Longwood, in Natchez, is a poignant example of the reversal of Southern fortunes, having been the dream-house of wealthy cotton producer Dr. Haller Nutt. He had vast plantations of cotton, 800 slaves, and had decided to build his family a spectacular ‘Oriental’ showpiece of a house, designed by a Philadelphia architect, to outshine his neighbors’ standard, Greek Revival-style mansions. It’s the largest octagonal house built in the US, but unfortunately, after its magnificent outer structure was finished and the basement had just been made habitable, the war stopped the interior construction; it’s skilled workers leaving their tools and returning home to the North for what they thought would be a short interruption.

Nutt was not in favor of secession. He was victim of the times, nonetheless, and his cotton plantations and other holdings were burned by the Confederates so they wouldn’t be assets for the Union army. Fallen from great wealth into ruinous debt, Poor Nutt died of pneumonia and stress at 41, leaving his wife and 8 children to make do with the 10,000 square foot basement space in which to live.

At this point in the narrative of our hoop-skirted, garden club docent, the damn Yankee in me ‘innocently’ asked what happened to the 800 slaves, and sort of derailed her spiel about the Nutt family’s terrible misfortunes. (it’s a dirty little job but someone has to do it, and I’d recently read enough antebellum black history to feel it was mine) I’d seen the adjacent quarters built for the slaves, and had heard of the 700,000 bricks they’d made on the premises for Longwood’s construction, not to mention the fortunes their aching backs and bleeding fingers had made for the cotton industry. I’m sure many of those women had had at least 8 children as well. Ah well.

The upper floors of Longwood are frozen forever in a state of  incompletion , which is actually more interesting architecturally, with the still visible brick and cypress construction, which would have otherwise been ‘finished’ with painted plaster inside and stone-stimulating stucco outside. As we creaked about the raw, dusty second floor, our docent said, “This would have been the drawing room,” or, “This would have been the breakfast room.” It remains a hunting commentary on wealth, hubris, and the transience of all things: especially dreams.

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One Comment on “Longwood”

  1. Judith Says:

    Did she answer your question about the slaves? A docent should include the slaves in her narrative. I feel much more compassion for them than for the “1%” slaveholder and his losses. It was his karma.

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