Historic Structures

Longwood - Nutt's Folly, Natchez Mississippi

Date added: September 2, 2021 Categories: Mississippi House Mansion

Designed by the noted Philadelphia architect, Samuel Sloan, and constructed in 1860-62, Longwood is the largest and most elaborate of the octagon houses built in the United States. The mansion, which was never completed on the interior, was to have 32 rooms each with their own fireplace.

Longwood is also one of the finest surviving examples of an Oriental Revival style residence which along with Olana, a Persian villa designed by R. M. Hunt for Frederick Church and built in 1870-72 near Hudson, New York, illustrates the exotic phase of architectural romanticism that flourished in mid-19th century America. Longwood is interesting as an earlier, less academically detailed version of the Moslem Revival which uniquely combines stylistic eclecticism of both Moslem and Italianate, with the octagonal form first fostered by the phrenologist and amateur architectural theorist Orson Squire Fowler. Although never completed on the interior, the fine detailing of the exterior has survived in an amazing state of preservation. When the document of the building itself is combined with the papers of its owner, Haller Nutt, and of its architect, Samuel Sloan, an unusually complete insight is gained into the architectural theory of the period as well as the creative process involved in a unique and beautiful work of art.

The octagonal fad that was popular throughout the United States during the 1850's was launched by Orson S. Fowler, whose book, A Home For All; Or, The Gravel Wall and Octagon Mode of Building, 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. The genesis of Longwood appears to have been "An Oriental Villa, Design Forty-Ninth," a plan for an octagonal Moslem Revival house, which was published in 1852 by Samuel Sloan in Volume II of his The Model Architect. Dr. Haller Nutt, a wealthy cotton planter of Natches, Mississippi , who was familiar with Sloan's book, engaged the Philadelphia architect in 1859 to prepare plans for an enlarged and improved version of the 1852 octagonal Moslem Revival Residence. Plans for the much enlarged mansion were begun by Sloan in 1859 and completed by April 9, 1860; the architect estimated that Nutt could move into his fine new house by May 1, 1861.

Using his slaves, Nutt began the preliminary construction in February and by the end of April 1860, had demolished the old plantation house and excavated the foundation and basement; and, working under the supervision of Baugh and Fox, his hands also made the bricks.

Addison Hutton of Philadelphia, the superintendent of construction, arrived at Natchez on May 2. Shortly thereafter four expert Philadelphia bricklayers arrived to work with the slaves in erecting the walls of the mansion. The master carpenter, a Mr. Smith of Philadelphia, arrived at Longwood in September; and after Button's departure in October, Smith served until September 1861 as the superintendent of construction.

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. Work on the roof and dome, however, continued under the supervision of Mr. Smith. 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.

After considerable difficulty, in August 1861, Sloan finally secured the services of Jacob Walters, a tinner of Philadephia, and sent him to Natchez to install the roof on Longwood. By the end of September 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, Smith and Walters found it necessary to leave, and construction on Longwood came to a halt. Between February and July 1862, using his own slaves, Nutt finished off the eight-room basement level. The interior walls were plastered and the present floor was installed. The Nutt family then moved into this completed section of the mansion.

In the fall of 1863 the Union armies devastated Haller Nutt's Louisiana plantations, causing him a loss of $1,020,540.07. On Nutt's death in June 1864, a ruined man, he left a widow and eight children. Because Nutt was a recognized and strong supporter of the Union cause (but he had slaves?), his heirs, between 1866 and 1911, 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.

Longwood, never completed on the interior above the basement level, and its 87 acres of land remained in the possession of the Nutt family until 1968. The mansion was used during this period as a residence. In August 1968, Longwood and 94 acres of land were acquired by Mr. and Mrs. Kelly McAdams of Austin, Texas. In December 1968, they donated the estate to the McAdams Foundation of Austin, Texas, which in turn sold it to the Pilgrimage Garden Club of Natchez, Mississippi in 1970.