The 1840s Father Ryan House was often described as one of Biloxi's most architecturally important and intriguing houses, the latter because of its legendary palm tree and former resident, the Rev. Abram J. Ryan.|
The Confederate chaplain treated soldiers from both sides and also had a brother fighting for the Union. The wordsmith and priest gained the title "Poet Laureate of the South" with his poignant poetry.
After the war, he spent a few years at the beachfront house, and legend claims he created a religious grotto that included a small palm. As years passed, the grotto disappeared, the house was enlarged and the tree became so huge it seemed to be growing out of the broad front steps.
The Father Ryan Palm, as it is called, survived Katrina. The house, however, did not.
"The palm tree is a miracle," said Henry Le, who bought the house at auction a year ago. "Another miracle is that a statue of Virgin Mary floated to the house and now it sits next to the palm."
Father Ryan had in most recent years been operated as a bed and breakfast, and Le continued the tradition. "I heard about the auction, went and fell in love with it," said Le, a real estate investor here and in California. "I have a few employees who'd love to come and to help rebuild the Father Ryan. For now I'm waiting for the insurance settlement and to see about loans and new building codes.
"I don't want anyone to touch the debris. I will rebuild something."
- KAT BERGERON