Longwood Mansion

On the outskirts of Natchez, Mississippi, deep among forest trees heavy with Spanish moss, stands the largest and most captivating octagonal house in America, the “Oriental Villa” called Longwood.

Planned in 1859 for cotton nabob Haller Nutt and his wife, Julia, by Philadelphia’s distinguished architect Samuel Sloan, the mansion was begun in 1860. Using the octagon form with four main floors, a fifth-story solarium and a sixth-story observatory, the structure was designed to have 32 rooms, each with its own entrance onto a balcony. Inside, as a core to provide ventilation and light, was a great rotunda open to the clerestory six floors above. On the main or principal floor were to be eight rooms, including a drawing room, banquet hall, library, reception room and a special apartment for Mrs. Nutt. Connecting the levels was to be a grand spiral staircase. Crowning the whole was a Byzantine-Moorish dome with a 24-foot finial reaching heavenward. The lavish exterior was to be only a hint of the magnificence foreseen for the interior.

Work progressed rapidly, and when the gigantic shell was up, the exultant Mr. Nutt wrote to Sloan, “It is creating much admiration,” and proudly predicted that “after this the Octagon will be the style!”

In April 1861, all his hopes and dreams were smashed by the declaration of the American Civil War.

Sloan’s Philadelphia craftsmen dropped their saws and hammers and fled North to pick up rifles and bayonets, never to return. Dejectedly, Nutt and a few local workers and slaves completed the basement level. This area, where a wine cellar, school room, recreation room and office were to have been, was converted into living quarters for the Nutts and their eight children. Here they lived in nine rooms as war swirled across the South.

On June 15, 1864, Haller Nutt died in the basement of his unfinished mansion. The diagnosis was pneumonia, but legend insists that he died of a broken heart over his dream house.

Julia and the children lived on in the cellar doing only a minimum to maintain the great hulk looming over them.

She died in 1897 and was buried beside her husband in the Longwood family cemetery. Grandchildren owned Longwood until 1968.

Today it is maintained, yet unfinished, by the Pilgrimage Garden Club.

Photos taken from bentophotos.com and cardcow.com.

Thanks to Tim Crutchfield for pointing me to this lovely building.

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