Our first stop this morning was at Longwood, the largest octagonal home in America. Longwood, constructed during the Antebellum time period, is located 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 is the most visited site in the State of Mississippi due to its unique shape, unfinished structure, and interesting story. 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. 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. Mr. Nutt employed local workers to finish the basement level in order for the family to move into the home. Essentially the family’s living and bedroom space was combined with the guest reception and dining in the basement level. From a neophyte’s point of view like mine, it seemed as though Mr. Nutt was a forward thinker.
Touring his home reminded me of touring Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater from certain perspectives. For example, the octagonal rotunda in the middle of the home on the basement level did not have windows and thus was shielded from direct outdoor light. To alleviate the potential darkness problem, 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. In addition, the first level included screens that slid into the wall and shutters that glided upward behind the brick facade…pocket doors. 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. Furthermore, the old cotton gins were extremely large and required a significant amount of labor. He designed a gin that could be cranked by one person, thus reducing the labor needs.
The furniture in the home was simply remarkable, and while it is almost all original pieces owned by the family, it was not the furniture designed for the
home 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. 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 that were never completed. The mansion wasn’t completed for a variety
of reasons. Mr. Nutt passed away in 1864. Julia and her eight children continued living in the basement of the home until her death in 1897, though were unable to make improvements to the home. After the war, Julia was forced to sell the family’s cotton fields in order to remain in the home with a somewhat affluent lifestyle. 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. The developer had planned to section the surrounding acres into home lots for a master planned community. Naturally, the Garden Club members opposed his plan, and eventually the developer conceded and sold 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 the moisture to escape resulting in crumbling walls and columns. In addition, a water system was designed to collect and use the rainwater from the dome. The dome is made of lead, thus the Nutts were lucky the system was never constructed.
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. The special of the day, homemade chicken pot pie, in my opinion was fair, especially for the $12 price tag (including bottled water since tap water wasn’t provided). Had it been a little earlier in the day, and I was a bit 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! The rest of the day followed suit with lunch. The last week of weather included cold, snow, ice, and intermittent rain. I spent the afternoon with VANilla’s wipers flipping back and forth across the windshield while sitting in bumper to bumper traffic much of the way. It seemed like people were beginning their Christmas travels Friday afternoon at 2. I finally made it West across a bridge past New Orleans when Gina my GPS kept trying to route me back toward New Orleans, which I knew was the wrong direction, to visit the Jean Fafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. With a migraine oncoming and somewhat exasperated, I just pulled off at a LaQuinta and IHOP parking lot to rest, blog, and wait out the traffic before detouring to the closest Walmart. On second thought, I decided not to move at all….hopefully I’m in a safe parking lot! ETB