I would like to personally thank Geoff Pender of the Daily Herald for this article. My mother, Jane Morris Estrada was interviewed in the piece. I learned things about the neighborhood I grew up in that I’d not been aware of and I also was reminded of the unique and very precious experiences I had as a child in this Gulfport community. Since the time this article was published, much has changed for this neighborhood and many of the fears of the neighbors have continued, even worsened. I can tell you Gulf Gardens was an American dream that bore amazing fruit. The Gulf Coast was a much better place to have had such a place called Gulf Gardens. The heartbreaking truth is that very little is left of the neighborhood I grew up. When I was born, I came home from Memorial Hospital to that home the Morrises built in 1935. That house and yard will always be my home. I had hoped to return to Gulf Gardens to finish my days there as both my grandmother and mother did. This is not to be. Cherish the old neighborhoods. Remember the folks who lived and loved there. Our spirits will never leave there. Gulf Gardens was truly “Home Sweet Home”.
We take for granted, sometimes, that which is steady and true…
— Tenderly Rose
Biloxi Sisters Stella & May Harkness
My Great Great Aunts – The Misses Harkness
father of Stella and May Harriet Harkness
daughter of Capt. John Rankin HARKNESS
son of Edna Irene HARKNESS
daughter of John Harkness MORRIS
The daughter of Janie Lucille MORRIS
Estelle “Stella” Harkness
Birth 12 NOV 1874 • Biloxi, Harrison, Mississippi, USA
Death 21 MAR 1961 • Biloxi, Harrison, Mississippi, USA
May Harriet Harkness
Birth 30 AUG 1883 • Biloxi, Harrison, Mississippi, USA
Death 17 SEP 1967 • Biloxi, Harrison, Mississippi, USA
Early Biloxi Socialites and Philanthropists, “The Misses Harkness” – Stella and May
My maternal grandmother, Rosie Smith Morris, was married to John Harkness Morris, one of the nephews to Stella and May Harkness. John Harkness Morris was the son of David Edmund “Ed” and Edna Irene Jordan Morris. I remember we visited Aunt Stella and Aunt May quite a few times that I can recall in an older Victorian-type home in Biloxi. When they passed, my grandmother inherited a few of the beautiful antique furnishings they had in that home. I recall the home was close by, if not in the downtown Biloxi area in a beautiful neighborhood.
I have collected numerous newspaper clippings about her and May from the Daily Herald Newspaper in Biloxi in which they were very active in the social scene and philanthropic circles all their lives. Stella and May had beautiful voices and entertained gatherings of all types by recitations. They read poems, stories and historical pieces for audiences gathered for charitable organizations, Civil War veterans at Beauvoir, church gatherings, weddings, showers and birthday parties. Many performances were given both together and apart as they sang as well as played piano. Their talents were well documented in the news articles I read. It seems the girls were born into a life of faithful servitude to the finer aspects of civilization, as well as a dedication to improve the lives of the unfortunate and took their involvement seriously. As young girls they were known to entertain the veterans at the old soldiers home at Beauvoir as members of their Sunday School group visited the grounds often.
The Harkness name was well known and the family was instrumental in the social organizations to improve life for the citizens of Biloxi. They started and supported the fire department, the Masonic organization, the churches, the ladies clubs, the Kings Daughters and numerous other Biloxi institutions. The were the architects, builders, ministers and founders of the city of Biloxi. They served on the school board, as aldermen and teachers. To say they were influential would be an understatement.
Both Stella and May sang in the church choir. They were active curch members at the Methodist Episcopal church in Biloxi. I recall memberships in the Order of the Eastern Star and the United Daughters of Confederacy. There were mentions of several other organizations they were members of in the newspaper. “The Misses Harkness” visited extensively along the Coast of Mississippi and most of it was recorded in the Daily Herald. They visited my great grandparents David Edmund “Ed” and Irene Morris and their children, and relatives in nearby Moss Point, New Orleans and Mobile. This was during a time you had to take a horse and buggy or, later on, the train. If there was weddings, illness or death in the family, they were there. It appears Stella had an affection for travel and visited New York with her mother and Washington D.C. for conventions.
