Built in 1861, Longwood Plantation is the largest octagonal house in America, and one of the best remaining examples of Moorish Revival style architecture. This six-story, 30,000 square foot mansion was designed by Samuel Sloan of Philadelphia for wealthy planter Haller Nutt and his wife, Julia Williams Nutt. As the home neared completion, the Civil War broke out and construction halted. Haller nut died in 1864, and his wife Julia, and their eight children, continued to live in the finished first floor of the home for several years.
Longwood remained in the Nutt family until 1968. After a brief ownership of the McAdams family in Austin, Texas, the plantation and its 94 acres were donated to Pilgrimage Garden Club of Natchez in 1970. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1969, tours of Longwood are given daily every 30 minutes. Beginning on the finished first floor, guides share the Nutt family history as well as pieces from the permanent collection. The tour then moves to the upper levels where visitors can explore the "bones" of this architectural gem.
The completed house was to have had 32 rooms, 26 fireplaces, 115 doors, 96 columns, and a total of 30,000 square feet of living space, but only nine of the 32 rooms were finished. In the unfinished rooms you can see all the layers of construction, tools left behind by workmen, even luggage trunks that arrived for the family are still there, just waiting to be opened. You can even see the framework of the sixteen-sided onion dome cupola inside.
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. 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.
By showing off unfinished and deteriorating architecture, Longwood Plantation is not your typical house museum. In this case, seeing Longwood in its entirety, helps tell the story of the Nutt family and serves as a unique metaphor for the rise and fall of the Old South. After touring the mansion, make sure you allow plenty of time to stroll the grounds and get lost under the oaks.
Photo: James Butters on April 14, 1936 for the Library of Congresses' Historic American Buildings Survey
My good friend Claire Cothren, a natchezian, introduced myself and a few other preservationists to Longwood Plantation several years ago and it is one of my favorite house museums to date. Spring and fall are ideal times to visit and enjoy perfect weather and pilgrimage season. Both spring and fall pilgrimage are month long celebrations of Natchez history with the crown jewels being the dozens of mostly private antebellum homes on tour for visitors. If you love architecture and history, a visit to Longwood and Natchez is a must.