Share, , Google Plus, Pinterest,


Posted in:

Ellsworth’s Legacy

Story and photos by Ellis Anderson//

A cherished family home is snatched from the verge of destruction and restored to pay homage to former owner Ellsworth Collins – Bay St. Louis artist, woodworker and musician.


Visitors driving down Sycamore Street in Bay St. Louis are likely to slow down in front of the bright blue cottage in the 200 block.  The color itself is eye-catching enough, a bright Caribbean hue that catches sunshine and speaks of skies on a perfect spring day. 
But the hand-worked trim is the main attention grabber.  The columns of the screened front porch are showstoppers.  The narrow panels of striking geometric designs tell of an owner who was a craftsman with vision, one who understood wood as a wonderful medium for self-expression. 


An artist to the core of his being, Ellsworth was a talented musician, as well as a master woodworker.  The historic cottage on Sycamore Street was frequented by many iconic New Orleans musicians he gigged with in the city.  Many came to visit with the noted guitar and stand-up bass player when they played at nearby 100 Men Hall (which his grandfather, John, helped found in 1888).  Professor Longhair was only one of many guests who whiled away hours relaxing and visiting on Collins’s porch. 
Today, Ellsworth’s niece, Patrice Tryman, can sit on that same front porch and finally take a breather herself.  It’s been a difficult journey, one still not complete, but over the last ten years, she and her partner, Glenn Perry, managed to save the cottage from demolition after it was horribly damaged by Hurricane Katrina.  Patrice herself spent years overseeing its restoration. 


4705896 3919371









The story of her passion for the house began when she was born in the front bedroom.  Her parents were then living in a small guest cottage behind the main residence.  Patrice’s father died when she was only two, so her widowed mother raised her with the help of the extended family.
Ellsworth was fond of Patrice and gave her the nickname “Peaches.” Yet, she and her cousin Yola (now Yola Jackson) knew they’d risk the wrath of Uncle Ellsworth if they created too much commotion.  They also knew that his gruffness was just an act and didn’t take him seriously.  Family was everything to Ellsworth and no matter the time of day, he was happy to see them.  Decades later, nieces and nephews remember that there was always something cooking in the kitchen and a coffee pot on, ready for visitors who dropped in. 
Yola’s brother, Charles Joseph, was a boy who looked up to Ellsworth and saw his uncle as a musical inspiration.  Collins would allow the youngster to play with his instruments, which fired off a lifelong musicianship in Joseph (he’s a longtime member of the St. Rose de Lima choir).
 Ellsworth played in a local band called the Stardusters, made up mostly of neighbors.  The band members included Catherine Ishem as singer, Mitchell Smith on saxophone, Eugene Smith on trumpet, Ellswood on guitar and/or bass and his brother, Clarence Collins on drums.  They’d rehearse in the cottage living room, using music stands that Ellsworth had made.  Sometimes his love for woodworking and music intertwined.  Charles says his uncle built an electric guitar for himself and one for “Guitar” Bo Darensbourg (of Bo and Dee fame).
Collins was also a member of the Boots Alexis Combo.  One night in the early ’50s, the band was playing at the NCO club on Keesler Air Force Base.  Another band performing at the Officer’s Club finished early and walked over to see the combo.  Impressed, they asked if they could sit in with Collins and his group.  That band’s leader was Louis Armstrong.  A photo hanging in the house today shows Collins beaming that night, standing next to the American legend.  
The house sat vacant until 2007.  Ellsworth had not left a will, so the names of 21 people were on the deed — many of whom were struggling to reassemble the pieces of their own lives after the storm.  Patrice began to fear the demolition of the house, which had continued to deteriorate.  She hired an estate attorney and started contacting each relative who had an interest in the house.  Since no one else wanted to tackle the major responsibilities and costs of restoration, eventually they sold or signed over their shares to Patrice.  She became the sole owner in 2010.
Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH) was administering a grant program to help with repairs of historic houses on the coast.  Patrice applied and at first was rejected.  Then in 2011, MDAH contacted her and said they’d reconsidered.  The grant paired her with Bay St. Louis architect Kevin Fitzpatrick and contractor Ed Odom, both of whom specialize in sensitive historic restoration.  The initial work structurally stabilized two rooms on the beach side that Ellsworth had built on to the original 1905 cottage. Restoration of the main house was completed in 2013.  Patrice plans to tackle Ellsworth’s former workshop building next.
There’s no sign of Katrina now in the three-bedroom/three-bath house, although there is plenty of evidence of Ellsworth.  On the inside, a turned column is a main feature of the back porch turned eat-in den.  His photograph with Louis Armstrong hangs inside the door.  Patrice has left a large wall in the formal dining room empty of artwork for now.  She plans to hang an oversized photo of the altar that Ellsworth made for St. Rose de Lima — one he created from an extraordinary rooted stump that appears to be reaching toward heaven.