What I recall most was their dedication to family. Neither Stella nor her sister, May ever married. Despite having no children of their own, both sisters were highly involved with nieces and nephews. Various trips were taken with those nieces and nephews to visit other relatives. The children often visited their home in Biloxi and could be found accompanying them to social functions and church activities.
Stella and May Harkness both worked as postal clerks in Biloxi. They were described as very efficient and if they took off time from work, the newpaper recorded their welcome back to work as they were highly regarded and very popular clerks.
Although, back in their day, they might have been called “spinsters” or “old maids” they were so much more than a choice to marry. They were part of the tightly woven fabric of life when family and civil responsibilities were a serious priority for women, married or not. I know that in our family these two women were well respected members of society providing a strong family link from the past to the future. The women in my immediate family have been and continue to be involved in some of the same organizations we knew Stella and May to have participated in and organized. They encouraged and facilitated the joining of these groups by providing important family history to gain access to those memberships such as United Daughter of Confederacy and the Order of the Eastern Star. They inspired us to be strong members of those organizations.
When Aunt Stella passed away, she left several beautiful Victorian pieces of furniture from her home to my grandmother, Rosie. When I was growing up, I slept in the “Tester” bed with my grandmother that belonged to Stella. She also had another ornate dark wood bed with dresser that Stella gave her that I loved. I believe the time I spent with Aunt Stella in her home in Biloxi inspired my love and appreciation for the Victorian era home decor we all admire today.
The Misses Harkness were part of a family that built the homes, businesses, the first fire department and many, many other important parts of the society that formed the Biloxi of yesteryear, a legacy that sustained their home town for the future.
Stella and May Harkness left behind them a legacy of strong women who have passed that strength on to future generations.
— written 06 Sep 2008 by Tenderly
Biloxi Daily Herald 18 July 1921:
“After patiently suffering for several months, Louis J. Harkness (John L. Harkness), aged 48 years, a native and lifelong resident of Biloxi, died at his home here yesterday at 12 o’clock noon. Deceased was well known in Biloxi where he was employed as a contractor for a number of years. Mr. Harkness, who was a member of the Methodist church, was also prominently identified with Magnolia Lodge No. 120 F. & A.M., members of which organization attended the funeral in a body. Funeral services were conducted by Rev. M. B. Sharbrough this afternoon at 5 o’clock from the late residence 123 Croesus street, with interment in the Biloxi cemetery. Mr. Harkness is survived by a wife, four children, three sisters and a brother. His sisters are Mrs. D. E. Morris and Misses Stella and Mae Harkness. His brother is W. T. Harkness.”
5 Sept 1896
Biloxi Daily Herald – Biloxi, Harrison, Mississippi, USA
The marriage of Miss Sadie A. Stilphen and Mr. William T. Harkness, both of this city last Wednesday, at 8:30 p.m., at the residence of the bride’s parents, was the occasion of much rejoicing among the two families. The couple are both well-known in Biloxi and are members of society in high standing. The bride is the only daughter of Capt. and Mrs. John H. Silphen who reside at West End. The groom is Biloxi’s well-known architect, contractor and builder, and is the eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. John R. Harkness. The wedding was a quiet and select affair, with only the relatives of each family present and a few chosen guests. The officiating clergyman was Rev. D. L. Mitchell. The attendants were Miss Abbie Harkness, a sister of the groom, and Henry N. Stilphen, a brother of the bride.
