Longwood (also known as "Nutt's Folly")
On the outskirts of Natchez, deep among forest trees heavy with Spanish
moss, stands the largest and most captivating octagonal house in America -
the "Oriental Villa" called Longwood. The bricks for Longwood were all
made on the property and fired in a kiln built just for that purpose. When
the house was finished, all the brickwork was to be covered with stucco.
(Actually, I am very glad that the bricks were never covered with stucco
as originally planned. They are absolutely beautiful just as they are.)
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 central core to provide ventilation and light, was a great
rotunda open to the clerestory six floors above. [NOTE: A "clerestory"
(pronounced clear story) is a high wall with a band of narrow windows
along the very top. The clerestory wall usually rises above adjoining
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
Connecting the levels was to be a grand spiral staircase. Crowning the
whole was a Byzantine-Moorish dome with a 24-foot finial reaching
The lavish exterior was to be only a hint of the magnificence foreseen for
Work progressed rapidly, and when the gigantic shell was up, the exultant
Mr. Nutt wrote to Sloan, the architect, "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 dashed by the declaration of
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, play room, billiard
room, smoking room, and offices 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 has it 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 of
Natchez. Many visitors ask, "Why not finish it now?" They are usually told
that it was decided to leave the house unfinished as a monument to the
heart-rending break of the War Between the States.
Longwood, located on Lower Woodville Road, was described as "a remembrance
of Eastern magnificence" by its architect in 1861. It has been designated
a National Historic Landmark, a Mississippi Landmark, and a historic site
on the Civil War Discovery Trail.
[NOTES: Although Longwood has the reputation of being haunted, none of the
staff mentioned it to me while I was there. Supposedly, Dr. Nutt and his
wife, Julia, seem to love the attention that is now paid to the house and
frequently appear to guests and tour guides. Mrs. Nutt is usually seen
inside on the staircase while Dr. Nutt seems to prefer the garden area.
Unfortunately, I did not find out that the family cemetery is located on
the grounds until after I had left. If I had known, I would have certainly
photographed it and posted the pictures in this set.
Also, no photographs are allowed in the furnished basement part of the
house :( However, you can take all you want of the unfinished upper
floors, the exterior, and the grounds.]
Longwood is owned, operated, and maintained as a preservation project by
the Pilgrimage Garden Club of Natchez.
140 Lower Woodville Road
Natchez, Mississippi 39120
Open every day except Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.
Tours every half hour
Beginning at 9:00 a.m.
Last tour 4:30 p.m.
Children 6-17 $4.00
For tour dates and times during Spring and Fall Pilgrimage, contact
Natchez Pilgrimage Tours
P.O. Box 347
Natchez, MS 39120
Photographs and Information courtesy of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms.