Our visit to Longwood was intriguing – the largest octagonal house in the United States at 30,000 square feet and the grandest of the mansions we toured. To begin with, the house sits outside the city down a long dirt road, so has a more remote, country setting. On the large property is a carriage house, servants quarters and detached kitchen.
The first time I learned about this mansion was watching the TV show Aerial America. If you have never heard of the series, Aerial America is on the Smithsonian Channel and they did episodes flying over different states filming some of the highlights. It is a great way to get some travel ideas or learn more about our country. Longwood looked pretty dramatic from the air and I hoped some day to visit there.
Building of the house began in 1860 but stopped in 1861 due to Civil War tensions. The builders were from Philadelphia and when they heard that war had begun, they stopped work and left, leaving their tools. The owner of the home, Mr. Haller Nutt was a wealthy cotton planter and Union sympathizer but lost his fortune due to the war. As a result, the mansion was never finished and the family continued to live only on the basement level, the only floor completed out of six stories. The home became known as “Nutt’s Folly.” Mr. Nutt and his wife Julia are buried on their property in the Longwood cemetery.
We were not able to take pictures of the furnished basement but the furnishings are original and elaborate as to the time period. We checked out a few of the home’s porches that feature a number of dramatic columns due to the octagonal building shape. I think the many columns are one of the home’s best features. Above is a picture I like that looks out from the front porch. It is hard to imagine from the outside that the inside would look like this:
The home has an eerie feel to it which we liked. It was certainly a different experience than the other homes we toured in Natchez. We were unable to go further than the first floor. Here is a picture of the upstairs stairway which looks a little precarious.
The next picture is looking up at the unfinished dome from inside. The home was built as an oriental villa and I think the onion shaped dome from the outside is one of the more beautiful aspects of this building.
The first floor still has old tools and equipment laying around from when construction ceased. It was interesting to see some of the things left behind such as an original piano case (we saw the piano on the basement level), old suitcases, cans, buckets and barrels like the ones pictured below. This part of the house has been left in an “arrested state of decay” which adds to the unfinished mood of the home.
After visiting Longwood, we had lunch at a historic eatery called “Mammy’s Cupboard.” This building has been around since 1940 and owned by the same family. I read that the owner of the property, Mr. Gaude had a gas station here and wanted a roadhouse that would take advantage of the Gone With the Wind film craze at the time. It has been a popular attraction on the highway south of Natchez for many years.
The skirt serves as the entry and gift shop. There is also an annex in the back of the skirt for dining. When the building was repainted in the 1960’s, the skin tone was lightened to make it more “culturally appropriate.” Only lunch is served here featuring home made daily specials and pies. We thought the food was pretty good.
Melrose mansion is located outside of Natchez on a very large property. The construction of the home began in 1841 and for the next eight years, a combination of free and slave labor built the mansion and outbuildings. Melrose was built in the Greek Revival style which was popular in antebellum homes.
This style features huge columns, balconies, evenly spaced large windows and big center entrances at the front and rear of the home which create a box like style of the mansion. Here is a closer picture with the columns and front appearing to be made of marble. Actually, the house was made of brick, stuccoed and painted to look like marble with different shades of beige paint. One of the later owners painted the columns and front white and the park service restored these areas back to their original tan appearance.
By 1861, there were 25 slaves living on the property. The slaves here had different duties including cooking and serving the family’s meals, picking up supplies in town, tending gardens, orchards, livestock and keeping the estate in order. While we waited for our tour to begin, we visited the slave and servant quarters. There is more ground to cover here than the mansions I visited in town. Below is a picture of the property with slave quarters in the back.
Other buildings located on the property are the kitchen, dairy, laundry, carriage house and stables. There are also kitchen and formal gardens. Melrose has been managed by the National Park Service since 1990 with inside tours given by a ranger. I took a number of pictures of the many rooms we saw both down and upstairs and here are some rooms with features I found interesting. In the dining room (below) is a mahogany “punkah” above the table. It was operated by a slave pulling on a rope, causing the punkah to rock back and forth creating a breeze to keep flies away from the food. The punkah originated in India.
The drawing room showed off the family’s wealth and the home’s splendor with gold leaf above the window treatments and around the mirror and side table. I thought the green furnishings were a striking and elegant color.
Below is an example of the netting that was used on the beds to keep away insects such as flies and mosquitos. This netting looked pretty elaborate. Yellow fever was deadly in the Antebellum South and was carried by mosquitos.
