Old Ocean Springs Historic District
The Old Ocean Springs Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2011, The Gombach Group.
The Old Ocean Springs Historic District is comprised of several primarily residential blocks situated to the south and west of the central business district of Ocean Springs. With a few exceptions it encompasses most of the properties on Jackson and Washington Avenues between Porter Avenue and Front Beach Drive, all of the properties along the north side of Front Beach Drive between Martin Avenue and Inner Harbor Road, and the properties on the east side of Martin Avenue between Front Beach Drive and Cleveland Avenue.
The Old Ocean Springs Historic District occupies a series of low hillocks which rise from the shores of the Inner Harbor and the Mississippi Sound. The rise is gradual and the summits of the hillocks are somewhat flat. The only major deviations from the almost imperceptible roll of the ground is the rise and fall of Calhoun Avenue between Jackson Avenue and Dewey Avenue. A north-to-south ravine along which Ruskin Avenue runs is surrounded on three sides by the district but is not included in it.
The vegetation is tropical or subtropical in character with a preponderance of long-leaf pines, magnolias, palmettos, and, especially numerous, live oaks. The wide-arching branches of the oaks along Washington and Jackson Avenues transform sections of those streets into green tunnels. The landscaping on the privately-owned lots is, for the most part, simple in design and well-tended. Stretches of unoccupied land are thickly wooded and choked with underbrush which conveys an approximate impression of the district's original and early condition.
Front Beach Drive is the only curving street in the Old Ocean Springs Historic District. Although the other streets are straight, they do not intersect at right angles nor do three of the five east-west roads extend beyond a single block. The street plan is, therefore, irregular. The size of the lots is also inconsistent. The large lots formerly occupied by nineteenth and early twentieth century hotels have contributed to this variation. For example, the site of the Shanahan Hotel is now an open area known as the Little Children's Park and the extensive grounds of Ocean Springs Hotel are now occupied by a concentration of small residential properties along the west side of Jackson Avenue.
During the late nineteenth century the area within the Old Ocean Springs Historic District was characterized by a greater mixture of private residential and commercial properties. The latter included boarding houses and stores (sometimes within homes) as well as the large hotels. Although some boarding houses and stores have survived in form — if not function — the hotels have vanished and the business community has retreated to Washington Avenue north of Porter Avenue and to U.S. Highway 90 along which a commercial strip has developed.
The majority of the extant buildings in the Old Ocean Springs Historic District were built as dwellings. Some of the houses have been put to other uses such as offices and a funeral home. The Old Ocean Springs Historic District also includes two churches with their ancillary buildings and a recently constructed professional office. Most of the houses are one or one-and-one-half story wood frame buildings. The two-story Queen Anne houses at 1103 Calhoun Avenue and 3181 Jackson Avenue are unusual. Many of the buildings rest on brick piers or have raised or partially raised basements. Gable roofs of varying complexity and pitch predominate, however, hip roofs are found on the O'Keefe House at 911 Porter Avenue and "The Cedars" at 314 Jackson Avenue among other examples.
An architectural response to Gulf Coast climatic conditions is reflected in the scarcity of chimneys and the nearly universal use of full-width or wrap-around porches or galleries. The Queen Anne style house at 1103 Calhoun Avenue is an exception, having only a tiny porch.
The predominant architectural styles in the Old Ocean Springs Historic District are the Greek Revival (214 Washington Avenue, White-Spunner House; 520 Jackson Avenue, Hansen-Verrette House; 416 Martin Avenue, Dr. Austin's Sanatorium), the Queen Anne (505 Washington Avenue; 318 Jackson Avenue, Saxon House; 406 Jackson Avenue, Frank Bryan House; 502 Rayburn Avenue) and the Craftsman or Bungalow style (208 Washington Avenue; 420 Jackson Avenue, Gautier House; 517 Jackson Avenue; 601 Cleveland Avenue). The Greek Revival style is reflected in the use of transomed and sidelighted entrances framed with simple eared architraves, full-width galleries with box columns, low-pitched roofs and, usually, symmetrical facades. Buildings which exhibit such Queen Anne stylistic features as steep cross-gable roofs, projecting chamfered bays, turned porch supports, spindle friezes and gable walls sheathed in imbricated shingles appear with great frequency throughout the Old Ocean Springs Historic District. The Craftsmen and Bungalow aesthetic character is manifested in the numerous houses which possess open, often strut or brace-supported, eaves with exposed rafter ends and porches which feature severely simple posts or battered piers or columns.
