by Dan Ellis
The area located at the north end of the Bay was earlier called Shelly or Shell Beach because of the very large Indian shell mound that was there prior to colonial settlement. Even after years of erosion, the shell mound was still measured at 300-feet long, 60-feet wide, and 9-feet high. It is there — no more.
The site’s history can be traced to 1850, when William A. Wittfield founded Shelley Plantation. Prior to that, stories of local residents tell of an ancient Indian tribe harvesting oysters and fish from the coastal waters. Mounds of oyster shells and burial mounds remain intact on the site. According to writings by John H. Lang, many Indian mound shells were scoured and spread upon the early roads in the town of Pass Christian.
The Shelly Plantation remained intact until 1925, when the land was purchased from the Edwards Lumber Co. and work had begun on the Pine Hills-on-the-Bay Hotel. In November 1926, it was reported that tremendous quantities of furniture were arriving hourly and were being set in place in the finished rooms of the first three floors, while plasterers were still completing the walls of the upper floors.
Outside there were 50 laborers putting in the roads around the 1900-acre hotel and the 500-lot residential park development.
The 18-hole golf course was laid out at its north end – and throughout, the magnificent landscape flourished with new plants, trees and foliage.
The 185-room plush Mediterranean style hotel was located just 300 feet from the beaches at the head waters of the Bay. It was built at a cost of $1,350,000 and adorned with more than $200,000 of furnishings, draperies, carpeting, and accessories. Included at the private stockholder reception on December 18, 1926, were influential VIPs and governing officials. A Grand Opening for the general public was held two days later. Guests arrived by automobile from Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, as well as northern and out-of-state arrivals by train to Pass Christian. These were transported to Henderson Point where they boarded special yachts that carried them to the Pine Hills Marina and Yacht Club. Earlier, a 12-foot channel had been dredged to accommodate large vessels.
Hotel manager Hal Thompson showed the dining room with ceiling high windows fronting the terrace and the Bay. Adjoining it was the Jack and Jill Room which provided dining for the children. The Hotel orchestra provided music during dinner followed by dancing.
Other prominent rooms and sheltered locations besides the lobby and loggia, the terraces and sun parlors, included the European furnished Spanish Lounge, an Arcade, a basement grill for men, a roof tea garden, and a 64-car garage.
The glorious hotel had its short hey-day only to be closed as a result of the “Crash of ‘29.”
The next to occupy the large brick complex was the U.S. Army Engineers — the 815th and the 818th Battalions had arrived in March 1942 and remained there until World War II ended.
Laying dormant for a decade, in 1953, the facility became a Catholic Seminary and Retreat Monastery with the transformation and conversion of the hotel to a seminary where priests of the Oblate Fathers, Our Lady of Snows Scholasticate were trained.
During its 15-year existence, the small chapel was jammed full for Christmas midnight Mass. This special retreat was ended by Hurricane Camille in 1969, when the buildings suffered great damage.
Dupont acquired the adjoining site in 1976 for its present plant complex. In 1983, Du Pont purchased the adjacent eighty-acre hotel site for two million dollars to be used as a “good neighbor” buffer zone between its manufacturing operations and the surrounding community. The old stately hotel was razed and fenced off and added to the buffer zone which is called the DeLisle Forest where deer and other wild game can find safe haven.
The Pinehills Hotel opened December 18, 1926, located on the northern shore of Bay of St Louis, just off the Kiln Delise road, which at that time was the primary route from New Orleans to the Harrison County Gulf Coast.
Americans wanted to play following the end of WWI. The opulent decor and lavish furnishings, the velvet green golf course, the exclusive adjoining country club, the five yachts for guests to use drew the richest of the rich.
However, the construction of the 1928 wooden bridge crossing from Bay St Louis to Henderson Point was soon followed by “Black Tuesday” on October 29, 1929, as was reported on the hotel’s ticker tape in the lobby – Crash. The sudden “not-so-rich” had to make a hasty retreat from the hotel.
Laying dormant for many years, with the exception of the World War II years when two battalions took possession, this was followed by the Scholasticate seminary which operated from 1953-1968.
Many stories of ghosts that prevailed there after its closing are still kept close to those who privately remember.
Dan Ellis recently was honored with the Mary Ellen Alexander Lifetime Achievement Award from the Long Beach Historical Society.