Historic house donated to Foundation

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Editor’s note: Some information regarding the Historic Natchez Foundation’s plans for the house has been clarified below.

NATCHEZ — The Historic Natchez Foundation is now the owner of one of Adams County’s grandest historic homes, Executive Director Mimi Miller said.

“We’ll probably never get another donation like this in the history of the organization,” Miller said. “I’m still pinching myself.”

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Brandon Hall, a Greek Revival house built in 1856 and located off the Natchez Trace 10 miles from downtown Natchez, was donated to the foundation by its owners.

The house was acquired in 1983 by Stanley and Elke Diefenthal of New Orleans, who restored the home. Three years later, they created the Brandon Hall Foundation to ensure the preservation of the home and its property.

After the death of Stanley and Elke, their sons Edward L. and James R. Diefenthal, both of New Orleans, have been directing the Brandon Hall Foundation for the past 20 years.

“The Diefenthal family has always been good to the Natchez community,” Miller said. “One of the remarkable things is they could have just as easily donated the property to an organization in New Orleans where they’re from.

“We’re very appreciative they decided to make the donation to an organization in Natchez.”

She said this is one of the greatest donations the foundation has ever received, “because the house itself is so valuable.

“It is one of the grandest houses in scale built in Adams County. It has 48 beautiful landscaped acres. It has a driveway that is entered from the Natchez Trace Parkway. And it came fully furnished.”

Pat Biglane, incoming president of the HNF board, said the donation shows that the Diefenthal family recognizes the foundation’s mission to preserve, restore and promote the historic resources of Natchez.

He said it’s an embodiment of all the foundation has been working on for the past 35 years, and he credits Miller with her hard work at the foundation since her husband, Ron, left.

“She did a great job in taking care of the foundation … and helped secure Brandon Hall,” he said.

Miller said the house and the 48-acres surrounding it are in good condition and Biglane echoed that statement.

“It’s a beautiful place — just gorgeous,” he said.

She said the foundations long-term plans for the house do include selling it.

“If we were to hold on to the building, the value of the donation would decrease each year as we maintained it, and we don’t want to do that,” she said. “It’s a beautiful building and of course anyone would want to keep it.”

Biglane said he agrees the sale of the property would be better, and said one genesis of that decision is the foundation does not have the resources required for long-term upkeep of Brandon Hall. The foundation can and will handle preservation of the building in the meantime and work to place easements on the property that will protect its historic nature under the hands of any future owners.

Miller said funds from the sale of Brandon Hall will go toward the foundation’s endowment and also the establishment of the Natchez Institute.

The Natchez Institute will be a museum at the foundation building, and has always been part of the foundation’s long-term plan, Miller said.

“Historic preservation in Natchez will benefit more from the proceeds of the sale than from the ownership of the property,” Miller said. “The funds derived will support the foundation’s mission to preserve, restore and promote the historic resources of Natchez.”

The museum and archives division of the Historic Natchez Foundation will be named the Diefenthal Center for Natchez History in recognition of the family’s contribution to Natchez, a HNF press release states.