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Antiques forum helps preservation of Longwood

In 1871, Philadelphia architect Samuel Sloan wrote, “The man who has a home feels a love for it, a thankfulness for its possession and a proportionate determination to uphold and defend it against all invading influences.”

One wonders, then, if he was thinking about his own former client, Natchez planter Haller Nutt, when he penned those words.

Longwood was one of Sloan’s most elaborate designs, falling victim to the largest tragedy this country has ever known — the Civil War. Never completed, it stands as a tangible testament to the impact the war had on the planting economy of the South and the slaves who made that economy possible. It serves as an educational tool for historians, architects and philosophers who visit the house throughout the year and wonder how what happened here changed the lives of the planters, their slaves and the people, both rich and poor of this nation.

The Antiques Forum, which meets in September, helps fund the preservation of Longwood for future generations.

“At present, we are raising funds to paint the dome and trim,” said Ginger Hyland, property manager at Longwood. “We are also working on a water system to get water to the pond.”

An educational enterprise in its own right, the forum features experts who can give us insight into how people in Natchez lived, and offer perspectives on life both before and after the war. The theme for this year’s forum is “The Golden Age.”

“When construction began on Longwood in 1859, the city was as rich as it had ever been,” said Mimi Miller, director of the Historic Natchez Foundation. “And in the year leading up to the Civil War it was at its very richest. It would have been the grandest house ever built.”

The construction of Longwood marked a change in direction in Natchez architecture. Prior to the 1850s, Natchez buildings were typically designed and built by local craftsmen, who would use pattern books written by the few existing architects for their sources. As planters became more affluent and traveled the world, the profession of architecture blossomed.

Longwood shows the full flowering of Italianate architecture, topped in this instance, with a Byzantine dome. It was based on a pattern from Sloan’s book called Modern Architecture, Volume II. While most of the patterns in his catalogs were for more modest homes, Sloan often put “follies” in his books — grand confections that would never be built.

“I like to picture Sloan sitting in his office in Philadelphia and getting a letter from a rich Natchez cotton planter,” Miller said. “You know that house on page so and so? I want it. But I want it bigger.”

That the unfinished dream came to be known as “Nutt’s Folly,” makes it all the more incongruous. What remains at Longwood — the house, itself, the cemetery, and outbuildings — is a rare glimpse into what was, what could have been and what has come to be. Longwood’s appeal reaches across both gender and age lines. It’s a beautifully sad, romantic place.

“In terms of a tourist site,” said Clinton Bagley, Department of Archives & History, “…men like the house, too. They get to see how the house ‘works.’ And children get to use their imagination. It’s the whole setting — the house, the grounds, everything.”

As a featured location for the HBO series True Blood, Longwood even appeals to the vampires among us. Spooky, beautiful, wondrous, sad and hopeful, Longwood is something of which Natchez can be proud. Please help us preserve this national treasure by joining us at the Antiques Forum.

The forum theme this year is “Golden Age: Antiques in the Antebellum South 1780-1860.” The event will be Sept. 9 to 11.

Lecturers in this year’s forum will include:

4Wendell Garrett, “Dean of American Antiques” and senior vice president, Americana, Sotheby’s

4TiTi Halle, “Period Clothing and Textiles”

4Charles P. Duell, “Southern Plantations and Gardens”

4Janine Skerry, “Early American Ceramics”

4Elle Sushan, “Miniature Paintings”

4Ron Miller, former executive director Historic Natchez Foundation

Ticket packages are available for $45, $125, $175 and $250. For detailed information on what each package includes, please visit the Natchez Pilgrimage Tours Web site’s online store at www.nptshop.com. For additional information contact the forum registrar Jan Scarborough at 601-445-7479 or e-mail AntiquesForum@bellsouth.net.

Elodie Pritchartt is a Natchez Pilgrimage Tours supporter.

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