While in the Natchez area, we decided to tour a few of the well-known historic homes that survived the Civil War. Historic tours are big business in Natchez with lots of options for visitors.
FYI…The Natchez Visitor Center is a great place to start your exploration of the area. It is situated at the eastern end of the Mississippi River Bridge where US Hwy 84 carries travelers to and from Louisiana. We watched an informative video about the history of the area before starting our explorations around town. To learn more, go to http://visitnatchez.org/about/natchez-visitor-center/.
This is the front entrance to Melrose, one of the 3 segments that make up the Natchez National Historic Park.
The other 2 segments are the William Johnson House (the ‘Barber of Natchez’ a mulatto freedman) and the site of Fort Rosalie on the bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. The fort was established by the French in 1716. For information on the William Johnson House see my posting on 7/14 or you can go to https://www.nps.gov/natc/learn/historyculture/williamjohnson.htm.
This is a side and back view of Melrose. John McMurran moved to Natchez in the mid-1820s. With a profitable law practice, election to the state legislature and marriage into a respected local family, he was on his way to success. Over time he acquired 5 cotton plantations and slaves. In 1841 he purchased 132 acres of land just outside Natchez and by 1849 this mansion and its outbuildings were complete and the family moved in.
The landscape around Melrose evolved from gently rolling hills interspersed with ravines to a mixture of ornamental trees, a formal garden, natural settings, fenced work areas and native cherry laurel hedges. Basically, the finished product resembled an English park.
In this photo, just to show their size, I’m standing in front of a copse of some very large Magnolia trees. FYI…a southern magnolia in Smith County Mississippi has the distinctive title as the US National Champion. That tree is 122 feet tall and it has a trunk diameter of more than 6 feet.
These are some of Melrose’s outbuildings. Today’s existing structures include octagonal cistern houses, a smoke house, a privy, one of the last remaining slave quarters in Natchez, a barn, and a carriage house. The carriage house has a number of carriages on display.
These are the former slave quarters. One building serves as an office for the National Park Service and the other is open for visitors so they can glimpse what I am sure is an ‘upscale’ version of slave’s living quarters.
Between 1841 and 1861, the number of slaves working on this estate rose from 8 to 25. They cooked the family’s meals, served them, cleaned the house, provided transportation, tended the gardens, cared for the livestock, etc. Back in the day, the ideal southern household was one in which the slaves were rarely seen but they were always ready to serve.
This large 2-story outbuilding is right behind the Melrose mansion and across from an appropriately designed visitor’s center. It served as the kitchen for the main house as well as the dairy building.
FYI…As a National Park property, visiting Melrose is a bargain when compared to other antebellum mansions in the area. Although National Park passes don’t cover the tour, the tour fee for adults is only $10.00 and if you are 62 or older, the fee is only $5.00 per person.
If I remember correctly, this is an oil painting of John McMurran.
Following the death of their daughter and 2 grandchildren from disease during the Civil War, John and Mary McMurran sold Melrose and moved in with Mary’s widowed mother who lived at a similar estate. The Davis family purchased Melrose in 1865 and it remained in that family until 1976. It was open for some tours as far back as 1932. The property was acquired by the National Park Service in 1990.
Although I’m sure it’s a matter of both opinion and considerable local debate, many consider Melrose to be the finest home in the Natchez region.
Ornate Rococo-style chairs and marble-topped tables, wall-to-wall carpet and painted oilcloths with silk-trimmed wooden Venetian blinds accompanied by expensive silk drapes filled the house. A large portion of the furnishings on display are original.
The formal dining room is expansive. The contraption hanging over the table is a mahogany “punkah” which, when operated by a slave pulling the cord to the left of the fireplace cooled the room a little and chased the flies away from the food.
FYI… A punkah (Hindi) is a type of fan used since the early 500 B.C. In the colonial age, the word came to be used in British India and elsewhere in the tropical and subtropical world for a large swinging fan that was fixed to the ceiling and pulled by a coolie during hot weather.
I thought that the furniture looked like it was from the Victorian era… Instead, as mentioned previously, it is an ornate Rococo-style. Little did I know!
Rococo or Late Baroque", is an early to late French 18th-century artistic movement and style. It affected many aspects of the arts including painting, sculpture, architecture, interior design, decoration, literature, music, and theatre. This style developed in the early 18th century in Paris France. It was a reaction/revolt against the grandeur, symmetry, and strict regulations of the previous Baroque style…
Most rooms at Melrose were connected to a bell system that hung at the back of the house. It was operated by rope pulls. Each bell had a different sound and they were used to summon domestic slaves that were quartered on the upper floors of the ‘dependency’ building just behind the main house. The sound of each bell indicated in which room service was required.
Beds at Melrose and other plantations or estates all incorporated the use of mosquito netting. In warm weather and without screens on the windows, mosquitos were a real problem.
For this posting I only used a few of the photos that I took. I didn’t take pictures of the Ionic columns that flanked oak-grained pocket doors that connected the 2 (not just 1) parlors. Nor did I take a photo of the personal library that houses hundreds of books. One feature that didn’t lend itself to a photo was the hidden hallway at the rear of the house on the first floor that was built so the house slaves could provide their services without being seen any more than was necessary.
This was a child’s room. Love that little crib and the toys in the room…
Melrose has been restored to its original 1840s appearance. Although John McMurran spared little expense in building a home with “all that fine taste and a full purse” could provide, even he held down his costs when he could. For example “faux marbling” was used to decorate the exterior columns and wall surfaces. Faux marbling, a technique of painting a surface to resemble the look of marble, was very “in” at the time.
Here is Laurie posing with our National Park Service guide, Rebecca Weaver. Rebecca did a great job conducting our tour, describing all the major points and items of interest and fielding most of questions. She even went out of her way to look up one of the paintings that Laurie thought she’d recognized. Thanks Rebecca!
For information regarding the Natchez National Historical Park you can go to the National Park Service’s site at http://npplan.com/parks-by-state/mississippi-national-parks/natchez-national-historical-park-park-at-a-glance/.
For a more in-depth look at Melrose including some truly top-notch interior and exterior photos, you can go to http://npplan.com/parks-by-state/mississippi-national-parks/natchez-national-historical-park-park-at-a-glance/natchez-national-historical-park-melrose-mansion/.
Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…
Thanks for stopping by for a visit!
Take Care, Big Daddy Dave