Did you know that during the middle part of the last century Hancock County was home to a summer camp for Jewish orphans? In 1918, the Jewish Federation of New Orleans purchased what was described as the magnificent J. P. Dart home located at then 984 South Beach Boulevard, the last property in Bay St. Louis before the Waveland boundary line. The home was originally built around 1855 by a sea captain for his wife and commonly referred to as “San Felipe.” The property was purchased by the Jewish Federation to establish a camp where children from the New Orleans Jewish orphanage could get away from the city during the hot weather and enjoy a vacation with outside and camping activities. The Federation brought groups of orphans over for two week periods during the entire summer. Separate boys’ groups alternated with girls’ groups every two weeks.
As the population of the Jewish orphanage decreased over the years so did the need to bring children over the summer. The Hancock County camp locale gradually became a summer destination for other groups affiliated with the Jewish Federation. With limited space in the original large house on the property, a number of cabins were built behind it. The camp eventually outlived its usefulness, and the property was purchased by Gayle Aiken, Jr.
In the spring of 1955, local residents were amazed that this then century old landmark was suddenly two houses. The owner, Mr. Aiken, had “cleverly and neatly” cut thirty-two feet right out of the original house’s center and had moved this center section a few hundred feet further east and finished it as a third house on the property adding thus two additional addresses—986 and 988 South Beach Boulevard. The two remaining sections, each still with four bedrooms and three baths, survived the splitting well and were “an architectural refutation of the old axiom ‘that a house divided against itself cannot stand.’” The Aiken family continued to live in the right side of the old house, and it became known as “Bay Oaks” as it bordered Bay Oaks Drive—which supposedly had its own unique characteristic—thirteen oak trees growing out of the same set of roots. That is a possible subject for another article.
Regretfully, as with so many other landmarks in our unique county, Katrina took away all the structures at 984. 986, and 988 South Beach. Remaining only are some fading memories of yet another property with strong connections to New Orleans. Apart from the others, this singular property was the big house that became a Jewish summer camp that was eventually cut in half.
“House That Is Cut in Half, The.” The Daily Herald. 29 July 1958: A18.
Scharff, Robert G. Louisiana’s Loss, Mississippi’s Gain: Lawrenceville, VA: Brunswick Pub. Co., 1999.