Longwood illuminated for holidays

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 22, 2010

What transforms an ordinary gathering into a holiday event? Decorations — more specifically — lights! For the first time in many years, Natchez’s extraordinary National Historic Landmark, Longwood will be illuminated in honor of the holiday season. And in honor of the illumination, the Pilgrimage Garden Club is kicking off the season with a fundraiser party to which everyone is invited. The “Lighting of Longwood Gala” will celebrate our grand old home with swing music from The St. Joe Orchestra, sumptuous hors d’oeuvres from Chef Bingo Starr of the Carriage House, and a rousing reading from Natchez Little Theatre star, Rusty Jenkins.

For those of you unfamiliar with Longwood, it was the extravagant vision of local 19th century cotton planter, Haller Nutt. While all of his millionaire contemporaries were living in Federal and Greek revival mansions, he was planning on outshining them with Natchez’s first “Oriental villa” and the largest octagonal house in America. A combination of Moorish, Italianate and Greek Revival styles, the house was designed by world famous Philadelphia architect, Samuel Sloan. A monolithic testament to ego, intellect, art, and wealth — had it been completed, Longwood would have been the icing on Natchez’s architectural cake, not to mention the place to be for a holiday party.

What Dr. Nutt did not plan on was that pesky war — and you all know what war that was. With the sound of the first bugle, Mr. Sloan and his artisans high-tailed it back up north. Thus began the unraveling of one of many a Southern gentleman’s life and dreams. Dr. Nutt did not survive the war but his family managed to live for many generations in the basement of what would have been his dream home.

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In the late 1960s Longwood was given to the Pilgrimage Garden Club and for approximately 40 years, those ladies have worked tirelessly to keep Longwood up to snuff as Mississippi’s most significant architectural historic site. Every dime (and it takes a lot of dimes) that goes into that house is raised by tour ticket sales and every dime that is raised goes into preservation. Mrs. Nutt, a true survivor, would be proud of the Pilgrimage Garden Club ladies’ determination and dedication.

As Natchezians we should all be proud of Longwood. It tells the story of the decadent South, of its downfall and its survival. The quality and quantity of the workmanship tells the story of the African American slaves and artisans who contributed to every antebellum structure in Natchez — another source of pride.

So y’all come eat, drink, be merry and help us fill this big old house with life and Christmas joy.

The Lighting of Longwood Gala is from 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are available at Natchez Pilgrimage Tours at the Natchez Visitor Reception Center or online at www.natchezpilgrimage.com, $70 per couple and $40 per person. Complimentary champagne cocktails and eggnog plus a cash bar will be available.

Every evening beginning Sunday and continuing through Jan. 2, for $5 a car, you can drive through and view Longwood in all its Christmas glory.

Eugenie Cates is a member of the Pilgrimage Garden Club.