In addition to the stylistic elements in evidence, there is a diversity of building forms in the Old Ocean Springs Historic District. These include: (a) one or one and one-half storied, undercut-galleried "creole cottages" which lack central hallways (305 Front Beach Drive; 822 Porter Avenue), (b) the similar "planter's cottages" which also have one or one and one-half stories and undercut-galleries but possess the Anglo-American center passage absent in the creole cottages (214 Washington Avenue, White-Spunner House; 416 Martin Avenue, Dr. Austin's Sanatorium), (c) the deep, narrow-fronted "shotgun houses" (520 Jackson Avenue, Hansen-Verrette House; 918 Calhoun Avenue) believed to have developed from West Indian or possibly African forms, and (d) the "bungalow" which despite its freedom in planning is readily recognized by its broad, low roofs, wide eaves, exposed struts and braces and battered porch supports (208 Washington Avenue; 517 Jackson Avenue; 414 Martin Avenue, "Terrace Hill"). There is no strict correlation between building forms and styles. Although creole and planter's cottages are likely to exhibit more Greek Revival characteristics, Queen Anne detailing is found on all of the discussed building forms except the bungalow.
The Old Ocean Springs Historic District is architecturally significant for its diversity of architectural styles, the manner in which they are well-suited or adapted for the climate, and the predominance of particular styles that reflect stimuli to the expansion of the town. That this district is almost entirely residential in character renders the appreciation of the stylistic patterns much more precise than would be possible in a more heterogeneous neighborhood.
Although settled as a fishing village shortly after the 1699 establishment of nearby Fort Maurepas, the area that constitutes this district experienced only limited growth until the inception of steamer service between Mobile and New Orleans in the 1820s and 1830s. As the vessels pulled in at the Jackson Avenue landing to replenish fuel and water supplies, passengers refreshed themselves strolling among the tree-shaded knolls which rise from the shore. In the 1850s the awakening interest in the small community received additional impetus from the discovery and exploitation of the mineral springs near the Old Fort Bayou. The Ocean Springs Hotel which once stretched along Jackson Avenue was soon competing with an ever-growing number of hotels and boarding houses. Although there are no extant representatives of the large hotels, at least three dwellings which were originally built as boarding houses have survived (509 Washington Avenue; 314 Jackson Avenue, "The Cedars;" 316 Front Beach Drive, Honor House). The sudden rush of the fashionable to partake of the waters lead many New Orleanians to erect resort homes in the town. The prevailing architectural style in the Deep South at mid-century was still the Greek Revival, the colonnade of which provided outdoor living space and shielded rooms from the direct rays of the sun. The Greek Revival buildings in Ocean Springs are less monumental and exhibit less intricate ornament than the contemporary structures built in more populous centers such as Natchez, Vicksburg, and Jackson. The galleries of the Ocean Springs houses feature box columns with simple capitals. Door enframements are, at their most elaborate, eared and battered architraves (214 Washington Avenue, White-Spunner House; 520 Jackson Avenue, Hansen-Verrette House; 416 Martin Avenue, Dr. Austin's Sanatorium). The First Presbyterian Church (921 Ocean Avenue), which dates from the 1870s, is a particularly simple version of the Greek Revival. A hint of the Gothic Revival style appears in the pointed opening in the gable of the church. There are no intact examples of either the Gothic Revival or Italianate styles in the Old Ocean Springs Historic District. However, a scalloped bargeboard along a low gable roof reveals that the radically altered villa at 505 Front Beach Drive was originally Italianate. The Civil War did not strike directly at Ocean Springs but its citizens suffered from the same shortages as other Southerners and no extant buildings date from the war years.
Ocean Springs experienced a period of post-war prosperity following the 1870 completion of the railroad line between New Orleans and Mobile. It enabled much larger numbers of people to "summer" in the resort town during the 1880s and 1890s. The newest architectural fashion was the Queen Anne style which featured wide wrap-around porches even on the smallest of "shotgun" houses. This style, which along the Gulf Coast was built primarily of wood, encouraged builders to gaily decorate often uninspired buildings with turned and sawn millwork. Newly erected and altered houses maintained the local tradition of undercut galleries and added Queen Anne style turned and bracketed posts (505 Jackson Avenue). The multi-gabled Saxon House (318 Jackson Avenue) which dates from the turn of the century better reflects the complexity of ornament and plan that is usually associated with the Queen Anne style. The 1890s house at 1103 Calhoun Avenue is atypical of the Queen Anne style as usually interpreted along the Gulf Coast. In place of the usual expansive porches, this Queen Anne style house has only a tiny partially inset porch protecting the entrance. Other examples of Queen Anne buildings in the Old Ocean Springs Historic District include 209 Washington Avenue, 424 Washington Avenue, 316 Jackson Avenue, 410 Jackson Avenue, 522 Jackson Avenue, 509 Front Beach Drive (Hedge House), and 513 Front Beach Drive (Charbonnet House).
The house at 528 Jackson Avenue is the only example of the Shingle style in the Old Ocean Springs Historic District. The entire exterior wall surface is clad in imbricated shingles. Its Tuscan columns suggest a Colonial Revival influence. The so-called "Dutch Colonial Revival Style" is represented by the large former boarding house now known as the Honor House (316 Front Beach Drive). It has a gambrel roof with a pronounced kick to its eaves which are supported by a colonnade.
