Peeling back history: Magnolia Hall exposed

Published 12:03 am Saturday, January 21, 2012

BEN HILLYER/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Natchez Garden Club member Nancy Williams watches intently and listens as nationally recognized conservator George Fore describes the original colors of Magnolia Hall. With a scalpel and microscope, Fore has been uncovering 154 years of paint to get to the original layers of paint.

With a microscope and a scalpel, Raleigh, N.C., conservator George Fore scratched through 154 years of paint and pigment to solve a mystery — what was the original color of Magnolia Hall?

Early documentation in photos and historical writings have provided hints to this mystery. But until Friday it was not known for certain what color the house was when it was constructed in 1858.

New technologies, not available in the 1970s when the Natchez Garden Club fully renovated the house, have opened up new discoveries in the cracks and crevices of Magnolia Hall’s history.

BEN HILLYER/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — An enlarged view from the microscope shows 154 years of paint layers in Magnolia Hall’s stuccoed walls. The view shows the original layer of paint, which was a chocolate brown, popular in the northeast.

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Friday afternoon, Fore unveiled his findings to a group of Natchez Garden Club members the Natchez National Historical Park and the Historic Natchez Foundation.

In his findings, Fore revealed a paint scheme that is different than the house that stands on the corner of Pearl and Washington streets today.

Yes, the house was a chocolate brown, like the brownstones of the day, Fore said. But so too were the ionic columns and many of the stone details that are painted a light gray today.

The shutters were painted a light sandstone color rather than the gray shutters that are used today, Fore said.

The windows were a bright white, but the window mullions and muntins dividing the glass panes were painted black in an effort to make the glass seem bigger.