Below of course is a picture of one of the beautiful bedrooms. Although not in the picture, the bedrooms had day beds that were used for naps or resting during the day to keep the ornate bed coverings neat during the day.
Jefferson College, established in 1802 and named for Thomas Jefferson who was president at the time, was the first historic college we visited. It was the first institution of higher learning in the Mississippi Territory and turned out to be interesting in several ways. This was also the birth place of Mississippi’s statehood in 1817 when the state’s first constitutional convention was held here. In 1815, a celebration occurred when General Andrew Jackson returned from the victory over the British at the Battle of New Orleans.
In 1863, the school temporarily closed due to the Civil War. After the war when the school reopened, it dropped its collegiate program but kept the name Jefferson College. It was operating as a military prep school until it closed in 1964.
There are five main buildings as well as a building housing the visitor center. The visitor center has exhibits and one of the nicest docents we have met who seemed glad to visit with us, especially since we were the only visitors during the time we were there. The two largest buildings (above) are the West and East Wings which contained classrooms, offices and living quarters. Most of the buildings have not been restored except for the bottom floor of the West Wing. There used to be a building between the West and East wings but it was torn down because it had been built later and was not considered an “original” property.
I love looking at old buildings so this was a great place to visit for me. There are plans to restore more of the buildings but I am sure the cost which would be huge is a major factor. Below is a picture of the inside of one of the kitchen buildings with its crumbling brick floor.
Several cisterns that collected rainwater from the buildings’ gutters and downspouts for drinking and bathing are still visible behind the main buildings. Below is an old fashioned pump on top of one of the cisterns.
There is a nature trail on the property and although we only walked down it a short ways, I was amazed by all the vines covering the ground, bushes and trees next to the trail. I had seen this other places in Natchez and found out here that it is called, “kudzu.” It was introduced as a garden plant from Japan in the 1930’s to control erosion. It thrives in the heat and humidity of Mississippi and is very invasive, even growing over houses, power lines and old cars. Since it has spread to other parts of the South, it was given a nickname, “The Vine That Ate the South.” In the picture below, the vines have died back for winter and are therefore not green and lush as usual.
When I suggested to Mark that we visit Jefferson College, he was fine with coming here but not overly enthused. After looking around the campus a little he commented to the Visitor Center docent that it made him think of a movie he once saw called, “The Horse Soldiers.” He was shocked when she told him that parts of it were in fact filmed here. Then his interest in the place greatly increased as he showed me the scene filmed at the college president’s house (below) as well as on the parade grounds in front of the main brick buildings.
The Horse Soldiers was a Civil War Western from 1959 that starred John Wayne. Other movies and television series have also been filmed here, for example the North and South television mini-series in 1985. This is the third time in our travels over the years we have come across John Wayne movie locations. The other two were in Monument Valley in Utah and Katie’s Meadow located in Colorado, a very remote location off a dirt road scenic byway. Mark always reminds me that Wayne’s real last name was Morrison.
Forks of the Road is a very small park preserved as the location of several markets that bought and sold slaves from the 1830’s until 1863. Natchez was one of the busiest slave trading towns in the nation. No buildings or other remnants of the slave trade still remain here. A small monument of slave irons in cement (below) can be seen and there are numerous sign boards to learn about the slavery trade.
At this spot slave traders who had been banned from the city set up buildings to house and display people for sale. They were considered show rooms where buyers could view available slaves and purchase those that they wanted. I was surprised to read that the slaves were dressed up to make them look more desirable with the men in suits and top hats and the women in nice dresses.
Ex-slaves fought for the union in the Civil War in their own regiments. Mississippi had 18,000 colored troops and Louisiana 24,000. In 1863, one of these regiments recruited from Natchez occupied the Forks site. It is ironic that some of those soldiers might have once been slaves bought and sold here!
Did you know that tamales are a Mississippi speciality? It is a little surprising to find what is thought of as a Mexican staple here in the Deep South. We found the restaurant, Fat Mamma’s Tamales while visiting Natchez and ate here twice since the food was tasty, reasonably priced and the restaurant had a great atmosphere. Interestingly, my favorite item was not the good tamales but of all things, the delicious key lime pie. In my opinion you can’t beat a great slice of that pie!
Thanks again for reading this post and next time follow us to Biloxi.
P.S. For John – thanks for the tip on Flora-Bama. Mark and I drove over for a look and it turned out to be a delightful and quirky visit!
I think this may be the first picture of me standing outside of a bar and what a bar!