Who Designed Biloxi’s Peoples Bank?

If you’ve ever been in downtown Biloxi, or even just seen photos of the historic business district, you’ve likely laid eyes on the former Peoples Bank Building. Its iconic turret is used in Biloxi Main Street’s logo. The Romanesque pile, now home to the wonderful Ellzy’s Hardware, served as the headquarters of the bank from 1896 until they purchased the former Harrison County Bank building and moved into that banking house in 1924.

The MDAH HRI database has documented evidence that Wm T. Harkness (1869-1941) was the Builder/Architect of the building. A reasonable probability, as the Harkness family were prominent in the Biloxi building trades in the late 19th and early 20th century. Multiple period newspaper articles cite Harkness as the builder, and a plaque original on that building that has since been relocated to the current-day Peoples Bank bears Harkness’ name. I had never thought to think otherwise until I came across the somewhat unusual ad that W. T. Harkness took out in the Biloxi Herald in November of 1896.

Biloxi Herald Nov. 14 1896 page 8.

Regrettably, I haven’t been able to find a copy of the August 1896 The American Contractor to see what exactly caused Harkness to take out the tantrum-esque ad, nor a later edition to see if The American Contractor ever published the “Harkness Correction.” Apparently, a J. F. Hutchisson was doing some work for Harkness and trying to drum up business for himself, and W.T. didn’t take too kindly to that. The J.F. Hutchisson mentioned is likely James Flandin Hutchisson II (1856-1926). Similar to the Harkness family, the Hutchisson clan were builders and architects from Mobile, Alabama. This clue sent me back to reading From Builders to Architects: The Hobart-Hutchisson Six, an interesting book about the family of builders and architects that shaped Mobile’s built environment for nearly 200 years. Looking back over the chapter on James Flandin Hutchisson II, the book states that he disappeared from Mobile newspapers in the last few years of the 1890s for several reasons, but most likely because work in Mobile was slowing down. So it stands to reason he might have been spending time in Biloxi. Searching for Harkness in the papers, his name often comes up as having hired others to aid with the design and construction work. However, beginning in November of 1896, Hutchisson began placing advertisements in the Biloxi Daily Herald such as the one below.

J F Hutchisson Advert. Biloxi Herald, November 07 1896, page 8.

Perhaps the Harkness ad that ran on November 14th was sour grapes, for Hutchisson striking out on his own with the November 7th advert. The same day of the first ad, a brief newspaper article covered his relocation to the city.

Mr. G.F. Hutchisson (sic), an architect, formerly of Mobile, has located in the Redding Building in this city, where he intends practicing architecture in all its branches. Original designs and estimates of cost for all classes of buildings will be executed with accuracy and precision. Special attention given to sanitary plumbing heating and ventilating. Any work entrusted to Mr. Hutchinson (sic) will have prompt and skilled attention.

Biloxi Herald, November 7 1896, page 8.

Poor James Hutchisson probably paid for that brief article and the typesetter still managed to misspell his name twice in two different ways. But Thomas, you might be asking, how do you know the bank in the Harkness ad is the old People Bank building? The buildings Harkness states he was upset about Hutchisson receiving credit for belonged to Charles F. Theobald. In August 1896, Theobald ran two ads simultaneously, one for a new building for The People Bank, which he served as president for, and another for his own personal residence to be built at the corner of Main and Beach Boulevard.

Biloxi Herald, August 1 1896, page 8.

While the Theobald House is long gone, the bank in question still stands at the corner of Howard Avenue and Lameuse Street.

Hutchisson’s ads stop running in the Daily Herald in February of 1897. In 1899, he returned to Mobile having become a U.S. Deputy Marshal and would soon move to Chicago, Illinois, where he lived out the rest of his life. So what do you think? Does the authorship of one of Biloxi’s more notable buildings belong to a native son or a skilled Mobilian architect?

Categories: Architectural Research, Banks, Biloxi, Historic Preservation


19 replies

  1. Very interesting. I recall seeing many buildings with turrets like this in Brookline, Massachusetts. It must have been a popular architectural feature or stylistic element in the late 1800s. I love those handsome buildings.

