A rendering of the proposed Chateau restaurant [ Ralph Rish | Contributed ]

Famed duPont home to be reborn

Chateau to be transformed into restaurant

An aging relic of the heyday of The St. Joe Company is about to rejuvenated into a high-end restaurant.

But first it has to be moved from where it sat in downtown Port St. Joe for more than 85 years.

On April 17, Port St. Joe businessman Ralph Rish is slated to have Ducky Johnson House Movers move the Chateau Nemours, often referred to as just The Chateau or even The Cottage, from its site adjacent to the Port Inn down U.S. 98 to where it will be placed on a 75-acre parcel about a third-of-a-mile east of the Gulf-Franklin Center on the opposite side of the highway.

In a years time, Rish plans to have the two-story, 4,200-square-foot building fully restored to its vintage look, adding wings for bathrooms and a kitchen, and auspicious landscaping so that hopefully by spring 2025, a destination restaurant, likely to be called “The Chateau” will draw visitors from throughout the Panhandle, and even the country, to the area.

“I admire him. He’s getting a very complicated historic restoration project,” said David Warriner, owner of the Port Inn and its adjacent land, and who owned the Chateau ever since he acquired it in 2011 from the federal government after its most recent owner, Coastal Community Bank, went belly-up.

Between 2011 and 2018, Warriner used the second floor as office space for senior managers and staff, and the first floor he rented out to an events company.

But in October 2018, a mighty wind and rain named Hurricane Michael nearly devastated the structure and taking with it the original blueprints (but not the copies) used by Jessie Ball duPont’s architects when the widow of St. Joe Company founder Alfred I. du Pont, and older sister to St. Joe executive Ed Ball, had the house built in 1938.

Styled after the duPont’s lavish 200-acre, 77-room estate in Delaware, the house became a cozy place for Ball and other St. Joe execs to cool their heels when they stopped in town to visit the paper mills.

“They used to go there after work and have a nip of bourbon and talk deals and whatever they did,” said Warriner.

In fact, when Rish puts in an enlarged bar at The Chateau, he plans to offer a drink called “Confusion of the Enemy,” made from Old Forester, since that bourbon, and the words of his toast, were favorites of Ball.

After St. Joe sold off the paper mill, they closed the offices they had at The Chateau, and went on to sell the property in 1998 to Jeannette Palmer, a local woman who remodeled the place and reopened it as one of the town’s earliest bed-and-breakfasts, the Chateau Nemours Seaport Inn.

In 2003, with the opening of the Port Inn next door, which Warriner had bought in 1999 as The St. Joe Motel, and reclaimed the original name, Palmer sold the Chateau off to the bank at a sizeable profit.

Coastal Community added a drive thru, and a vault, but seven years later, the bank had gone under and Warriner acquired the building.

His offices in the building were forced out Oct. 10, 2018 when the fury of Hurricane Michael severely damaged the first floor, and caused a tree to fall into it.

Shuttered ever since, Warriner after two years had settled the insurance claims, and while the building was secure with boarded-up windows, and had a new roof, its future use was in doubt, perhaps as a new site for the Thirsty Goat,

“Then Covid hit and those plans went out the window,” said Warriner. “Construction costs were way higher than expected. And when the city changed the flood map they basically made the building uninsurable. Between windstorm and flood insurance (the cost) would have been unacceptable.

“I wasn’t about to spend money to elevate the building and still get the same insurance bill,” he said.

Warriner chafes at the code enforcement violation he received first in 2022 and then later last fall, in which he was given a deadline to either bring the building entirely up to code or tear it down.

Warriner’s wife Trish floated the idea to Rish of relocating the building, which will turn out to cost well over $100,000.

Despite the enormous cost of moving the structure, “Ralph took it and ran with it. God bless him,” said Warriner. “It’s going to be saved in a beautiful, beautiful way. I’m really excited about what it’s going to be.”

Last week the movers jacked up the structure off the ground, which appears sturdy enough to withstand the move, given its heart pine, square-edged lumber, absent any plywood. “Some are still plastered walls,” Warriner said. “We took the wirelapped plaster out, and we stripped it down to the studs.

“Sometimes the old buildings aren’t built well enough to withstand this, but this will be almost a phoenix rising. The bones of this house are really solid,” he said. “Unfortunately with the rules and regulations, that building’s life expired on that location.”

Rish plans to place The Chateau on a small hill, with portions of the remaining acreage to be used for a small housing development.

There will be a total of 157 seats, 60 on the second floor, 58 on the outdoor deck. 23 at the first floor bar, and 16 in the first floor dining area.

Gulf County Food and Beveage LLC, the new owners, envision a visual return to the 1930s era, with large leather furniture, couches, love seats, vintage stairs and bar stools, and with vehicles from that period, including a tractor, placed in front of the entrance.

“The upstairs will look like it did 80 years ago, with oak floors and staircases, like it was before the hurricane. We want it to look old, but new-old,” he said. 

Rish estimates it’s an 18-minute scenic drive west to the site from Two Mile, shorter than many distances within Franklin County and so will attract diners from that county as well.

He said that with strucuture’s strong, diagonal wood floors, he has a lot to work with, but knows some aspects may be a challenge and so has hired a structural engineer to evaluate what can be preserved to remain sound with the increased foot traffic.

“I think it’s going to be something super cool, a place for, good or bad, telling and restoring the history,” he said. “Telling the story of the history from France and Delaware and all the way down here. It happens to be something dear to my heart.”

Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor


  1. Thank you Ralph! This will be a great addition to our wonderful community.
    Can’t wait to be one of your regular customers.
    Leonard Costin

  2. It good to see a part of our local history saved. Restoring a part of our past will help influence how this area builds into the future! I can’t wait to make a reservation!

  3. Thank you for posting this article about the Chateau and it’s history. I’m so glad the Chateau is being saved. I hope years to come many people enjoy it as an elegant place to dine.

  4. Congratulations Rish, Warriner, Families and All. We’ll make it one of our stops when we’re there.

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