The mid-19th century plantation home, Longwood, is located at 140 Lower Woodville Road, Natchez, Mississippi, and is the largest standing octagonal house in the United States. The octagonal fad that was popular throughout Europe and the United States during the 1850s was launched by Orson S. Fowler's book, "A Home For All; Or, The Gravel Wall and Octagon Mode of Building," which was first published in 1848 and had eight subsequent editions. Fowler's writings praised the utility and cheapness of the octagon form which led to its use by other builders on a wide scale, including architect Samuel Sloan, the designer of Longwood.
|Illustration from 1861 book, Homestead Architecture, by architect Samuel Sloan. The “Oriental Villa” was previously showcased in his earlier book, The Model Architect and was the inspiration for the plantation home, Longwood in Natchez, Mississippi.
In 1859, wealthy cotton planter Dr. Haller Nutt began construction of this expensive, ostentatious antebellum home hiring Architect Samuel Sloan of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The home was for himself, his wife Julia, and their eight children. Haller Nutt was a successful landowner in the mid-19th century, owning nearly 43,000 acres of land and 800 slaves. His several plantations included Araby, Evergreen, and Winter Quarters in Louisiana and Cloverdale and Laurel Hill in Mississippi. These landholdings produced cotton, sugar cane, and other cash crops and accumulated a net profit of more than $228,000 in 1860. His fortune prior to the Civil War was estimated at more than three million dollars. Nevertheless, work on the four story plantation mansion ceased at the beginning of the Civil War and, because of financial losses, the home was never finished. As a result, the plantation was often referred to as “Nutt's Folly.” Today Longwood remains in its unfinished state making it one of the South’s most interesting antebellum mansions to tour.
The basement floor of the mansion is open to visitors as an historic house museum. The second level is also open, providing the visitor with a rare opportunity to view a mid-19th-century plantation mansion under construction.
|This architectural drawing of the southern mansion shows a cross section of the much larger Longwood. The four proposed great stone and brick exterior stairways with cast iron balusters and railings, that were to lead to the four first-story verandas, were never built. Note the ornamental fountain at the center, another feature that was never realized. [Image credit: National Park Service]
Philadelphia architect, Samuel Sloan, both designed and directed the construction of Longwood. As an architect, he specialized in Italianate villas, country houses, churches, and institutional buildings, publishing several architectural books. The design, “An Oriental Villa, Design Forty-Ninth”, showcased in Sloan’s book, The Model Architect, was the inspiration for the Longwood plantation home. Nutt, who was familiar with Sloan's book, engaged the Philadelphia architect to prepare plans for an enlarged and improved version of his 1852 octagonal Moorish Revival design. Sloan designed a multi-story octagonal villa with a domed cupola, full basement, 32 rooms, 26 fireplaces, 115 doors, 96 columns, and a total of 30,000 square feet of living space. The scale of the building was now immense: the structure was 37 feet long on a side or 296 feet in circumference and about 100 feet across the middle. Construction on Longwood began in the spring of 1860, and the exterior was essentially complete at the beginning of the Civil War in 1861. In addition to the octagonal residence there was a detached kitchen, servants/slave quarters, a privy, and a carriage house. A three-story brick building known as the “servant's quarters” housed as many as 32 slaves who worked in the Nutt residence as cooks, nannies, and maids.
Longwood has a geometrical floor plan that is repeated on the basement, first, and second stories. There is a central octagon, or rotunda, 24 feet across on each of these floors. The rotundas are surrounded by four octagonal-shaped rooms, each measuring 20 by 34 feet. On the diagonals beyond the four octagonal rooms, four rectangular rooms, each measuring 18 by 24 feet, project to flank the first and second-story covered verandas, each measuring 13 by 45 feet, onto which the octagonal rooms open. Each of the first-floor rectangular rooms opens onto an arcaded balcony. The attic, or third floor, was to contain a central rotunda 24 by 24 feet and four rectangular rooms, each measuring 21 by 24 feet. The rotundas in the second and third stories were to be open to the dome, with galleries around circular openings on each of these two upper levels. The basement rotunda was to have been lighted by thick glass inserts in the first floor and by door transoms. The four great brick chimneys of the house are located near the four corners of the central rotunda, and each chimney contains fireplaces on each floor so that each of the 32 rooms would have its own fireplace. All of the fireplaces above the basement level, however, were bricked up in 1862 and have never been completed or used.
