Vidalia, LA - Events of Thursday, June 7, 2012
Longwood is the suburban estate near Natchez that once belonged to the Haller Nutt family. The most interesting feature of Longwood is its octagonal shape and its Oriental-style design. It is topped by an onion-shaped, byzantine-style dome.
Haller Nutt was another wealthy planter who had cotton plantations in the lowlands in Louisiana. Haller and his wife, Julia, already owned a nice Federal-style home on the 80-acre site where Longwood now stands, but Haller wanted to build his wife her dream home. In 1859, Nutt contracted with Philadelphia architect Samuel Sloan to design and build the new house. The house would have had 30,000 square feet of living space and over 30 rooms, but the architect and his workmen fled back to Philadelphia when the Civil War broke out in 1861 leaving only the exterior shell completed.
Nutt used local workers to complete the basement floor of the house so he and his family could move in. Haller Nutt died of pneumonia in 1864, and the financial pressures brought on by the Civil War prevented Julia from ever completing the upper floors even after the war was over.
Julia raised her children in the finished basement of Longwood and lived there herself until her death in 1897. Descendants of the Nutt family lived in the house until the 1960s. A foundation bought the house in the 1960s and presented it to the Pilgrimage Garden Club of Natchez two years later with the stipulation it was never to be finished.
The tour of Longwood starts in the basement. In the photo below, the basement level of the home is the level with the brown stucco walls, and the level with the white railing is the main floor. The basement is partly above ground (as indicated by the dark retaining wall in the background to the left in the photo below), so there are windows that brought in a good bit of light. The 10,000-square foot basement was originally intended to be the location of Mr. Nutt's office, his billiard room, his smoking room, and Mrs. Nutt's sewing room. Instead, it became the location of their parlor, dining room, and bedrooms.
The basement of the house contains many pieces of furniture, artwork and household items original to the house. Photography isn't permitted on the first floor. Suffice to say the house is comfortably furnished, but it not as opulent as Melrose that we saw the day before. Many pieces of furniture that were ordered for the house by the Nutts never arrived because of the war. The first floor of Longwood is furnished with pieces that came from some of the plantation houses over in Louisiana owned by the Nutts and from the home of Julia's parents.
Fortunately, photography is permitted in the upper, unfinished portion of the house. That was the part of the tour that was most fascinating because you can see construction details that are normally hidden, and you can use your imagination to envision how the house would have looked had it been completed.
The upper stories have an opening in the center that goes all the way up to the onion-shaped dome. There were to have been mirrors near the windows below the dome to direct sunlight down into the home to provide light during the day. An observatory was planned for the top floor. Parlors, drawing rooms and the dining room would have been on the main floor, and bedrooms would have been on the second and third floors.
Bricks for the walls were all made on site. All the walls are load-bearing and the ones on the lower floors are 1½ to 2 feet thick. The interior walls would have been plastered.
On the main floor, there are recesses in the brickwork where statues would have been displayed. A temporary stairway (left) stands where the grand staircase would have been.
There are a number of items left behind by the workers like nail kegs, miter boxes, drill templates, a hod carrier used to carry bricks, and cans that probably once held turpentine.
The upstairs portion of the house became a repository for unwanted household items. The boxes to the left are old packing crates, and the round object at the bottom of the photo is an old bathtub. The bather would have sat on the seat on the rim with his or her feet in the recess in the bottom. Servants would have poured water over the bather. A soap holder is on the rim to the right.
The crate from the piano that we saw during our tour of the finished basement is still there after over 150 years.
The onion dome is topped by a tall spire. The original spire was made from pine and had started to deteriorate. The old spire was replaced in the not too distant past by one made from fiberglass. The old, pine spire along with the parts of the mold that were used to make the new spire are on display in what was to have been a family parlor.
Behind the house are the servants quarters. Since Longwood was located near the city, the servants quarters were much nicer in appearance than the rough-sawn wood houses we saw at Frogmore.
Our tour of Longwood was fascinating. Paul couldn't help trying to imagine how spectacular Longwood would have been had it been completed.
On our way back to the motor home after our tour of Longwood, we stopped in downtown Natchez at a barbecue joint called the Pig Out Inn for lunch.
You can tell from the name of the restaurant they don't take themselves too seriously. The statue of the pig outside is further confirmation of that.
The Pig Out Inn has pork, beef brisket, chicken, turkey, hot sausage and sloppy joe sandwiches that range in price from $4 for the sloppy joe to $5.75 for the brisket. Sides are $1.75, and there is a sandwich combo that includes two sides and a drink for $10. However, we decided to have pulled pork dinner plates that included two sides without a drink for $10.50.
We mentioned the Pig Out Inn doesn't take themselves too seriously, but they do take their barbecue seriously. It was excellent. The pork was nice and smokey, moist, and tender. The barbecue sauce was outstanding - thick, rich, and a perfect blend of sweet and tart. It was the first time we encountered the squeeze bottle of barbecue sauce being served hot.
There is still more to see and do in the Vidalia-Natchez area, so look for our next post.