    Liked by 1 person

    • W.T. Harkness’ family came to Biloxi from Pelham, Massachusetts They were a family of engineers and architect educated in Mass. Mr. Harkness was the son of J.R. Harkness, my Great Great Grandfather. They were pioneers of Biloxi.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. By way of passing I might mention the weathervane on top of the turret which depicts a witch sitting on a crescent moon. Many years ago, perhaps late 1980s, I met with the late Glenn Swetman who was I believe the bank president. We were in the new bank which is across the street from the old one. Through his window he pointed out the weathervane and noted that some years before a person came in and offered to purchase and remove it, because, he noted, it’s a satanic symbol. Mr. Swetman refused, so it’s still there.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My grandfather, Lloyd T Moon did the renovations to restore it to its original glory. During Urban Renewal, they had closed the corner entrance and removed the arch among other things. They had the weather vain restored too. I’ll have to walk next door in a little bit and ask him the details. He is 88. :)

    Liked by 3 people

  4. J. F. Hutchisson’s brother, Clarence Lindon Hutchisson, Sr., also wandered from Mobile into Mississippi looking for work. He formed a short-lived partnership with P. J. Krouse; their firm was responsible for MSU’s George Hall. Whereas, J. F. Hutchisson’s name was misspelled in the ephemeral medium of newspaper, C. L. Sr.’s contribution to George Hall is immortalized in stone as “Krouse & Hutchison.” One of my earliest posts on Preservation in Mississippi, “An Alabama-Mississippi Architectural Partnership” discussed all of this and more.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. am enjoying all of this; not an unusual happening.


  6. W.T. Harkness’ father was J.R. (John Rankin) Harkness, an architect by education from Pelham, Massachusetts. J.R. Harkness was my Great Great Grandfather. The family was a Biloxi pioneer family who built many of the Biloxi buildings long since gone and undocumented as told to me personally by my Great Aunt Stella, J.R.’s daughter.

    Perhaps you ran across that newspaper clipping from my blog here on Word Press? I have researched and posted extensively about the Harkness family. I grew up knowing, thanks to Aunt Stella, the Harkness family built the building known as the People’s Bank. I can assure you no tantrums were at issue in this family’s history as they were instrumental in the progress of their beloved Biloxi.

    My blog is The Tenderly Rose Collection. That is where that newspaper clipping was originally posted about W.T. Harkness. It had never been available until I began my documentation of the Harkness pioneers.


    • Thank you for sharing you blog, I look forward to reading more of it. My apologies for any umbrage caused. As for the article I though it was quite unusual after I came across it on newspaperarchive.com, a great resource where many of the dozens if not hundreds of buildings built by the Harkness’ are documented.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I just shared a link of your post on my blog. I am tickled you took interest in the building. I am hurrying around this morning, or I would have written more. I always read your posts, being a follower of your posts, but, I had missed this one for some reason. I clipped those entries at newspaper.com and put them on my profile there. Was hoping someone would see them. That is a great website! Thanks for all your hard work and research. Carry on and keep on preserving Mississippi treasures. I particularly love your posts about old neighborhoods and homes.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Searching for Harkness in the papers, his name often comes up as having hired others to aid with the design and construction work. Thank you for sharing your great post!


  8. On 01FEB2022 the South Mississippi Genealogical & History Society will present a report on the progress of a plan that began in 2018 by USM’s Dr. Sussanah Ural to transcribe 20000 letters written from Mississippians to their governors dating back to 1859 but concentrating on the post-War Reconstruction period that began in 1867.


  9. Isn’t the “peoples bank” the 1898 brick “Lopez Building” after the 1900 fire that ravaged the residental and business areas of Biloxi? The Laz Lopez residence–built on contract to J.R. Hartness in 1890–was destroyed by the 1900 fire. A coat of paint on brick does wonders
    See the Biloxi Herald. 20AUG1898, page 5.


  10. Were it not for the Biloxi Herald’s 1896 post of the Architect’s illustration of the three-story Lopez Bank building, I don’t think I would have determined that a native son via Massachusetts-John Rankin Harkness–was the architect of the Lopez Bank building …and construction contractor of the Romanesque residence that was never completed and was destroyed in the 1900 fire along with the Lopez bank building that it ajoined. Apparently, W. T.’s two-story Peoples Bank of Biloxi was a truncated design of his father’s work that arose from the ashes like Phenix. Or that the removal of the McCabe Building sitting on the future Peoples Bank building site had not occurred?

    Liked by 1 person


  1. W.T. Harkness and the Peoples Bank Building of Biloxi, Mississippi – Mystery Solved! « The Tenderly Rose Collection
  2. Who Designed Biloxi’s Peoples Bank? - Biloxi MS Local Area News & Events

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