The Extravagant Antebellum Mansions of Natchez, MS
All photos by Just Chasing Rabbits
"Antebellum" is a term that we are very familiar with here in the South. It means, "before the war," so, in the case of Mississippi, it would mean "before the Civil War." The homes built in the deep South before the Civil War were some of the largest, most over-the-top homes ever built.
If you think of plantation homes with columns, especially one with its own name (like "Tara" from “Gone With the Wind”), you're probably envisioning one of these houses.
Many homes were taken during the Civil War. Some were burned to the ground, some used as hospitals and most were looted. Many Southern cities have annual "pilgrimages" where their historic homes are open to the public for tours, with owners or tour guides dressed in period attire. Natchez, however, has an amazing number of antebellum homes that are in great condition and can be toured year-round.
According to the Visit Natchez website, the city is home to more than one thousand structures that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, with about twelve of them designated as National Historic Landmarks.
Now, just because we grew up in Mississippi does not mean that we are Civil War buffs. I enjoyed watching “Gone With the Wind,” but that's about as far as it goes. I am heartbroken that this area is known for once having slavery, and I'm emotional about the prejudices that still live on here. Love everybody, OK?
Whether or not I like it, the Civil War and slavery are part of my home state's history, and I'll admit that in some weird way I'm fascinated by the people who lived back then. I guess because their mindset is so very far from my own. Plus, can I just mention that this is Mississippi — where it can be 120 degrees in the shade and the women wore, like, 15 layers back then? No sense.
This is what makes history so interesting. Beliefs, traditions and rules change so much over time. Visiting these historic homes is like stepping back in time to get a glimpse of not just where these people lived, but how they lived and what they thought.
PHOTO: I still can't believe the magnificence of Longwood, and it was never completed!
The home known as Longwood was a definite on our list of homes to see in Natchez. It's the biggest octagonal house in America. It's the only one I've ever heard of, to be honest. Talk about extravagant. I don't think an octagonal floor plan is the best use of space at all, but it definitely looks impressive.
We'll never know just how amazing this mansion would have looked completed. The Civil War brought construction to a screeching halt. So quickly that the materials and tools were dropped and left in place...where you can still see them lying today.
Longwood is the only historic home where photographs are allowed to be taken inside the structure itself, though not on the basement level. The basement was the only part of the house completed, so the family lived on that one level.
Rosalie, another National Historic Landmark, also made our list to see. It sits right by the Mississippi River. Talk about a view!
The mansion was completed in 1823 and served as a headquarters for the Union Army during the Civil War.
Not only did we stand in awe of this home's architecture, but also the grounds, gardens and views were fantastic. This home made our must-see list because it contains much of its original furniture. Most home or building tours have furnishings and decorations "from the era," so this is a rare find.
I wish I could share photos from the inside of Rosalie, but photography is not allowed, which helps with preservation. The curtains, the carpet, the beds, everything was just so over-the-top.
PHOTO: Rosalie is a beautiful structure with pristine gardens and an amazing view of the river.
A bell, formerly belonging to the USS Mississippi (a World War II battleship), is found on the grounds of Rosalie. We were told to ring it for "good luck," but we failed to realize just how loud the bell would be! The sound was stunning, literally, and the vibrations seemed to go on forever.
PHOTO: View of the Mississippi River from the grounds of Rosalie.
Our final home tour was at the beautiful Stanton Hall. As we made our way to the gift shop entrance, we were winding our way through wedding decorations as preparations were being made for a wedding later in the day. Gorgeous location, am I right?
PHOTO: Stanton Hall in all its glory.
Stanton Hall is also on the National Historic Landmark and was completed in 1857.
Stanton Hall was originally named Belfast because the owner, Mr. Frederick Stanton, was from Ireland. After the home's completion and Mr. Stanton's death, the home was used as a ladies' college and became "Stanton Hall." Union soldiers also used this home during the Civil War.
The one thing about Stanton Hall that sticks out in my mind is its mirrors. These mirrors were so huge. I have no idea how they made it to Mississippi from France without getting damaged or how they could have made it through a war. Fascinating!
While we didn't tour the historic home known as Linden, we did stop by for a photo. Not only is this the oldest antebellum home in Natchez (1790), but stories say that the front door of the mansion was inspiration for the front door to Tara in the movie “Gone With the Wind.” Because my mom LOVES her some Scarlett and Rhett, we couldn't pass by without snapping a photo for her.
PHOTO: The home known as Linden. Does that front door look familiar to you?
At the time of our visit in 2015, we stopped by the Natchez Visitor Center to purchase our tickets to tour the historic homes. We were able to save money by purchasing tickets to three homes as a bundle through the Visitor Center, and we were able to choose which three interested us the most, so this might be an option to save a few dollars! Stop by the Visitor Center at 640 South Canal Street or head over to the website for more information.
This story originally appeared on the Just Chasing Rabbits blog.
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