Tuesday, May 8, 2012

An Italianate Called Longwood

Taylor Speer-Sims
August 25, 2011

An Italianate Called Longwood


Natchez, Mississippi has had a long tradition of beautiful antebellum houses, some of which were luxurious plantation mansions, and others were town houses. The forgotten venue of the southern elite was the suburban villa. Just before the Civil War, one such suburban villa was starting to be built. The name of that house was Longwood. This building was not a plantation house as it has sometimes been billed. Nor was this house an Oriental Revival, Romantic Revival, or even a Picturesque as some of the advertisements for this tourist destination has remarked. This house was built as a spectacular specimen of the southern style Italianate.

There have been many different opinions on the style of Longwood because it has included a variety of elements from other styles. This was not unusual for any American home. Many homes, even today have been built with a main style with factions and bits from other styles to give the abode a distinct personalized look. There were four distinctions that have been used with Longwood sporadically, and only one that has been consistent and also persistent, that Longwood was an Octagonal shaped house. The other styles that have been associated with Longwood include the Oriental Revival, Romantic Revival, and the Picturesque. There has been another building type that has been associated with the name Longwood. Many have called it a plantation home.

The many terms for Longwood may have been because Natchez residents wanted the gorgeous home to have a romantic title. Another reason could have been that the tourists wanted it to be a southern house that has been in Gone With the Wind. The fanciful Greek revival plantation has surely been the most remembered Southern aristocratic type home. However, this house obviously was not built as a Greek Revival, so perhaps the words “revival” and “plantation” has been added to culminate thoughts of romantic, or evil, idealism for the visitor.

Romantic Revival has been associated with Longwood for a while. The Romantic Movement was something that began in the late 18th century and continued until the Civil War. Ruins of any type were kept in their current condition so that the viewer could appreciate their former glory. The Romantics found special attachment to the medieval times with their high arches and asymmetry in form. The idea of feeling for this style was more important than the aesthetics. (Gelernter, 102)

The aesthetics of the Picturesque style was something of a misnomer. This style does not necessarily have to be picturesque to be a Picturesque. The idea behind this movement was a “way of retreating to what [was] perceived to be simpler, more rustic times.” (Moffett, 417) A perfect example of the Picturesque style was the farm that Marie Antoinette had built to get away from court life to live and pretend to be a milkmaid.  This movement was associated with the “new ruins” or “follies”. These were faux Roman or medieval ruins that were intentionally built near someone’s home to be enjoyed simply for the pretend ability of it. Another idea in the Picturesque was that the grounds were landscaped as if human hands had not touched them. They were kept to look unkempt. (Moffett, 418)

The Oriental Revival has had its own visual qualifiers, which has also been called the Moorish Style, the Moorish Revival, Byzantine Revival and Islamic Style. During the 19th century, the location of the orient was a different location that what most Americans think of today. The Orient was the area around the eastern area of the Mediterranean, including Palestine, Egypt and Iraq. So, as the latter locations imply, this style was derived from the infatuation of the look of the mosques and churches of the Middle East. Onion domes, as those found on the famous churches in Moscow, were part of the requirements of the Oriental Revival. Other hallmarks were the doors and/or windows that curve circularly, and then they reach a pointed arch at the very top, which were very indicative of the buildings in Morocco. The outside of the building would have been stuccoed smooth for a perfect style fit. (Pennsylvania)

The Italianate was so common in America that it was coined the American Bracketed Style. These houses can be seen everywhere in the U.S. from the north to the south, and east to west. These were usually square or rectangular in shape, with either vertically rectangle or arched windows. They were plain or painted brick, or even stuccoed. The roof was typically low pitched with brackets that were either ornamental or plane. These could have been single brackets, or paired. Another typical feature of the Italianate was the cupola and veranda. (Baker, 78)

The Italianates in the North were typically plainer than those in the South, especially the decorative brackets and verandas. A lot of the houses in the French Quarter in New Orleans were actually Italianates with brackets and verandas that have a fancy appearance that was so popular in the South. That fancy type of woodwork and ironwork was called “frosting” or “icing,” like icing on a cake. This was not only popular in the South; it was popular in the coastal resorts. (Greysmith, 22) The Octagon was a type of Italianate (Baker, 78) that had eight sides where the sides were typically equal was size, but the equality was not a requirement. The majority of these houses were built in New York, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin (Whiffen, 86) and also Pennsylvania (Pennsylvania) before the Civil War. Some reports indicate that the octagon was a style in itself, but it was actually a type of Italianate. (Baker, 78)