|Sloan designed an octagonal southern mansion with a 16-sided cupola with a Moorish styled dome topped off by a 24 foot finial. The great domed lantern or cupola is elaborately decorated with a railing, brackets, and 16 round-arch windows. This plantation home is a magnificent example of the Moorish Revival style that was popular in America in the mid-19th century. [Image credit: Carol M. Highsmith's America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.]
|The 99 columns and 143 pedestals were shipped from France on the Ville France, a specially-chartered vessel. The timber used in the elaborate exterior wood-work was shipped to Philadelphia to be hand carved and then returned to Longwood. [Image credit: Carol M. Highsmith's America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.]
Nutt employed northern craftsmen to build the mansion. The brick used in the building was made by slaves on the premises under the direction of four expert brick layers from Philadelphia. Orders for furniture went to New Orleans, New York, and Philadelphia while orders for marble statues, marble mantles, and tiles went to Europe. In August 1860, 99 columns, 143 pedestals and hundreds of other expensive furnishings and construction items arrived from France on the Ville France, a specially-chartered vessel. The timber used in the elaborate exterior woodwork was shipped to Philadelphia to be hand carved and then returned to Mississippi in the finished form.
|The view of the unfinished main floor from the rotunda through to the front door feature brick walls. The inner walls and the ceilings throughout the house were to be plastered, but except in the basement story, this plan was never executed. Moreover, the floors of the house, above the basement story, were to be of "heart pine," but were never installed. Note the empty brick niches designed to display statuary.
Detail image of the first floor rotunda in the unfinished Longwood mansion in 1960.
[Image credit: Library of Congress]
|The aerial view of Longwood demonstrates the typical building layout of mid-19th century plantations. The main home is closely located to “servants” quarters with the detached kitchen placed in between. [Image credit: Google Maps]
|The servants or slave quarters were separated from the main house by a grove of oak trees. [Image credit: Google Maps]
The “servant’s quarters” were located close to the main house. The three-story, 12 room structure with a full and finished basement, was built before construction of Longwood began, possibly dating from about 1830 or earlier, but improved in 1860. In 1860 the building served as the family’s living quarters until the main house could be completed. A small stand of oak trees separated the servant’s quarters from the detached kitchen and the main house. After the Nutt family moved into the basement of Longwood in 1862, the building housed as many as 32 slaves who worked in the Nutt mansion as cooks, nannies, and maids.
|The servants quarters housed as many as 32 slaves who worked in the Nutt main house. [Image credit: Carol M. Highsmith's America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.]
The brick work of the mansion was completed in March 1861 and, with the secession storm brewing, the four Philadelphia bricklayers found it necessary to depart. Most of the workmen literally "dropped everything" to flee back North, leaving all tools and paint buckets where they remain today. In May 1861, Sloan had preliminary work begun in Philadelphia on the production of the blinds, sash, and doors. He also worked out the final details for the interior doors and staircases, and also for the proposed separate two-story brick kitchen. By the end of September 1861 the mansion was complete on the exterior, except for the rough-casting or stuccoing of the exterior brickwork, the installation of the exterior stairs, and the glazing-in of some of the windows in the upper stories. At this time, due to the war, construction on Longwood came to a halt. From the first floor up, through the third, the house is still a vast empty and unfinished shell, just as the workmen left it in 1861.
|Dust covered tools and supplies including trunks, tubs and wood containers left behind by those who fled north at the start of the Civil War remain in the unfinished area of the structure. One second-floor room still contains the mixing equipment of workmen apparently left in place since construction stopped on the mansion.
|The large wood crate that contained the family’s Steiff grand piano when shipped from the Stieff factory in Baltimore remains in the upstairs unfinished main floor.
