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Pieces of history: Researchers studying area antique furnishings

NATCHEZ — Every year, thousands of tourists flock to see the untouched beauty of Natchez.

The houses, the gardens and even some commercial buildings have stood the test of time since the city’s founding.

This summer, representatives from the Classical Institute of the South at the Historic New Orleans Collection are visiting Natchez for the fifth summer to catalog collections at different antebellum houses.

The program is working with the Historic Natchez Foundation, primarily HNF Executive Director Mimi Miller.

“Emphasis has been placed on cataloging those collections that include antique furnishings with a Natchez provenance and some information about link to their original owners and the houses that they originally furnished prior to 1865,” Miller said.

So far, furnishings have been catalogued at 15 houses, including D’Evereux, Lansdowne, Longwood and Melrose.

Classical Institute of the South Coordinator and Research Curator Sarah Duggan, Winterthur graduate student Michelle Fitzgerald and Tulane graduate student Joe Ramsey have been in Natchez since Tuesday visiting the houses and cataloging furniture, china sets, artwork and various other pieces in the houses for a database that is put together by the Institute.

Duggan said that after they catalog each item by assigning it a serial number, photographing it and giving it a written description, the information will be put in a database for others to look at and compare their own collections.

The group will be going throughout Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama for the next few weeks in search of antebellum objects to add to their digital collection, but will spend at least two weeks in Natchez.

“Everyone speaks so glowingly of Natchez,” Duggan said. “We will probably never find anything as well preserved.”

So far, the team has been able to identify and catalog more than 2,000 pre-Civil War objects through six, six-week summer programs of which students apply to participate.

The group has located dressers, beds, china and other objects, but among the group’s most exciting finds are a letter from George Washington’s granddaughter and a piece of a suit he wore one time at D’Evereux.

Ramsey and Fitzgerald are among a handful of people who have gotten the opportunity to work so closely with antebellum antiques through CIS.

Fitzgerald said she hopes to do curatorial work one day, and the summer work is like training for what she hopes to do in the future, while Ramsey, who has an emphasis in early 20th century art, said he was excited to learn new things about something he would not have necessarily studied before.

“There is so much history here that remains hidden that can be shared with the rest of the county,” Duggan said. “Objects can tell just as much of the story as historic documents can.”

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