Grace MacNeil lecture set for tonight

Published 12:01 am Tuesday, March 25, 2008

What do The Briars, Propinquity, Fair Oaks, Beech Grove and Selma all share in common?

They are five of the fairest of the fair Federal style homes in the Natchez District reflecting the Tidewater influence. What is the Tidewater influence? It pertains to that aristocratic English coastal settlement genre native to Virginia and South Carolina as opposed to that of the Scots Irish Upland Southern yeoman farmer and small planters of North Carolina.

Quid pro quo, what we are talking about is not the legacy from the “valley of humility,” North Carolina, with its log construction “I” houses, but rather of what emanates from the “mountains of conceit,” on either side, Virginia and South Carolina, settled by the sons and daughters of nobility whose stately mansions spawned a Greek Revival.

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Those settlers chose the best land, fertile and resplendent with breath taking views, paid for with old money. They did not wear coon-skin caps or deer skin breeches, were well-educated, and brought with them libraries full of books both useful and stimulating, forgetting neither the classics in Greek and Latin, nor the history and fundamentals of architectural structure and design. Included in their entourages were skilled craftsmen who could read and implement the same. This planter class had good taste and veins through which ran blood of an azure tint.

But don’t take my word for it. Come to the third annual Grace MacNeil lecture at 6:30 tonight, upstairs at the Natchez Convention Center. There will be refreshments and socializing until 7 p.m., when our guest speaker, Dr. Douglas Lewis of Centerville, former professor at Yale, Bryn Mawr, Georgetown and the University of California at Berkley, will enlighten us thoroughly on the Tidewater Antecedent phenomena. He resides at “Beechwood” which has been in his family for the past 205 years.

He is internationally known, has written many books, won many awards, curated here and there (in the artistic sense) and is both a Fellow of the National Gallery of Art in Washington and the American Academy in Rome. The list of his prestigious accomplishments and associations goes on and on. One could easily feel intimidated by this fellow. I’ve no doubt that he also knows several crowned heads of Europe. But with all that going for him, he is moreover and of most importance to us, a captivating speaker, thoroughly engaging in not one but many languages. Let’s choose one.

What more could you ask? Questions? Think up some good ones and we’ll look forward to seeing you, members and non-members alike of the Natchez Historical Society, for this very educational and entertaining free event replete with dual PowerPoint presentations, put on just for us, the sons and daughters du Monde.

Candace Bundgard is a board member of the Natchez Historical Society.