2017: Natchez


April 15


It was another mansion day. Today's destination was Longwood, the dream home of cotton planter Dr. Haller Nutt. Construction began on the house in 1860, and work stopped in 1861 at the beginning of the Civil War when its Philadelphia-based craftsmen returned to the north to join the Union army. Longwood is a bit of an oddity as surviving antebellum mansions go, in part for its octagonal shape and striking "Moorish Revival" style. It is also unfinished on the inside; Dr. Nutt lost his fortune in the war and died of pneumonia in 1864 so the house was left incomplete.

Longwood is currently the property of the Pilgrimage Garden Club, who furnished our tour guide. (Aside: we'd been fortunate in having really good tour guides wherever we visited so far. Alas, today was not to be another lucky day.)

We started the tour in the only finished part of the house, the bottom floor. This level is partly below ground, a half-basement if you will, and consists of nine finished rooms where the family lived after the war halted construction. Dr. Nutt's wife Julia continued to live there until her death in 1897. We were asked not to take photographs of the furnishings here, but you can see a pretty complete accounting on this website.

The next floor up is a stark contrast. Unfinished floors, bare brick walls, open rafters, temporary wooden stairs. The most striking feature is the open interior of the dome, rising up two more stories with its jigsaw puzzle of dark planking and bright shafts of sunlight.

Old casks of nails, crates addressed to the owners, antique trunks covered with dust sit around frozen in time. The original finial -- the spire atop the central dome -- fell off the roof in 1900, and bits of it lie crumbling on the floor.

But the sad, dusty state of the interior fades from memory once you emerge onto the porch, walk into the garden, and turn back to enjoy the ornate exterior which simply defies you not to photograph it.

The sloping grounds are just as magnificent as the house, with green grass and old-growth trees so typical of such properties. There's even a small pond that can barely be seen because its surface so perfectly reflects the abundant greenery around it.

On our way to the car, we stopped briefly at an outbuilding to look at an old carriage and some rusting farm implements.

We stopped in town for lunch at a place that was recommended by someone we met. I'll just say that my craving for some fried catfish won't be returning soon. Like, in this lifetime.

It was our intention to return to the RV after lunch, but when we noticed a sign pointing to the old city cemetery, we decided to make one more stop. A couple of different people had mentioned this place to us. While I wasn't sure what would make it noteworthy, it didn't take us long to find out.

To begin with, the place was huge. Clearly a lot of people have lived -- and died -- in Natchez. It was also incredibly old, as was obvious from the weathered monuments and the rusted ironwork fencing.

Mike and I are big fans of the author Greg Iles, who lives in Natchez and sets his best-selling legal-thriller novels here. One of his novels is titled "The Turning Angel" after a statue in the cemetery; so naturally we had to find it. It took a while, but it was pretty obvious when we got there.

Amazingly, one of the photos we took was nearly a match to the cover of the book.

When we got back to camp, one of the ubiquitous river barges was very near our bank, chugging away but going nowhere. The tug captain was running his three big diesels just enough to keep the considerable current from pushing him downstream. We watched for a while and struck up a conversation with another camper who explained what was happening. Another barge was approaching from upstream of the bridge, where there is about a 15-degree bend in the river. A barge this long can be 1000 feet in length and in order to make the turn under the bridge, it must hug one bank of the river and aim for the other. So our barge was waiting for the upstream one to pass him so he could start his arc.

The Mississippi is truly a magical place, y'all.