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Sullivan-Charnley Historic District

Ocean Springs City, Jackson County, MS

The Sullivan-Charnley Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡]


The Sullivan-Charnley Historic District is located between Weeks Bayou on the west, Halstead Bayou on the east, and Davis Bayou on the south in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. The Sullivan-Charnley Historic District is comprised of the two adjoining waterfront estates once owned and developed by the Chicago architect, Louis Sullivan, and his friends and clients, the James Charnleys, also from Chicago. The two properties which occupy the northeast corner of the intersection of Shearwater Drive [now East Beach Drive] and Holcomb Boulevard are several times deeper than they are wide. The buildings are located somewhat closer to the southern boundary than to the original northern property line and rest on the crest of a low bluff which slopes down to Shearwater Drive and the beach beyond. The former Sullivan estate (6 Holcomb Boulevard, Sullivan House and small original servants quarters) is thickly planted with trees and shrubbery which obscure the view of the house from both Holcomb Boulevard and Shearwater Drive. It is not possible to discern any remnants of Sullivan's original landscape design. The Charnley buildings (509 Shearwater Drive [now 509 East Beach Drive], Charnley House; 2 wood-framed dependencies; Charnley Guest Cottage) command an extensive view of Davis Bayou, Biloxi Bay, and Dear Island by virtue of a relatively open sweep of lawn which stretches from the drive up to their doors. The grounds behind the houses are more thickly planted. Of the six buildings in the Sullivan-Charnley Historic District one is determined to be pivotal [qualify for listing in the National Register] and five are contributing [essential to the district's sense of place and sustaint he architectural and historical significance of the district].


The Sullivan-Charnley Historic District is significant in the history of American architecture for its association with two of America's most noted architects, Louis Sullivan (1856-1924) and Frank Lloyd Wright (1869-1959). The Sullivan-Charnley Historic District consists of six buildings on the adjoining estates once owned by Sullivan and his friends, Mr. and Mrs. James Charnley. At least four of the buildings were designed by the Chicago-based architectural firm of Adler and Sullivan. The definite attribution of the designs of these structures remains a subject of debate.

Following his Herculean efforts on the design and construction of the famous Auditorium Building in Chicago (1886-1889) Sullivan, an insomniac, sought a quiet retreat. Considering California to be often too damp and always too earthquake-prone, and New Orleans to be far too dirty, Sullivan was persuaded by the Charnleys, to visit the small Mississippi Gulf Coast village of Ocean Springs in 1890. Sullivan was entranced by the quiet, densely wooded little town. He and the Charnleys acquired adjoining properties which faced the beach east of the town. Sullivan states in his autobiography that "he (Sullivan) planned for two shacks or bungalows 300 feet apart with stables far back; also a system of development requiring years for fulfillment... The building work was left to a local carpenter." (Robert Twombley, Louis Sullivan, His Life and Work [New York: Viking Press, 1986], pp.198-205, 490). (Sullivan usually wrote of himself in the third person.) This somewhat ambiguous statement has convinced some historians of Sullivan's responsibility for the architectural as well as the landscape designs. His authorship of the once glorious, now obscured garden design is beyound dispute. (Lyndon P. Smith, "The Home of an Artist-Architect," Architectural Record 17:[June 1905] pp. 471-491.)

Frank Lloyd Wright (1869-1959) assumed credit for the Ocean Springs buildings in his book, Genius and the Mobocracy (New York: Horizon Press, 1971, p.67). Wright was employed in the office of Adler and Sullivan from 1887 to 1893 and was responsible for most of the firm's residential designs during that period.

The Sullivan and Charnley cottages and their respective servants' and guests' quarters are the only buildings in Mississippi whose attribution to Louis Sullivan is supported by substantial evidence. Only one Mississippi structure has been positively ascribed to Frank Lloyd Wright. This house, "Fountainhead," (J. Willis Hughes House) in Jackson County (National Register, 1980), was designed in 1948 and reflects Wright's mid-twentieth-century Usonian Period. The simple shingle-clad Ocean Springs buildings offer a striking contrast to Sullivan's well known, crisply geometric and terra-cotta-foliated designs of the Guaranty Building in Buffalo and Chicago's Carson, Pirie, Scott Store. Although they do not greatly resemble Wright's urban and suburban, vaguely historical houses of the time, the simplicity and profound horizontality of the Sullivan and Charnley buildings are markedly similar to a ground-hugging, broad-eaved and hip-roofed design which Wright submitted to Sullivan when applying for a job in 1888 (Wright p.60) and to his later Prairie style houses.

The Charnleys retained ownership of their Ocean Springs property for only a few years. However, Sullivan's estate remained his winter residence for twenty years. The professional, financial, and personal reverses which followed the dissolution of the Adler and Sullivan partnership in the mid-1890s eventually led to the mortgaging and, ultimately, to the sale of Sullivan's cherished Ocean Springs home in 1910.


Smith, Lyndon P. "Home of an Artist-Architect," Architectural Record 17:471-491.

Sullivan, Louis H. The Autobiography of an Idea. 1924, New York: Dover Press ed. 1986,

Twombly, Robert. Louis Sullivan His Life and Work. New York: Viking Press 1986.

Wright, Frank Lloyd. Genius and the Mobocracy. New York: Horizon Press, 1971 (reprint of the 1941 edition).

‡ Brian Berggren, Architectural Historian, Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Sullivan-Charnley Historic District, Jackson County, MS, nomination document, 1986, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Nearby Neighborhoods

Street Names
East Beach Drive • Holcomb Boulevard • Shearwater Drive