The Jeremiah O'Keefe House (911 Porter Avenue, "Dale's White Oak") [now Bradford-O'Keefe Funeral Homes] has such Colonial Revival elements as the gently swelling bays on its west elevation and the turned balusters which enclose its second floor balcony. However, the monumental scale of the building and its colossal full-width Ionic portico are more truly evocative of the Neoclassical style.
The final major factor in the expansion of the resort town of Ocean Springs was the automobile. As auto ownership broadened, those who worked in the larger coastal cities of Pascagoula and Biloxi and who had previously vacationed in Ocean Springs could reside year-round in their summer retreat. This increased accessibility to Ocean Springs coincided with the Craftsman and Bungalow movements. The small houses at 208 Washington Avenue and 517 Jackson Avenue which exhibit wide open eaves and piers surmounted by battered columns are altered, yet strongly representative, examples of typical bungalows.
The Craftsman and bungalow influences were not restricted to small houses. The largest Craftsman-inspired building in the Old Ocean Springs Historic District is the galleried house at 545 Front Beach Drive which is a ca. 1925 reconstruction of a burned mid-nineteenth century house. Open rafter ends, simple posts and shingled gable have been applied to a structure which is strongly reminiscent of the earlier Greek Revival building. The bungalow at its most formal is represented by "Terrace Hill" (414 Martin Avenue). Of a monumental scale the house is a symmetrical one-story block with a now enclosed full-width porch supported by clustered columns. The simplicity of the early bungalows has been eschewed in favor of a self-conscious elegance.
Several houses in Old Ocean Springs Historic District are architecturally significant by virtue of their plans or massing rather than their styles. A recurrent form consists of a wide, one and one-half story side-gabled house with a full-width undercut gallery. The fenestration pattern could be symmetrical as in the former boarding house at 509 Washington Avenue, or asymmetrical as represented by the cottage at 822 Porter Avenue. The multiplication of entrances form the galleries on these buildings suggests that they may have served as boarding houses.
Another recurring form is represented by the cottage at 505 Washington Avenue. This ca. 1900 building is T-shaped with a projecting central room which is surrounded on three sides by a U-shaped porch. This house is a fine example of the Queen Anne style with turned posts and sawn brackets supporting the porch and imbricated shingles decorating the gables of the cross gable roof. It is, however, its form that first captures the eye. The central living room with shaded exposures on three sides is eminently suitable for the warm climate and relaxed atmosphere of Ocean Springs. Similarly organized houses on the Gulf Coast include the Bertuccini House at 619 Washington Avenue and the Brielmaier House in Biloxi which are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Another example in which Queen Anne style ornament is secondary in importance to the building's form is found in the house at 914 Calhoun Avenue. The house is nearly square with a hip roof and an L-shaped porch across the facade and along the east elevation. The dual entrances from the front gallery are treated identically with a level of elaboration usually reserved for a main entrance. This suggests that the building was constructed as a multiple dwelling, the small size of which reflects short term occupancy.
The "shotgun" house form exists in a number of variations in Ocean Springs. The small house at 918 Calhoun Avenue, represents the shotgun house in its simplest form with rooms arranged in line from the front to the back of the house. The addition of a passage along the side of the file of rooms provided greater privacy than was possible in the simpler form (520 Jackson Avenue, Hansen-Verrette House). Another variant of the "shotgun" house consists of a single room or file of rooms along the facade and one elevation of which runs an L-shaped, wrap-around porch. The porch is closed at the rear by the addition of a room which is as wide as the combined widths of the porch and front room or rooms (502 Rayburn Avenue).
Although construction has continued down to the present in the Old Ocean Springs Historic District the newer buildings have largely conformed with the residential character and scale of their predecessors. No new architectural fashion or form has had as great an impact on the Old Ocean Springs Historic District as those of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As the amount of available land dwindles and development activities move outward from the city center, the unique turn-of-the-century resort character of the Old Ocean Springs Historic District appears secure.
The period of significance of the Old Ocean Springs Historic District (circa 1850 to circa 1935) encompasses the dates of construction of the buildings which embody this variety of architectural expression. The latest significant resources, the Craftsman style bungalows, were built in the area from the 1910s until about 1935. The Colonial Revival style also continued in the district until about 1930.
Dabney, Thomas E. Ocean Springs; The Land Where Dreams Come True. Pascagoula: Lewis Printing Services, 1974 (reprint of ca. 1915 edition).
Hines, Regina B. Ocean Springs, 1892. Pascagoula: Lewis Printing Services, 1979.
Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Jackson. Ocean Springs Subject File.
Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Jackson. Statewide Survey of Historic Sites: Jackson County.
Sanborn Map Company. Ocean Springs Insurance Maps for 1898, 1909, 1915, 1925.
† Brian N. Berggren, Architectural Historian, Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Old Ocean Springs Historic District, Ocean Springs, Jackson County, MS, nomination document, 1986, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.