Monday we toured a lovely, unusual and historic antebellum home called Longwood. Natchez and the surrounding area is home to more than 75 neoclassical and Greek revival style dwellings.
In my last post, I mentioned that there were 15 millionaire cotton barrens in the Natchez area and they spent their money in attempting to outdo their neighbor by building a more elaborate, a more expensive, ostentatious antebellum home. Dr. Haller Nutt spared absolutely no expense in building a dream home for his wife, Julia, and their eight children.
Many of these cotton barrens had homes elsewhere but built an additional home, and sometimes, homes, closer to their cotton plantations and the trade center on the Mississippi River. Dr. Nutt already owned Winter Quarters in Louisiana but with Julia being a native of Natchez, he built her a home here as well.
He looked at numerous architecture books and was interested in the design and floor plan of an octagonal plan with a byzantine, onion-shaped dome. Dr. Nutt found the plan and design in Samuel Sloan’s book, an architect from Philadelphia. I believe I heard the docent say the original plans called for four stories, but with money to burn (and flaunt) he had Mr.Sloan design a six-story mansion with the dome topped off by a 24 foot finial. In 1859, Mr. Sloan began working on the upgraded design and Dr. Nutt approved or changed the design, and this was done through the mail; that alone is pretty amazing.
In 1860, at the start of the building of
Longwood, the family moved into a three-story, 12 room brick building that was built as the future slave quarters on the property. Work progressed rapidly and within 16 months the shell of the house was completed. However, in April 1861, when the news came to Natchez about the Civil War, the work on Longwood stopped; the Philadelphian artisans dropped their tools and returned north to join the Union forces. Dr. Nutt recruited local workers to complete the 10,000 square foot basement as living quarters for the family.
The irony of this story is even though Haller Nutt was a Union sympathizer, he lost his fortune as a result of the war and died in 1864 of pneumonia — although some claim it was of a broken heart over the lost dream of his magnificent Longwood. Today Longwood remains in it’s unfinished state making it one of the interesting aspects of this tour.
The completed house was to have had 32 rooms, 26 marble mantle fireplaces, 115 doors, 96 columns all hand-carved in Philadelphia, an Italian compass-shaped mosaic in the rotunda and a total of 30,000 square feet of living space, but only nine of the 32 rooms were finished. The more than one million bricks used to build Longwood were all made on the grounds of the estate and since the house was octagonal in shape, some of the bricks needed custom molds to follow the curvature of the building.
The basement was furnished with Mrs. Nutt’s furniture from her childhood home, Ash Burn and interestingly enough, Ash Burn later burned to the ground. The other furnishings purchased for the never completed home came from every corner of Europe, including seven larger than life marble statues from Italy to be displayed in the rotunda. Such an statement of wealth as guests were to be greeted in the Hall and then ushered into the Reception Room, only later to walk through the rotunda to the dining room.
The Rotunda was the centerpiece of Longwood. It remains unfinished but in using my imagination, boy, was it to be grandiose! From the Principle floor, you look straight up five stories into the copula; it was a dizzying stare to say the least, as the dome moved with you. A system of mirrors had been designed to reflect sunlight to the many rooms of Longwood from the windows in the sixteen-sided tower atop the house. Small, round windows were built into the ceiling above the basement rotunda to bring light into the enclosed room. The chimney-like shape of the house was intended to funnel warm air up toward the top of the cupola, creating an updraft that escaped through windows high in the building, thus drawing fresh air into the lower floors. This was and is a brilliant design! We were told architects, contractors and builders come from all over to see this marvel.
We were able to stand on the unfinished Principle floor. We saw the tools and supplies left behind by those who fled north for Philadelphia. The 24 foot finial was displayed in it’s found state, in broken pieces and decaying from being buried by debris in the nearby woods. The original $200.00 finial from 1860 was replaced by a $50,000.00 fiberglass replica.
After Haller Nutt passed away and the war ended, Julia was in near poverty. She sold off thousands of acres of the plantation in order to have the funds to pay the taxes on Longwood and the remaining acreage. Her family and three generations after her lived at Longwood calling the finished basement home. It was passed down through the family and after 1930 abandoned.
“In 1963, two of Haller’s and Julia’s grandchildren, Mrs. Robert Blanchard and Mrs. Leslie K. Pollard, along with Mrs. Singleton Gardner who was the widow of Jim Ward, another grandchild, sold Longwood to Kelly Edgar and Ina May Ogletree McAdams, ‘who have long held an abiding interest in the preservation of all early Americana, and more especially in the protection and saving for prosterity those structures of great historic and architectural importance to be found in our country.”‘
Longwood was presented to the Pilgrimage Garden Club of Natchez in 1970 and the organization continues to maintain the restored home. Longwood is a Registered National Historic Landmark, a Mississippi Landmark, and an historic site on the Civil War Discovery Trail. The town of Natchez was named the Best Historic Small Town by AAA Southern Traveler and listed in National Geographic’s 50 Places to See in Your Lifetime. Natchez has an amazing history with Longwood showcasing the pre-Civil War era. If you are in this area, this is a must see!
In order to jog my memory of all the information from the tour, the following website was helpful and photos of Mrs. Nutt’s furniture in the basement or the living quarters of Longwood are also on the site. http://www.newsouthernview.com/pages/nsv_ie_longwood.html