Onward Oaks (Camp Onward)

Onward Oaks Interior Shot

No longer standing and de-listed on 7/16/2008

National Register ID: 96001265

Area Of Significance: Architecture

Architectural Classification: Greek Revival, Italianate

Period Of Significance: 1875-1899

Date Listed: 11/1/1996

Location: 972 South Beach Boulevard, Bay St. Louis, MS

Statement of Significance

Built circa 1875, Onward Oaks is architecturally significant as a good example of a raised Creole cottage with eclectic Victorian detailing and is typical of the summer cottages built along the beachfront after the arrival ofthe railroad in Bay St. Louis in 1872.

Although Bay St. Louis was not settled until circa 1800 during the Spanish era, the Gallic architectural influence remained strong along the Mississippi Gulf Coast as well as other areas claimed earlier by the French. Onward Oaks is a surviving example that illustrates how this vernacular French colonial architecture persisted well into the American Period, through the late nineteenth century. The unknown builder of this house retained the traditional characteristics of the raised Creole cottage: a prominent side-gabled roof with undercut galleries on both the front and rear elevations; paired French doors opening into each of the four rooms; and only one principal raised floor. Onward Oaks, as a latent Creole house, assimilated a central hall plan from the Greek Revival style then ornamented the house with eclectic details that were fashionable in the post-Civil War period.

Bay St. Louis became a major tourist mecca following the connection by the railroad in 1872 of the Mississippi coastal area to New Orleans and Mobile. With this new convenience, summer cottages were built all along the beachfront by the affluent from the New Orleans and Mobile areas, as well as from throughout the U.S. Attempts to establish a chain of title from before 1900 have thus far been unsuccessful. However, it is believed that Onward Oaks began as a typical Gulf Coast summer cottage circa 1875 since deed records show that ownership changed several times and none of the names are found in the nineteenth century Hancock County census records, indicating absentee ownership.

From 1917 to 1969 the property served as Camp Onward, which was a summer camp for children operated by Kingsley House, a New Orleans private, non-profit organization. In 1969 Hurricane Camille left the historic building and several outbuildings with extensive damage, and ultimately abandonment resulted from financial difficulties, ending the Camp Onward era. The present owner attended Camp Onward as a child and recently undertook the rehabilitation of the house based on historic photographs and physical evidence. Despite some loss of original historic fabric due to the ravages ofthe hurricane and abandonment the house stands today as a well-maintained and visually evocative example of a galleried cottage in the Creole tradition of the Mississippi Gulf Coast and is locally significant in the context of the Historic Resources of Bay St. Louis (a Multiple Resource Area nomination group submitted in 1980).

Architectural Description

Situated on an elevated plot of land facing the St. Louis Bay and the Mississippi Sound, Onward Oaks (c. 1875) is a raised Creole cottage with Greek Revival and Italianate influences. Resting on reconstructed brick piers, the house is a frame, one-and-one-half story, seven by four bay, side-gabled building with undercut galleries spanning both the front and rear elevations. The steeply pitched gable roof is pierced by two interior brick chimneys and by three gabled dormers on both the front and rear elevations. The floor plan of the house is typical of Greek Revival cottages of the period, being a center hall, double-pile plan.

The main (southeast) elevation has a central entrance filled with double-leaf, Italianate-style doors with arched half-glazing and molded wood panels below. A three-light transom is above the doors, and rather than sidelights, a six-over-six, double-hung window is to each side of the main entrance. The other four bays of the main façade are filled with double-leaf, French doors topped by three-light transoms. The three gabled dormers of the main façade were reconstructed using historic photographs and replace a large, twentieth century, shed roof dormer. The dormer windows are six-over-six, double-hung sash. The front gallery, which was destroyed by Hurricane Camille in 1969, has been reconstructed by the present owner, who utilized historic photographs and physical evidence. The gallery features a wooden deck, box columns, comer brackets (replicated from an original found on site), and a jigsawn balustrade.

The fenestration of the rear elevation is identical to that of the main façade. Although this elevation only originally had one dormer window, two dormers have been added. The rear gallery is supported by plain posts and has been enclosed by glass.

The side elevations each have four six-over-six, double-hung windows on the lower level, and in the upper level the two central bays have the same type windows while the outer bays have paired casement windows.

The interior of the house has a 16-foot wide central hall flanked by two rooms to either side. The hallway has its original straight-run stairway with turned newel post and balusters; however, the present owner has reversed the direction of the stairway from facing the rear to face the front entrance. The first floor interior doors are four-panel doors topped by three-light transoms, the ceilings are 12-feet in height, and due to extensive water damage to the plaster the walls and ceilings have been sheetrocked. Each of the four rooms has a comer, coal-burning fireplace with wooden Renaissance Revival style mantelpiece embellished with fluted pilasters and carved designs of the period. Due to poor structural condition, one entire fireplace and chimney has been reconstructed, along with the enlargement of all the openings to meet code requirements for wood burning fireplaces. The hallway also has a fireplace. When the present owner acquired the property, the upper level was a single open space that had been finished with beaded board walls and ceiling in the early twentieth century when the house carne to be used as Camp Onward, a summer camp for children. The upper level has recently been divided to accomodate five bedrooms, bathrooms, and closets.

In 1969 this house suffered major damage during Hurricane Camille and subsequently was abandoned, leaving it exposed to the elements and random vandalism. The force of the wind and water destroyed the front gallery and caused roof damage, which led to the deterioration of the interior plaster walls. Based on physical evidence and historic photographs, the house has recently been rehabilitated.

Although battered by Camille, Onward Oaks possesses a high degree of integrity of location, setting, feeling, and association. As restored, the house is a good example of the Cottage Orne type buildings that were popular along the Coast in the post-Civil War period. The house retains all but one original interior door and one set of French doors, and only one of the five original mantelpieces was missing. The floor plan of the main level of the house is also intact.

From the Camp Onward period, two small concrete block outbuildings and a large swimming pool remain to the rear of the house. Recently, a free-standing carport has been built near but also to the rear of the house. All are considered noncontributing.

Additional Notes

VERBAL BOUNDARY DESCRIPTION: The nominated property is labelled "Parcel 2" on the accompanying property plat map.
BOUNDARY JUSTIFICATION: Boundary lines follow the property lines of the parcel of land upon which the nominated resource is located, per the accompanying map.

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