Auburn opens house for all Dec. 8

Published 12:06am Friday, November 29, 2013

Please join the members of the Auburn Antebellum Home for our sixth-annual Christmas Open House from 1:30 to 4 p.m. Dec. 8. The members will be offering free tours, 1812-era refreshments provided by Terri DeShong, a baker from Pennsylvania, and entertainment by Richard Butler.

Auburn was built by Levi Weeks for attorney Lyman Harding, who had moved to Natchez from Boston, and was completed in 1812. Lyman Harding, who died in 1820, and his wife Abigail are buried in the city cemetery.

There is a marker for Levi Weeks, erected by the Auburn Garden Club, but he is not buried there. He died in 1819 and is buried in his wife’s family cemetery in Jefferson County. While he was building Auburn, Levi wrote to a friend that, “This is the first house in the Territory on which was ever attempted any of the orders of architecture.”

After attorney Harding’s death, Dr. Stephen Duncan, originally from Carlisle, Pa., and his wife, Catherine, moved into the house. They added the wings to the home and also built the detached kitchen/servants quarters, the billiard hall and the creamery around 1830.

Because of the war and the political climate in the South, all of the Duncan family, except for the youngest son, Stephen Duncan Jr., booked passage on a Union gun boat, courtesy of General Grant, which took them to their home in New York City, and they never returned to Auburn again.

Dr. Duncan died in 1867 and Catherine a few years later and are buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia.

Auburn was donated to the City in 1910 by the heirs of Stephen Duncan Jr. with the stipulation that the land that was donated (210 acres) be made into a public park in memory of the Duncans and that the land and the house never be separated.

When Auburn was donated to the city, they really didn’t want the house but couldn’t sell it because of the terms of the will. In 1911, however, the city sold everything in the house because in the aldermen’s mind, it would be easier to take care of an empty house.

The city eventually made an apartment upstairs for the caretaker of the park and his family to live, but downstairs remained virtually empty until 1972, when the Town and Country Garden Club petitioned the city to lease Auburn and the detached kitchen/servants quarters to them to open for tours.

The city drew up a lease, and a few years later, Town and Country changed its name to the Auburn Garden Club. Tours were given, and Auburn was also run as a bed and breakfast so that money could be made to refurnish the house.

In 2009, the members of the Auburn Garden Club petitioned the city and state for a name change and new bylaws to better reflect the preservation nature of the group. We are now a small group of female and male volunteers who lease Auburn from the city and manage it, as well.

Because Auburn is owned by the city, it belongs to all of us. Please come and see what is happening at Auburn, learn the history of Auburn and the Duncan family, hear about our upcoming plans for further preservation of Auburn and learn what temporary changes were made to our parlor during the filming of the James Brown movie.

Hear the story of George Davis, the last enslaved person, freed butler and loyal servant at Auburn, the first grand mansion to be built in Natchez.

We hope to see as many of you as possible. For further information regarding the Open House or to learn how to become a volunteer at Auburn, please call 601-442-5981 or email us at auburnmuseum@gmail.com.

If you whish to make a donation toward the restoration of the detached kitchen and servants quarters, our address is Auburn Antebellum Home, P.O. Box 18006, Natchez, MS 39122.

 

J. Clark Feiser is Auburn Antebellum Home president.