The Gulf Coast National Heritage Area
- story by Rebecca Orfila, photos by Rebecca Orfila and Ellis Anderson
The breeze changes direction in the afternoons on the Coast and blows gently over a 118-year old home located south of Ocean Springs. Situated on East Beach Drive and designed by celebrated Chicago architect Louis Sullivan and journeyman drafter, Frank Lloyd Wright, Bon Silene (also known as the Charnley-Norwood house) provides a clear view of estuaries and marshland just offshore and, less than two miles away, Deer Island.
Bon Silene was heavily damaged during Hurricane Katrina, but benefited from a collaborative partnership between the Mississippi Department of Archives and History and the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, which funded the $2.3 million acquisition and restoration of the structure.
Bon Silene is part of the six-county Mississippi Gulf Coast Heritage Area, which was designated in 1999. The Gulf Coast Heritage Area includes Hancock, Harrison, Stone, Jackson, Pearl River, and George counties.
Local management of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Heritage Area is the job of Department of Marine Resources’ Deputy Director of Coastal Restoration and Resiliency, Rhonda Price and her staff. Price works to facilitate the necessary partnerships of communities, governmental agencies, non-profit organizations, and individuals who value our region's rich cultural diversity, history, traditions, and natural beauty.
Among her list of projects for 2016, Price described taking the Bon Silene project a step further with plans to bring back the Bon Silene roses to the property. The property took its name from the carmine-pink flowers that were originally planted on the grounds.
In 2015, grants totaling $200,000 were awarded by the Mississippi Gulf Coast Heritage Area to help support diverse initiatives. All of the grant awards will be matched with local or state funding and donated services.
- The Disability Connections received $40,000 to create a film project to preserve and promote the heritage areas of South Mississippi, while designing tours to educate and connect the public, inclusive of people with disabilities.
- To support its comprehensive education outreach program, the Mississippi Heritage Trust received $25,000. MHT plans to develop the educational program using five significant sites to educate students and the public.
- The Mississippi Gulf Coast National Heritage Area awarded Stone County Economic Development Partnership a grant of $35,000 to identify, develop and promote heritage resources.
- The Gautier Colored School will be the beneficiary of a grant of $50,000 to facilitate renovations to create the Gautier Historic Schoolhouse and Cultural Museum.
- Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast Regional CVB was awarded $15,000 to create six Mississippi Gulf Coast National Heritage Area signs to be erected at the corridors coming into the 3-6 coastal counties. Additionally, the grants will underwrite a portion of training for college workforce and visitor center personnel that focuses on the assets of the Gulf Coast Heritage Area.
- A grant of $35,000 was awarded to the Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain to compose a comprehensive history of the Turkey Creek area, in addition to a feasibility study for the restoration of the Phoenix Naval Store building for use as an interpretive center for the completed historical documents.
The remains of the settlers were reburied on site in Biloxi. The reinterment ceremony included a Rite of Committal conducted by Bishop Roger Morin. Also participating were Knights of Columbus from local churches as well as members of the 1699 Society in period garb from Ocean Springs.
As with the planned landscaping at Bon Silene, Rhonda Price and her team are finalizing plans for a memorial garden at the burial site of the settlers. Design of the gardens will include evergreens styled in the parterre fashion. Additionally, a life-size sculpture of a weeping angel will be included to honor the colonists and their suffering.
Whether for restoration, preservation, access projects, signage, or educational programs, the Department of Marine Resources’ Mississippi Gulf Coast Heritage Area team encourages leaders of our area resources to apply for annual grants. For additional information, click here.
Note: The Bon Silene Restoration and Preservation Project was the Recipient of a 2014 Heritage Award for Preservation Education and the Trustees Award for Exemplary Restoration of a Mississippi Landmark.