At the appointed hour the contracting parties took their position under a large floral bell, while Miss Estelle Harkness, presiding at the organ, performed Mendelssohn’s Wedding March, the execution of which was fine. The words that made the beautiful couple one were soon said, and they were the recipients of general congratulations from those present. Among these were Mrs. S. M. Stilphen, mother of the bride, and Henry N. Stilphen. The Captain was not present owing to duties on his vessel. There were also in evidence Mr. and Mrs. John R. Harkness, Giles A. Harkness and wife, Misses Estelle, Abbie, Edna and May Harkness, and J. Louis Harkness. Reve. D. L. Mitchell and wife, Misses Priscilla and A. Mitchell, Miss Alice Cousans, G. M. Robertson and wife, Mrs. T. J. Rosell, Harry and Miss Una Suter, Miss Jennie Gillen and others.
As it was the intention of the couple to immediately depart after the ceremony on the 10:04 p.m. train for a brief stay at Mobile and Point Clear, the bride was joined to her choice arrayed in a very fine and elaborate travelling gown of a soft, gray color, with hat and gloves to match, carrying a magnificent bouquet of natural flowers, and, as she stood beside the man she had selected, they formed a beautiful picture. After a short time spent in congratulations, the party entered hacks and were conveyed to the depot, where the train was boarded and, amid a shower of virgin rice, the handsome couple sped on their way with the gates of life open to them, and their friend’s best wishes following them. The trip will naturally be a short one owing to the manifold duties of the husband and which just at present can not be neglected.
12 Jun 1903
Biloxi Daily Herald – Biloxi, Harrison, Mississippi, USA
JOHN R. HARKNESS
Died at His Home Yesterday Evening.
Mr. John Rankin Harkness died yesterday at 8:55 p.m., at his home on north Delauney stree, after a lingering illness which made him an invalid for several years and confined him to his room for the last few months of his life.
Mr. Harkness was born in the state of Massachusetts seventy-three years ago. He has been a resident of Biloxi for the past thirty years having, as architect and builder, built many of the homes and business houses in this city and county.
He was a member of Magnolia Lodge No. 120, A.F. and A.M., and of Iberville Lodge No. 51, Knights of Pythias. The funeral took place from his late residence this evening at 4:oo o’clock. The funeral services were conducted by Rev. W.H. Van Hook. The interment was with Masonic honors. A large number of the friends of the deceased and members of the fraternal orders to which he belonged attended the funeral. The deceased leaves a wife, three sons and four daughters to mourn his loss. His surviving children are Messrs. W. T., Giles A. and J. L. Harkness, Misses Stella and May, Mrs. James L. Booth and Mr. (i.e. Mrs.) Edw. Morris. The Herald extends its sympathy to the bereaved family.
Stella Goes to Washington
1 Jun 1917
Biloxi Daily Herald – Biloxi, Harrison, Mississippi, USA
John Wesley MORRIS (1839 – 1896)
My great great grandfather
son of John Wesley MORRIS
son of David Edmund “D.E.” MORRIS
daughter of John Harkness MORRIS
When John Wesley Morris was born on May 31, 1839, in Lockport, New York, his father, Elisha Morris, was 28 and his mother, Margaret Ann Baker, was 24.
At the age of 24, John Wesley Morris lived in New York, New York, on July 1, 1863.
He enlisted in the 28th Independent Battery Light Artillery in New York State August 13, 1963 and was discharged July 31, 1865. He was listed in the military in July 31, 1865, New York.
|Regiment:||28th Light Artillery Battery New York|
|Date of Organization:||27 Dec 1862|
|Muster Date:||31 Jul 1865|
|Regiment State:||New York|
|Regiment Type:||Light Artillery|
|Officers Killed or Mortally Wounded:||0|
|Officers Died of Disease or Accident:||0|
|Enlisted Killed or Mortally Wounded:||0|
|Enlisted Died of Disease or Accident:||8|
|Regiment History:||New York
ANTHON’S, LATER WILLARD’S, BATTALION OF ARTILLERY.
June 3, 1862, Franklin W. Willard received authority to
recruit a battalion of light artillery. November 16, 1862, the
several companies of this battalion, serving at Fort Columbus,
New York harbor, and being in process of organization, were
consolidated into two, and designated the 20th and 28th
Batteries, Light Artillery, and the battalion, never really
TWENTY-EIGHTH INDEPENDENT BATTERY, LIGHT ARTILLERY.