            The term plantation was not a style, but a word to describe the function of the house. Plantations were houses that were on the farm, a planter’s house. Plantations were not only south of the Mason-Dixon Line in the United States, they were also north of that line, as well as being in other countries. The farm did not have to be overly large to have that term, but it did usually have to focus on only one plant that would be sold in bulk. A farmer could have the plantation home and an additional town house. Even though the planter owned the town house, this would not have been given the term of plantation house because the house, itself, was not on the plantation. (Kalman, 4)

A new 19th century American fad, that had been a fashion in Britain since the 18th century, (Mack) was just beginning to materialize in Mississippi. The idea of the bourgeoisie moving “to the green edges of the city” (Zimnowoda-Krajewska) was culminating in an area of Natchez where Longwood was being built.  The houses were large, ornate, beautiful and state of the art. These were the houses that were called the Suburban Villa. The new suburbanites were emulating the Roman villas in character. Large stately homes had extensive immaculately kept lawns that were built away from the smells, dirt, and traffic of the city, not to mention the heat, smell, and threat of the river near the plantations. (Miller)

            The owner, Dr. Haller Nutt, was a pro-Union, anti-secession cotton planter, but Longwood was not on the plantation, it was in the new suburb of Natchez. The opulent mansion would have been the best in the area had it been finished. The Civil War stopped the construction in 1861 because the hired architect, and all of the specialized workers that were brought to Natchez from Philadelphia, had left to join the Union Army. Nutt was not able to hire any help to completely finish the house due to the lack of laborers, and also the lack of funds. The laborers had left to fight in the war, and the war was ruining his, and the country’s, economy. Nutt died, and the house was unfortunately never finished. It basically was left as a shell. The only living space for the family when they did live there, has been the basement. There was only scaffolding and preliminary framing above ground. A common nickname for the house has been “Nutt’s Folly.” (Miller)

            Longwood, even though called “folly,” was not a folly in the architectural terms. The locals, more than likely, gave that name to mean foolish, or even costly and foolish, and not in the idea of a faux house. The grounds were to be immaculate, and there was no way that anyone could have called this house rustic. For the above reasons, this could not have been a Picturesque style house. Although the house was kept in the original state, that was not the intention of the owner or builder. Also, this was being built during the original Romantic period, so it could not have been termed a Romantic Revival. The feelings of that the builder has not been recorded, however, his aesthetic appreciation was evident in the house’s appearance, so therefore it could not have been built as a Romantic style. Longwood was built with an onion dome, but no other features of the Oriental Revival. One feature could not have created the entire style of a house. This grand manor was built in the suburbs exactly in the manner of the Suburban Villa, and not on a plantation.

            The grand manor’s appearance makes it apparent that it was built with most of the features of an Italianate. It was an octagon with eight sides with plain, undecorated brick and was built with a noticeably large cupola. The windows were curved precisely as needed in an Italianate. The sculpted brackets were set singly, and also in pairs. The verandas were a simpler version of the ornate icing that was so popular in New Orleans. The only thing that Longwood had that was not Italianate was the onion dome. One item was not important enough to have changed the rest of the house style.

            An argument to the idea that Longwood was built as an Italianate could be the myth that these were only built in the North. These houses were built throughout the U.S. and can be seen in cities, towns and the countryside everywhere. South of the Mason-Dixon Line, they just become grander in their ornamentation. The fact that almost all of the octagon houses were built in just four states, and all of those in the North did have a factor in the architectural design. The architect and builders were from Pennsylvania, so they would have brought their touches to the design. The owner, Nutt, was a complete Unionist and showed this in his choice of architect. And, Nutt was also a visionary, because only a visionist could have thought of building this type of house in the suburbs of a small town in Mississippi.

            Another objection could be that visitors might not want to visit, much less pay to see a house where the name does not sound so romantic. The fact that it was not a plantation, and that the owner was not a secessionist could in fact draw more visitors when they realized that the owner was a Unionist doctor, and that he was a visionary in a town of people that were not necessarily so forward thinking. Visitors would pay because the house was not finished, and because it would have been even more breathtaking had it been. The style name would not make a difference to the paying public, except to give them the accurate information.