The basement story of Longwood was hastily completed by both local workers and slave labor and was ready for occupancy by 1862. The interior walls were plastered and the present floor was installed. Seven of the eight basement fireplaces were equipped with elaborate marble mantels that were made in Philadelphia in 1861 and intended for installations on the first floor. Haller Nutt and his family took up residence in the 10,000 square foot finely furnished basement, thinking the war would be over in a few months. This part of the unfinished antebellum mansion was used as a residence by the Nutt family and its heirs for the next 100 years. To this day, only the exterior of this distinctive octagonal structure and the basement remain finished.
Although he was a Union sympathizer, Nutt lost his fortune as a result of the war and died suddenly in July 1864 of pneumonia. Julia Nutt was left with eight children and without the means of support. Like so many plantation owners in the South, Nutt accrued substantial financial losses during the Civil War from the destruction of cotton and real estate and the seizure of stores and supplies by the Union and Confederate armies. During the war, he took steps to document the value of assets lost to the Union army in the hope that reparations would someday be paid.
In 1887, Haller Nutt’s widow, Julia A. Nutt, filed a claim to the Committee on War Claims of the House of Representatives for supplies or stores, including livestock, goods, and moneys alleged to have been taken by or furnished to the Union forces during the Civil War from their Longwood, Winter Quarters, Evergreen and Cloverdale plantations. The property was taken in September, 1862 by the gunboats of the United States then on the Mississippi River despite the safeguard issued by General Grant stating, "A safeguard is hereby granted to the plantation, houses, stock, and other personal property of Mr. Haller Nutt, on Lake St. Joseph, Tensas Parish, La., known as 'Winter Quarters.' All officers and soldiers belonging to the Army of the United States are therefore commanded to respect this safeguard, and to afford, if necessary, protection to said Nutt and his property above referred to." The following list of Nutt property and valuables confiscated during the Civil War provides a fascinating glimpse of the day-to-day operations of an antebellum plantation. Between 1866 and 1911, Nutts heirs were eventually able to collect a total of $188,269.66 as partial compensation from the United States Government for Nutt's Civil War losses although the original claim was for $858,386.04,
1 steam cotton gin and grist mill from Evergreen — $20,000.00
4 miles cypress fence from Winter Quarters and Evergreen — 8,537.25
1-1/2 miles of cypress fence from Longwood — 3,523.13
2,020 bales of cotton from Winter Quarters and Evergreen, 500 pounds per bale, at 37-1/2 cents per pound — 377,066. 66
10,000 feet of cypress lumber from Evergreen — 600.00
200,000 feet cypress lumber from Longwood — 12,000. 00
10 gates from Winter Quarters and Evergreen — 250.00
Household goods from Winter Quarters — 19, 910.00
7 kegs nails from Winter Quarters — 42.00
2 barrels lard oil from Winter Quarters — 60.00
100 barrels pork from Winter Quarters — 6, 000.00
Cypress raft from Winter Quarters — 1,200.00
4 hogsheads hams from Winter Quarters, 1,200 pounds each, at 25 cents per pound — 1,200.00
64 horses and mules from Winter Quarters, Evergreen, and Cloverdale, at $150 each — 10,600.00
100 wagon-loads fodder from Winter Quarters — 1,500.00
100 bales fodder from Winter Quarters and Evergreen — 800.00
195,000 bushels corn from Winter Quarters and Evergreen — 195, 000.00
80,000 bushels pease from Winter Quarters and Evergreen — 160,000.00
4,000 cords wood from Winter Quarters — 16,000.00
2 roofed coal boats at Natchez — 5,000.00
50 bushels sweet potatoes from Winter Quarters — 100.00
250 head sheep from Cloverdale and Longwood — 1250.00
60 head cattle from Cloverdale — 2,400. 00
24 milch cows from Longwood — 1200.00
4 six-mule wagons from Cloverdale — 800.00
12 pairs harness from Cloverdale — 120.00
30 axes from Cloverdale — 26.25
1 pair timber wheels from Cloverdale — 150.00
426,000 brick from Longwood — 4,260.00
5 halters from Longwood — 3.75
Cash at Natches — 8,787.00
|This list of the property and valuables confiscated from the Nutt plantations during the Civil War provides a fascinating glimpse of the operations of an antebellum plantation.
Longwood After the War
|The once beautiful mansion is photographed over 75 years later. This 1938 photograph illustrates the decline of the magnificent antebellum plantation home.
