The History of Gunston Hall and the Folkes Family

Hyman McMackin Folkes was born in Bovina, Mississippi on October 6, 1871. As a young man, he began his career in medicine as a drug store owner in Jackson. After his 1894 graduation from Tulane University in New Orleans,Dr. Folkeswas employed as physician to the Verapaz Railroad Company, in Guatemala. His return to Mississippi came about when he accepted the position of Quarantine Officer on Cat Island.

In August of 1897 a yellow fever epidemic broke out in Biloxi prompting Dr. Folkes to be transferred to the mainland to care for the sick. The Mississippi State Board of Health was of the opinion that his service in Guatemala had left him immune to the disease. Unfortunately this was not the case and Dr. Folkes soon found himself suffering the same ailments as his patients. Unlike so many of the Coast’s population, Dr. Folkes recovered quickly and by 1898 he had been appointed by Mississippi Governor Anselm J. McLaurin to go to Cuba to further study the disease.

By 1900, Dr. Folkes had returned to Biloxi, established his practice on Howard Avenue, and made his entry to Biloxi Society by marrying Teresa Lopez, daughter of prominent seafood pioneer, Lazaro Lopez. The June 4th wedding was called a “brilliant affair” by the Biloxi Daily Herald in an article that went on to describe the day.

"The society event of the season took place in Biloxi yesterday forenoon, and it was truly a very brilliant one. It was the solemnization of the marriage of Miss Teresa Lopez and Dr. H. M. Folkes, which took place at the Catholic Church at 11 o'clock, in the presence of a bright and handsome congregation of friends and admirers who assembled to witness the celebration of the nuptials. The altar of the church, always beautiful in itself, even unadorned, was most exquisitely and chastely decorated for the occasion with palms, flowers, evergreens and drapings of white ribbons. The simplest form of the impressive ceremony Catholic Church was used by Father Alphonse, who was assisted by Father Blanc, who had come over from Bay St. Louis for the purpose. Promptly at 11 o'clock, the bridal party proceeded to the church. Arriving there the attendants preceded the bride up the aisle to the chancel rail, the latter resting on the arm of her father, Mr. L. Lopez, while the wedding march was being rendered. At the altar they were met by the groom and his best man, Mr. William Wachenfeld, and the ceremony was begun by Rev. Father Alphonse with an admonition to the young folks upon the duties and responsibilities they were about to undertake, and the obligations they were about to assume toward each other. They were then duly pronounced man and wife by the priest, and dismissed with his blessings. The bridal party repaired without delay to the elegant and hospital home of Mr. L. Lopez, on Howard avenue, where a most sumptuous and elaborate breakfast had been prepared by Messrs. Francois Sarte and Ily Sabrio, the celebrated chefs, and which was served in a most delightful and appetizing manner. There were covers laid for about forty, consisting only of the members of the family and a very few invited guests who were intimate friends of the happy young couple. The menu could not have arranged in a more elegant way, nor the service more complete. At 1:30 the bridal party took their departure for the north and east, intending to spend about a month on their honeymoon, principally in New York, after which they will return and resume their residence in our little city. When departing they were given showers of rice, as well as the showers of congratulations and good wishes, (many by telegraph) for a long, happy and prosperous wedded life, in which everyone in Biloxi will share heartily and sincerely. The bride's attendants were Misses Erena Lopez, May Young, Jennie Gillen; Mr. William Wachenfeld was the best man, and the ushers were Messrs. Wm. Grant, Wm. Gorenflo and John Hannon."

The young couple returned to Biloxi taking up residence at a home they called Waverly near Dr. Folkes Howard Avenue office and the home of Teresa’s parents. On November 9, 1900, the Great Biloxi Fire started in the rear of Kennedy’s Saloon on Reynoir Street. The fire consumed an estimated ninety commercial and residential structures from the L&N Depot south to the Beach. Among the losses were Waverly and the home of Teresa’s parents, homes that were tinder boxes in their wooden construction. The Great Biloxi Fire would factor heavily in the Folkes plans for the construction of their new home.

The next several years were busy ones for Dr. and Mrs. Folkes. In 1901 they welcomed their first daughter, Josephine and in 1902 Dr. Folkes and a group of partners, which included his father-in-law, Laz Lopez, chartered the Biloxi Sanatorium. Located approximately five hundred feet west of the lighthouse, the Biloxi Sanatorium opened its doors on November 24, 1904. In addition to its resort-like amenities – Gulf breezes and a three-storied pavilion at the end of the sanatorium’s pier for sunbathing, relaxing and fishing – the Laz Lopez Medical and Surgical Clinic for the Poor was also maintained there. Further distinguishing his facility from others in the state at the time was Dr. Folkes vision for the Biloxi Sanatorium to serve as a training facility for medical personnel.

Soon after, Dr. and Mrs. Folkes were ready to move forward with their construction of a new home on Biloxi’s beachfront. The Great Biloxi Fire was surely on their minds as they described their needs to designer, Hugh H. Roof, and supervising contractor,

Thomas J. Rosell, for the home was to be constructed of solid masonry and hand-made brick. Designed in the style of Neoclassical Revival, the home would have a two-storied portico featuring four Ionic order columns with restrained use of decorative details. Completed in 1905, Dr. and Mrs. Folkes named their new home, Gunston Hall.

In 1907, Dr. and Mrs. Folkes welcomed a second daughter, Anna, and in 1912 a third, Dorothy.