natchez

Day 94 – Natchez, Mississippi

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After three days on the Natchez Trace, I finally landed in Natchez, once the wealthiest city in the nation. Prior to the Civil War, 13 of the nation’s 30 millionaires called Natchez home.  In fact, the homes built here were not for plantation work, but were simply showcases for many northerners’ wealth.  All but one antebellum home survived the Civil War, as Natchez sided with the Union, and many Union soldiers used the homes during the war.

Longwood

Our first stop in Natchez was at Longwood, the largest octagonal home in America.  Due to its unique shape, unfinished structure, and interesting story, Longwood is the most visited site in the State of Mississippi.

longwood in natchez mississippi

The Plans and Construction

Mr. Haller Nutt, a wealthy cotton planter, and his wife, Julia, commissioned famed Philadelphia architect, Samuel Sloan, to design and commence construction on “Nutt’s Folly” in 1859 during the Antebellum time period.  The plans called for a six story mansion including a basement for private family matters and close friends, a first floor for guest reception, the next two floors for bedrooms, the fourth floor as a play area, and the final two floors for a sunroom and observation area, respectively.

Construction progressed smoothly until 1861.  Fears of the War caused Sloan’s Philadelphia craftsmen to leave their tools and flee home to the North.  As a result, Mr. Nutt employed local workers to finish the basement level in order for the family to reside the house.  Essentially the family’s living and bedroom space was combined with the guest reception and dining in the basement level. 

Progressive Design

From a neophyte’s point of view like mine, it seemed as though Mr. Nutt was a forward thinker. In certain instances, touring his home reminded me of touring Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater.  For example, the octagonal rotunda in the middle of the home on the basement level did not have windows. Consequently, it was shielded from direct outdoor light.  To alleviate the potential darkness, Mr. Nutt had workers cut holes in the ceiling to allow light from upper levels to filter into the room…some of the first skylights! Furthermore, the first level included screens that slid into the wall and shutters that glided upward behind the brick facade…an early version of pocket doors. 

skylight in longwood mansion
sky light from above

In addition to creative architecture, Mr. Nutt grew his fortune by creating both a new strain of cotton and a different type of cotton gin.  Mr. Nutt crossed the Southern cotton seeds with seeds he smuggled to the states from Egypt to create a softer, finer strain than the current American cotton.  Moreover, he designed a gin that could be cranked by one person, thereby replacing the large cotton gins. Correspondingly, he reduced the labor needs.

The Furniture

Along with the mansion, the furniture was also remarkable. While it was almost all original pieces owned by the family, it was not the furniture designed for the address, as the British embargos kept the family from ever receiving the furniture they ordered.  The feather beds included rolling pins on decorative headboards to be used to roll out the dents in the feather mattresses.  Fancy chairs and handsome wooden trunks functioned as portable latrines with the swift removal of a cushion or the lifting of trunk’s lid, respectively. 

Dish warming stands placed in front of the fire place rotated toward the fire when the dishes needed to be warmed and toward the dining table when the dishes were going to be used.  An etched glass flycatcher bottle sat on the window sill, while a giant fan hanging from the ceiling above the dining table swayed to the servants’ tug on a rope just enough to “shoo flies” away, but not enough to cool the food.   

The Unfinished Floors

Unfortunately, pictures were not allowed on the basement floor, but they were allowed on the unfinished floors. The unfinished floors included old bathtubs, shipping crates, and paint cans from the 1800s.  Even the crate used to ship a piano was stored in the above floors which were never completed. 

After the Civil War

The mansion wasn’t completed for a variety of reasons.  Initially the Civil War halted its progress, but on top of that Mr. Nutt passed away in 1864. As a result, Julia was forced to sell the family’s cotton fields in order to remain in the home with her eight children until her death in 1897. While they were afforded a somewhat affluent lifestyle with the sale, she was unable to make improvements to the home. 

The mansion and surrounding 95 acres was later sold to a Texas developer who donated the home to the Pilgrimage Garden Club in 1970 under the condition the manor would never be completed.  Thereafter, the developer sectioned the surrounding acres into home lots for a master planned community.  Naturally, the Garden Club members opposed his development which resulted in the developer conceding and selling the additional acres to the club.  Longwood is now registered as a National Historic Landmark, and as such, may not be altered.

In some respects, it is fortunate that Longwood was not completed.  Not only does it provide a perspective of the times, but also its unfinished state assisted in its physical survival.  The original plans called for a plaster to coat the red brick.  The brick, being more soft and porous than the plaster would have soaked in the humidity, and the plaster would have inhibited any moisture escape, resulting in crumbling walls and columns.  Also, a water system was designed to collect and use the rainwater from the dome.  The dome was made of lead, thus the Nutts were lucky the system was never constructed.

Mammy’s Cupboard

In addition to taking the tour, the dogs and I walked the grounds.  We spent a few hours at Longwood before going to Mammy’s Cupboard for lunch.  The shape of Mammy’s, a woman with a large skirt, lured me in for a local experience.  In my opinion, the special of the day, homemade chicken pot pie, was fair, especially for the $12 price tag (including bottled water since tap water wasn’t provided).  Had it been earlier in the day, and I was closer to Louisiana, I would have held out for a tasty meal in New Orleans.  Oh well, it was fun to snap a photo of the building! 

Mammy's cupboard in natchez

On the Way to Louisiana

The rest of the day followed suit with lunch.  The inclement weather of the last week continued.  I spent the afternoon with VANilla’s wipers flipping back and forth across the windshield while sitting in bumper to bumper traffic in an attempt to reach Jean Fafitte National Historical Park and Preserve.  Clearly, people were beginning their Christmas travels Friday afternoon at 2. 

Once I finally made it West across a bridge past New Orleans, Gina my GPS, kept rerouting me back to the city. I knew this was the wrong direction to visit the Jean Fafitte National Historical Park and Preserve.  With an oncoming migraine and feeling somewhat exasperated, I just pulled off at a La Quinta and IHOP parking lot to rest, blog, and wait out the traffic before detouring to the closest Walmart.  On second thought, I didn’t move at all….hopefully I’m in a safe parking lot! ETB

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned travel photographer and blogger.

One thought on “Day 94 – Natchez, Mississippi

  1. Beth, Hooray for finding the cache at MSU! I plan to retrace your travels in Mississippi when I return in 2011! On your return home, if you are driving through East Texas near Athens, check out the Christmas Tree park, it will get you in the Christmas spirit before returning home. This is the info:
    http://christmasparkathens.com/. Merry Christmas! Mary

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