Anthon’s Light Artillery Battalion; Willard’s Battalion
November 26, 1862, the organizations forming for the
Anthon (Willard) Battalion of Artillery were consolidated in
two batteries, of which the second received the above numerical
designation. This battery was organized at New York city,
Forts Columbus and Schuyler, New York harbor, and mustered in
the service of the United States at Fort Schuyler for three
years December 27, 1862. The men were recruited principally at
New York city, Avoca, Campbell, Cape Vincent, Cohocton, Howard,
Lynn, Sackett’s Harbor, Watertown, Wayland and Urbana. At its
muster-in it was commanded by Capt. Cyprian H. Millard, served
at Fort Schuyler and Sandy Hook, Department of the East, and,
commanded by Capt. Josiah C. Hannum, it was honorably
discharged and mustered out July 31, 1865, at New York city,
having lost by death of disease and other causes, eight
Source: The Union Army, vol. 2
John Wesley Morris married Frances M. “Fanny” Wright on September 5, 1865, in Alabama, when he was 26 years old. This date is confirmed on a Daughters of the American Revolution application for Lyll Evelyn Morris Blumer.
Their children were all born in Moss Point, Mississippi:
David Edmund “D.E.” Morris — 1866
Anna Miles Morris — 1866
Lorin Morris — 1870
Mayme A. “May” Morris — March 16, 1875
Johnie Lee Morris –March 16, 1875
John Leander Morris — October 26, 1878
Lyll Evelyn Morris — 1880
Thomas Colson Morris — April 1, 1882
Harvey William Morris — July 15, 1884
An 1870 U.S. Census shows John and Fannie living in Pass Christian, Harrison County, Mississippi. His occupation “Saw Mill”. Fannie’s mother, Martha Wright is listed as living with them.
John and Fanny’s son, Johnie Lee, passed away at the age of one year old on February 10, 1877 in Moss Point.
An 1880 Census show John and Fannie living in Moss Point, Jackson County, MS.He is listed as “Proprietor of Saw Mill”.
John’s wife Frances M. “Fanny” passed away on July 9, 1888, in Moss Point, Mississippi, at the age of 43. John and Fanny had been married 22 years.
John Wesley Morris died on April 16, 1896, in Moss Point, Mississippi, when he was 56 years old. His burial was in the Griffin Cemetery (N30º 25.048′; W-88º 34.002′). He is buried beside his wife, Fannie.
John Wesley Morris Gravestone-Griffin Cemetery Moss Point MS
John Morris in the United States, Bureau of Land Management, Mississippi, Homestead and Cash Entry Patents, Pre-1908
|Misc. Doc. Nr.:||18795|
|Issue Date:||10 Apr 1897|
|Mineral Rights Reserved:||No|
|Metes and Bounds:||No|
|Statutory Reference:||12 Stat. 392|
|Multiple Warantee Names:||No|
|Act or Treaty:||May 20, 1862|
|Multiple Patentee Names:||No|
|Entry Classification:||Homestead Entry Original|
|Land Description:||1 WNE ST STEPHENS No 5S 14W 35; 2 NENE ST STEPHENS No 5S 14W 35; 3 NWNW ST STEPHENS No 5S 14W 36|
My maternal grandfather
John Harkness Morris was born on October 8, 1901, in Biloxi, Mississippi to Edna Irene Harkness and David Edmund “D.E.” Morris. My Aunt Rosie told me, and my mother confirmed it, their father weighed 14 pounds at birth. All his life he was called “Big John” for obvious reasons referring to his stature and presence.
The Morris family lived in Biloxi, Gulfport and Moss Point, Mississippi according to various newspaper clippings I’ve collected.
The U.S. Census for the year of 1910 shows Big John living with his parents Edna and D.E. in Beat 4, Gulfport, Mississippi. Hard to read the handwriting for the street they lived on.