            The beautiful mansion of Longwood has been classified as many different styles. The house was not a Romantic because it was not asymmetrical. Nutt’s folly was not a real folly, so it could not have been a Picturesque. Only the Byzantine onion dome became part of the mansion, so it could not be a true Oriental Revival. It was built in the Suburbs, and not on a plantation. This manor was built with all the icing that any other southern style Italianate would require. Longwood was built so that anyone that had viewed it would have gasped just for the sheer magnificence of this Southern mansion.

Originally written for class at American Military University.

Annotated Bibliography:

Baker, John Milnes. American House Styles: A Concise Guide. New York: W.W. Norton

& Company, 1994. Print.

            The architect, John Milnes Baker, authored this book of compilation of housing styles. This book is a short 190-page pocket manual that was designed for the average American to take with him or her when looking at houses. It is concise and to the point, without any extra information on each style, which is why, this book was used to prove styles in this paper.

Gelernter, Mark. A History of American Architecture: Buildings in their Cultural and

Technological Context. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 2001. Print.

            This is another pocket manual written by an architect. This book, however, has more detail that the previous book, and allows the reader to pinpoint a house’s style using minute details. This book was used to backup Baker’s work.

Greysmith, Brenda. Tracing the History of Your House. 5th ed. London: BCA/Hodder &

Stoughton Educational, 1998. Print.

            This book was written by a house historian, for the beginning house historian, that has some limited knowledge of research and architecture of houses. This book has information on how to locate minute details in the house in question. These include architectural details and information on how to do additional housing research.

Kalman, Bobbie. Life on a Plantation. New York: Crabtree Publishing. 1997. Print.

            This book is a basic look on what went on, on a Southern plantation. This book includes a basic description of plantation, and also it’s parts. It also includes information on the slave’s everyday lives, as well as the slave-owner. It has a slightly biased view, because it does not go into detail of the treatment of the slaves. However, this book does include the needed description of plantation.

Mack, Linda. “The Rise of Suburbia” Star Tribune.  12 March, 2006. 24 August 2011.


            In this article, the author gives a review of houses that were in the Parade of Homes of 2006. It also includes background information on the self-made American and their American dream-houses. History of the origin of the Suburban Villa is included, which is why this was chosen.

Miller, Mimi. Personal Interview. 5 August 2011.

            Mimi Miller is the Chief Historian of Natchez, Mississippi. She is the person that every other historian goes to when questing the antebellum, and Civil War occurrences. Three other people recommended her to me from the area. Her knowledge is due to years of primary document research. This was an interview conducted by me via the telephone.

Moffett, Marian, Michael Fazio and Lawrence Wodehouse. Buildings Across Time: An

Introduction to World Architecture. New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education,

2004. Print.

            This is a textbook that is used for third year architecture students. It was chosen because of the relationship of the subject matter, as well as the authors. This is a study across time of basic architectural types.

Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission. Exotic Revival Style 1830 – 1850,

1920-1930. 24 August 2011. http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/


            The basic information given on this site includes a style that the books seam to have forgotten. Oriental revival had a fad throughout the U.S. but is not included, possibly because of the Islamic reference. This page includes some basic information on how to spot an Oriental Revival.

Whiffen, Marcus. American Architecture Since 1780: A Guide to the Styles. Oxford: The     MIT Press, 1996. Print.

            Choosing another textbook that has been used by many universities for third year history and/or architectural history students for use in this paper was easy due to the subject matter of the text. The book is very detailed in information on reasons behind chosen styles. It has given this paper another perspective in styles.

Zimnowoda-Krajewska, Bozena, and Nicolaus Copemicus. Fine Arts Institute for the

Study Restoration and Conservation of Cultural Heritage. Suburban Villa Colonies from the Turn of the 19th Century. 21 February 2010. 24 August 2011. http://www.fondazione-delbianco.org/seminari/dett_prog.asp?start=1&idprog=133

            This was an online study program that was set up by the Fine Arts Institute to encourage students to get involved in their local housing community. The goal was to have students learn more about the buildings that was in their immediate, every day vicinity. The authors give specific information on the trend of the Suburban Villa of the 19th century.

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