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Charnley-Norwood House

Charnley-Norwood House

Address: 509 Shearwater Drive (E. Beach), Ocean Springs, MS
Built in 1890b

Designed by architects Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright

Registered in Sullivan-Charnley National Register Historic District in Ocean Springs,1986

The 3,000 square foot vacation beachfront home of Chicago lumber-baron James Charnley was designed in 1890 (and rebuilt after a fire in 1897) by renowned architect Louis Sullivan of Chicago, the father of the skyscraper, and his young draftsman, Frank Lloyd Wright. This nationally significant property illustrates how these two men revolutionized American residential architecture by “inviting the outdoors to come indoors,” according to Ken P’Pool, MDAH deputy state historic preservation officer. The house contains the nexus of ideas that would reshape American residential architecture in the 20th century. A t-shape bungalow style, generous windows, flanked all around by built-in seats, bring in natural light, emphasizing the unique curly pine walls and ceiling.  It represented a dramatic departure from the soaring Victorian-style homes being built all along the coast and around the US by incorporating strong and low horizontal lines enhanced by the use of shingled siding.

Summers along the Mississippi coast are muggy and hot so the home was designed to efficiently distribute both onshore and offshore breezes.  Crisp winter chills were warmed by fire places in each of the octagonal bedrooms.  An octagonal guest house was constructed adjacent to the home.

In 2005, the home was owned by Edsel and Mary Ruddiman, who delighted in welcoming neighbors and friends for church picnics under the many Live Oaks that shade the property.  Hurricane Katrina heavily damaged the Charnley-Norwood House, the storm surge lifting the front half and floating it above the foundation.  The front porch was completely washed away.  Brick foundation piers pierced the floor and the stunning pine walls and ceiling cracked apart under the stress – or simply drifted away entirely.  The terrible storm also took its toll on the Ruddimans, both of whom passed away within six months after the devastation.

After the storm, volunteers worked tirelessly to find and preserve pieces of the house.  Preservationists around the country offered help to save this architectural masterpiece.  After much debate and research, the Mississippi Department of Archives and History took the lead to save the treasured structure.  Emergency stabilization work was carried out on the house in Spring of 2008 and the interior was restored with the aid of funds from the Mississippi Hurricane Relief Grant for Historic Preservation. The restoration, a model of preservation technology, was completed in August 2013, eight years after the house was almost lost to the storm.  The Mississippi Department of Marine Resources purchased the environmentally sensitive property, thereby preserving this national landmark for posterity.   

History of the Home

  • 1890: The Charnley House is designed by Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright; owned by lumber baron James Charnley.
  • 1895: Purchased by lumber baron Frederick Norwood.
  • 1897: The home is rebuilt after a catastrophic fire with improvements (presumably by Sullivan).
  • 2005: The home, owned and maintained for many years by the Ruddiman family, is torn apart by Hurricane Katrina.
  • 2008: Emergency stabilization is performed.
  • 2013: Restoration is complete.


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