I was told by my mother Big John attended Central High School in Gulfport which was just around the corner from his home. Later the school became Central Elementary School which I attended first through third grade back in the 1960’s. That was a source of pride for me to know that. The building was demolished for a courthouse later on, sad to say.
In 1920, the census finds Big John at the age of 18, living with his parents and sisters, Irene and Martha, and his brother, Edward, on what might appear to be 24th Street in Gulfport. Handwriting is hard to read for the address. No occupation listed, but, I note his father was working at the foundry at this time.
He married Rosa Ann Elizabeth “Rosie” Smith about 1923, in Kiln, Mississippi. They had six children in 10 years.
Hon. John “Johnny” Smith Morris 1925–1991
Mary Elizabeth “L’il Sissy” Morris 1927–1929
Tommye LaNelle Morris 1928–
David Harkness Morris 1930–1975
Rosie Ann Morris 1931–
Janie Lucille Morris 1935–2013
The 1930 census shows John Harkness Morris lived in Gulfport, Mississippi. The census lists John H Morris 28, Rose Ann Morris 34, John S. Morris 4, Tommie Linelle (wrong spelling) Morris 1 yr 11 mos, Bamma Smith – 626 Camp Ave., John’s job is listed as Automobile Salesman. Bama Smith was my grandmother’s sister.
In 1934, Big John’s father, D.E. Morris, was living with John and Rosie when he passed away at the age of 68. The obit for D.E. states he died in New Orleans, but, close family members recall John and Rosie were caring for D.E. at the time of his death. My aunt referred to D.E. as Grandpa Ed.
Gulfport City Directory for 1936 shows address for Big John’s business under “John H (Rosa) – “Morris-Webb Mtr Co 815 43rd Ave – Plymouth & DeSoto autos and International Trucks.” Lists Morris, John H.’s home as 815 43rd Ave.
John and Rosie Morris built a home at 1711 Wisteria Street in the new Gulf Gardens Subdivision back in 1935. They raised their children there and the dwelling provided a home to 4 generations of the family before the last Morris left just a couple of years back.
In 1939, a Gulfport City Directory lists “Morris Motor Company (John H. Morris) 1812 25th Ave.” Another listing for that year states, “John H (Rosa S)-Morris Motor Co. 1711 Wisteria”
When my mother, Janie, was a baby, a 1940 census shows John H, Rosie A., John Smith, Tommye L., Rosie Ann, David H. and Janie L residing on Wisteria Street, Beat 2, in Gulfport, Mississippi. I learned that at the age of 14, my Uncle Johnny sold the Daily Herald newspaper as shown on this census. My grandmother, Rosie’s occupation was listed as nurse, R.N. “special duty” and Big John’s occupation was listed as “operator” (owner) auto sales company.
A 1947 Gulfport City Directory lists “Morris, John H (Rosa) 1711 Wisteria St.”
In 1949, a Gulfport City Directory lists “Morris, John H (Rosie) & John Jr. 1711 Wisteria St. It lists “John H.” as “retired.” Big John was 48 years old at the time this directory was published.
In 1953, a Gulfport City Directory entry lists “John H (Rosie S-nurse), Janie L.-Student, David H-USA military, and John S.
I only have one picture of my grandfather. It is a photo I took of a photograph my mother showed me once when I was visiting Hungry Hill in the 90’s and my mother was the sole occupant of the house. She told me this was my grandfather’s baby picture. She said it was taken in Biloxi. She did not elaborate on it at all. It was rare that my mother spoke to me about Big John, so, I consider myself very fortunate to have this to share. It is not a very good reproduction, but, it is special to me.
When I think about it, I find it strange there are no photographs I’m aware of that were taken of me and him. There are so many photographs taken of me and my grandmother, my mother, other relatives, but, not one of me and my grandfather. I helped my grandmother put together her photo albums, it was my job to help her and we loved working on this project together. She’d tell me what to write on the backs of the photos, or in the albums. I don’t recall any candid photos shots of Big John. Were they just not taken, or kept somewhere else?