Note that the original 1860 twenty-four foot finial is missing; this has since been replaced with a $50,000.00 fiberglass replica. [Image credit: Carnegie Survey of the Architecture of the South (Library of Congress)]
Longwood, and its 87 acres of land, remained in the possession of the Nutt family until 1968. Although Julia Nutt received bids for the completion of the interior rooms of Longwood in the 1890s, the upper floors above the basement level were never finished. Julia, her family and three subsequent generations of Nutt descendants used the Longwood mansion as a residence. Nutt’s descendants retained ownership of Longwood until 1968. It is presently owned by the Pilgrimage Garden Club of Natchez. Today visitors can tour the home, inspect the basement living areas as well as the unfinished upper floors and walk the grounds where Julia Nutt once tended her gardens.
|Detail of bay window on north elevation of mansion.
Notice the boarded-up windows in this 1930s photograph. [Image credit: Library of Congress]
|A 1938 photo of the rundown Longwood mansion with the detached kitchen in the foreground. [Image credit: NFS Photo 1969]
|Abandoned Longwood "servants quarters" in 1938. [Image credit: NFS Photo 1969]
|Back view of Longwood's three-story "sevants quarters" in 1938. [Image credit: NFS Photo 1969]
Sloan's Oriental Villa
The 1870s book, “Sloan's Homestead Architecture: Containing Forty Designs for Villas, Cottages and Farm Houses,” features an Oriental Villa design, a replica of Longwood. This structure featured three floors of living area, including such rooms as the observatory, galleries, entrance hall, front veranda, drawing room, reception room, dining room, breakfast room, family rooms, dressing rooms, bathrooms, billiard room, smoking room, office, playroom for children, servants' hall, sewing room, store room, and areas beneath verandas. Ceiling heights were as follows: first story was nine feet; principal story fourteen feet; second story twelve feet; and the attic was nine feet. Sloan estimated the cost at $55,000. According to the web site, Measuring Worth, the cost to build this $55,000 home in the 1860s would convert to approximately $1,190,000 in 2013.
Apartment A in the above floor plan is the rotunda, octagonal in shape, its diameter being 24 feet. Its vertical dimension extends to the top of the observatory, and is finished by an internal dome. From this rotunda are the adjacent apartments entered on every floor, galleries being constructed for the purpose on a level with all the floors above the principal. Niches for statuary occupy the alternate sides of the octagon, thus affording an excellent opportunity for tasteful decoration.
The apartment B, 20 by 34 feet, is the entrance hall, and contains the principal staircase. The adjoining space K is the front veranda, 12 by 40 feet. C is the drawing room, 20 by 34 feet. D, reception room, 18 by 24 feet. E, 18 by 24 feet; F, 20 by 34, and H, 18 by 24 feet, are a suite of family rooms. G is the dining room, 20 by 34 feet. I, is the breakfast room, 18 by 24 feet; M, M, dressing rooms to E and H. L is an entrance porch to the apartment F, and at the same time affords an opportunity for the admission of light and air.
Apartment A in the ground floor plan retains its octagonal shape and the same dimensions, the alternate sides or rather angles being occupied by closets; it is lighted through strong glass in the floor over it, aided by lights in the upper sections of the communicating doors. B is the billard room; C, staircase hall; D, smoking room; E, office; F, playroom for children; G, servants' hall; H, sewing room; I, store room; K, areas beneath verandas.
On the second floor A is the staircase hall; B, the communicating gallery; C, chambers; D, verandas; H,wardrobes; I, bathroom. There is a flight of private stairs on the rear veranda extending from the ground floor to this one; a flight from this to the attic floor is placed opposite to the bathroom I.
Longwood has been designated a Registered National Historic Landmark, a Mississippi Landmark, and a historic site on the Civil War Discovery Trail. Today visitors can tour the home, inspect the basement living areas as well as the unfinished upper floors and walk the grounds where Julia Nutt once tended to orchards and acres of roses. Longwood is located at 140 Lower Woodville Road in Natchez, Mississippi. Longwood is open daily, except Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Hours of operation are subject to seasonal changes.
[Source: United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Form No.10-300]