Mississippi Architects: Rathbone DeBuys (1874-1960)

Rathbone E. Debuys c.1920 from The Rudder periodical April 1920

Rathbone E. Debuys c.1920 from sailing periodical The Rudder April 1920

New Orleans architect Rathbone DeBuys has been mentioned many times over the years here on MissPres, but recently I was surprised to see we have never had a feature post dedicated to his work in Mississippi.  This was something I had not discovered until I found an understandably somewhat Laurel-centric obituary of his in the Laurel Leader-Call.  Here is what the MDAH HRI database has to say about Mr. DeBuys.

DeBuys, Rathbone Emile (b.1874 – d.1960)

Architect, New Orleans, LA

Born in New Orleans, trained at Tulane, graduating in 1896 with a degree in civil engineering and in 1897 with a degree in architecture. He also received a Ph.D. degree in 1897 from Yale University where he was a student in the Sheffield and the art schools. After working as an assistant city engineer in N.O., DeBuys entered architectural practice. He practiced in the early part of his career as DEBUYS, CHURCHILL & LABOUISSE (1905-1912), working later under his own name. In 1918, his office was located in the Hibernis Building. Listed in “Directory of American Architects,” Southern Architect and Building News (Apr 1920), p. 47. He married Corinne von Meysenberg in 1901 and had three children. His New Orleans buildings included Loyola University, Tulane Gymnasium, McDermott Memorial Church, and the U.S. Immigration Station. See Kingsley, Buildings of Louisiana, pp. 129, 146, 148, 452.

DeBuys had family ties to Mississippi City, he was a member of the Southern Yacht Club in New Orleans, and also designed sail boats.  The blog Architecture Research has a great anecdote from Mr. DeBuys himself about an alias he adopted when he was working on a steel rivet gang after he graduated from Yale.  You might also remember a photograph seen here on MissPres courtesy of Architecture Research, of DeBuys’s office in the Hibernia Building.  This photograph shows his wall covered in images of buildings he designed, including some here in Mississippi. Below is his Laurel Leader-Call obituary with a somewhat misleading headline.


With regret, friends in Laurel noted the death of Rathbone De Buys (sic), well known New Orleans architect, who designed some of Laurel’s better known buildings.

Mr. De Buys designed the Laurel Presbyterian Church and the Sunday School for the First Presbyterian Church and the Lauren Rogers Library and Museum of Art.

He had designed many other attractive buildings in Mississippi, such as the Hattiesburg Postoffice, Pine Hills Hotel at Pass Christian, Gulf Park College at Gulfport, Brookhaven Bank and Trust Company, and Y. M. C. A. Building at Picayune.

He was also a planner, having laid out the town of Bogalusa, La, in cooperation with Col. W.H. Sullivan, president of the Great Southern Lumber Company. He later designed the Y. M. C. A. and Y. W. C. A. buildings in Bogalusa.  He also designed fish class sail boats.

He was a man of broad talent, having degrees in architecture, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and philosophy.  He lived a long and useful life–one that can be contemplated with pride by his many friends and relatives.

Laurel Leader-Call June, 30 1960

Categories: Architectural Research, Brookhaven, Churches, Hattiesburg, Historic Preservation, Laurel, Long Beach


10 replies

  1. While I cannot imagine any mother or father naming their baby Rathbone, nonetheless, it is an interesting story.


  2. glad to have another of your architect bios, , mr rosell— i knew something of debuys, but have learned more now. his mississippi bldgs. are ‘mighty fine’ for their era–course, the same can be said for his work in new Orleans. as a native of Hattiesburg, I know the downtown po very well— if the public spaces on the inside are ‘still intact’– haven’t been inside in many years– it is one of Mississippi’s great art deco/art moderne buildings.


    • I am glad to hear you are enjoying the mini biographies. As far as I am aware the Hattiesburg Post Office interior is still intact. You might enjoy Malvaney’s post about that post office from 2010. https://misspreservation.com/2010/03/04/why-i-want-to-live-at-hattiesburgs-art-deco-p-o/


      • well, thanks so much for the reference to the nice 2010 post on the hburg po–i hadn’t seen this previously. was particularly glad to see the photos! for many years, various family members had ‘inside’ post office boxes, and one of my pleasurable duties as a child was to ‘go inside and check the box’ (while the parent who was driving was waiting in the car) — of course, most of that was to ‘enjoy’ the interior architecture and furniture.


        • As a kid I, too, I climbed those steps during the Summers to check my grandfather’s business mail box, Burkett Sheet Metal Works. During that time, I got caught up in stamp collecting via mail order “Stamp Approvals.” One would receive a packet of stamps from around the world ” on approval “and were expected to pay up if approved of the mailing. I never returned any stamps and was always looking for that elusive “Upside down Jenny” 24 cent Air Mail stamp –the Holy Grail of stamp collecting. I never found one, but it just so happens that in the last few weeks another missing Upside Down Jenny stamp–of a total of 100 that was printed– tuned up in England. I’m wondering if DeBuys knew of the connections to a modified biplane–the Curtis Jenny– as the first aircraft that had delivered US mail by air and the Upside Down Jenny stamps when he chose to use Charles Lindbergh’s iconic Spirit of St, Louis monoplane aircraft while in design of the Hattiesburg PO.. Lindbergh was a USPO mail pilot but, ironically, had “soloed” in the Curtiss Jenny in 1917.


  3. A favorite architect! Just as clarification, he had a Ph.B. degree from Yale — Bachelor of Philosophy.


    • Good catch! I had mentioned his Ph.B on the previous post regarding the Hancock Bank in Pass Christian, but the MDAH HRI list his degree as a Ph.D. Did I read somewhere that he received some sort of architectural certificate from Yale as well?

      DeBuys is the only architect I am aware of that feature iron work by Samuel Yellin in a Mississippi building. Do you know if he ever used Yellin pieces in any Louisiana commissions?


  4. He started out studying civil engineering, but it was more of a general education program back then, so it included architectural history.

    His correspondence files do not seem to have survived– much of what is at Tulane consists of photographs of his projects that went into a self-published firm brochure. I am not aware of any Yellin iron work, but that does not mean he didn’t use it in Louisiana commissions.


  5. Rathbone DeBuys is listed as the architect of the West Tatum House on Main Street in the Tatum Business invoices: Container Box 701, Folder 12.
    I recall that the Tatum heirs demolished the home in the late 1950s due to vandalism and looting of the home. Mr. Tatum died in 1949. I recall that the looting of the chandelier occurred sometime around 1955.
    Maybe Ed has more information.



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