on the Louisville and Nashville Railroad,
located on the Old Spanish Trail in vicinity of Beasley Road. In 1931, the school was limited to grades one through eight
and the high school students from Gautier and Martin Bluff went to Pascagoula
and the Fontainebleau children to Ocean Springs schools. By 1940, Gautier had a new elementary school and Lyons School
was no more. Children in
Fontainebleau began going to Ocean Springs Schools.
In the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration built three large log
buildings in Fontainebleau. There
was a work center with a kitchen to show the women of the area the latest in
steam cooking and canning. There was also a library and a large auditorium for
During World War II people were drawn to Jackson County to work at the
shipyards and nearby Keesler Field. Fontainebleau’s
population began to increase slightly, but the boom was yet to come.
In the 1960s and 1970s, large tracts of land were sold to the developers
of Gulf Park Estates Subdivision, which was laid out in southern portion of
Fontainebleau, east of Davis Bayou. Later
St. Andrews and Parkhurst were developed south of Hamil Farm Road near the
Even with the influx of people and the building of houses, there is still
a feeling of peace and tranquility around the Fontainebleau and its neighboring
subdivisions today. But the tiny
community Charles Davis and his father and grandfather before him knew is not
quite the same.
Gone are the community gatherings at Graveline Lake, near the head of
Graveline Bayou. “There was a lot
of good fishing there and we would spend the day, cast out nets and get mullet.
Then we would have a fish fry,” Davis said.
“People worked hard then. But
they would take time to get together and be with their families,” Davis said.