Friday, July 03, 2009


A good Fourth of July to all. Eat meat, drink beer, blow things up. It's your patriotic duty. Posting will begin again after the holiday.

At some places, it's hard to find a good vantage for a photo. At a place like Longwood, it was hard to find a bad vantage. I took a number of exterior shots, but I liked this one best.

After leaving Baton Rouge on June 17, en route to Jackson, I made my way to Natchez, Mississippi, and spent some time wandering around its pleasant downtown. I wanted to tour one antebellum home before I left -- why come to Natchez and not do that? Actually, a tireless fan of planter architecture could probably spend a week in Natchez and nearby parts of Mississippi and Louisiana just looking at splendid homes built before the War Between the States, and I'm sure someone has done that. The town itself has a lot of tour-worthy antebellum plantation homes, if travel literature is to be believed, and I think it's a fair assessment.

My first choice was the House on Ellicott Hill, which is downtown overlooking the Mississippi. Though the house of a merchant, not a planter, it sounded interesting. When I got there, it was closed, because it was closed every Wednesday.

Longwood wasn't far away, and its description as an octagonal house intrigued me. Turning off a modern Natchez street, you get to Longwood by driving down a long gravel road, narrow and winding through a lot of large, mature trees. The effect is a mild illusion that you're leaving the 21st century behind. But the house itself is hard to see from a moving car, due to the trees. To get a good perspective, you have to be on foot.

Ahead of the tour, I spent a while circling the house on foot, marveling at its beautiful oddness. An octagon house with an onion dome. The man who commissioned the house, Haller Nutt, clearly wanted something distinctive. As it turned out, he got something much more distinctive than he planned.

The exterior of the building, and the interior of the basement, which is only partly underground, were the only parts of the structure ever completed. Not even Haller Nutt, millionaire cotton planter, could keep his skilled Northern artisans on the job in 1861. They skidaddled back home at the outbreak of war. Nutt, like so many others, suffered a serious reversal of fortunes because of the war, and he didn't even live to see the end of it, dying in 1864 of natural causes. Remarkably, his family managed to hold on to the house for some decades after that, living in the finished basement, which is spacious enough by modern middle-class standards. But they never had the scratch to complete the place according to the original plans.

The organization that now owns Longwood, the Pilgrimage Garden Club, took it under the condition that it never be "finished." For a modern visitor, it's better that way. The basement is pleasantly furnished and decorated, like so many tourist-ready museum houses of antebellum vintage, but the home's unfinished floors make it memorable. This is the "first floor."

Longwood, then, isn't an antebellum house. It's a bellum house, with most of its splendor gone with the wind. This is the view up into the dome.

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