Auburn unveils Duncan portrait

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 23, 2017

The members of the Auburn Antebellum Home will be hosting an unveiling of a portrait of Dr. Stephen Duncan at 5:30 p.m. Friday in the library at Auburn. This portrait was painted by Joseph Bush of Kentucky around 1845 and was donated to Auburn by Mary Duncan Bicknell of Houston. The public is invited to attend.

Auburn was built by Levi Weeks for Attorney Lyman Harding, who had moved to Natchez from Boston and was completed in 1812. It was the first mansion to be built in Natchez. Weeks wrote to his friend that “This is the first house in the territory on which was ever attempted any of the orders of architecture.” Attorney Harding died in 1820, but not before being named Mississippi’s first attorney general and the second owner of the house was Dr. Stephen A. Duncan, who had moved to Natchez from Pennsylvania. He and his wife, Catherine, moved into Auburn around 1821 and lived there until 1863 when they left Auburn with four of the five children and their families by a Union gunboat, which conveyed them north and eventually to New York City. Dr. Duncan died in New York in 1867.

Stephen Duncan Jr. elected to stay at Auburn and lived off and on there until his death in 1910. His heirs decided to donate Auburn, all the furnishings and 210 acres to the City of Natchez with the stipulation that the land would be made into a public park in memory of the Duncan’s, thus we have Duncan Park. The second stipulation was that the house and land remain together. Because of this stipulation, the city decided to sell all the furnishings thinking that the house would be easier to take care of if it were empty.

Email newsletter signup

The city made an apartment upstairs for the caretaker of the park and his family to live, but downstairs remained virtually empty and became a play house for children of the city. In 1972, the Town and Country Garden Club (later to be named the Auburn Garden Club) set up a lease with the city to restore the house and open it for tours on a daily basis The group operated a Bed and Breakfast for many years to earn money to furnish Auburn with period furniture. Over the years, a few of the Duncan original pieces of furniture and fixtures have been returned to Auburn. We would be very interested in acquiring more.

In 2009, the members of the Auburn Garden Club, petitioned the city and the state for a name change and new bylaws. The Auburn Antebellum Home is the new name with a focus on Auburn preservation. We are a small group of male and female volunteers who lease the house from the city and manage it. If anyone wishes to join our group, please contact Auburn at 601-442-5981, and I will get back to you as soon as possible.

The detached kitchen is now restored; however, we still need to furnish the building, especially the servant’s quarters. Auburn Antebellum Home is a 501c3 non profit business for federal income tax purposes and donations for our restoration purposes will be appreciated and are tax deductible. A receipt will be provided upon request. Auburn doesn’t receive any tax money so we operate on only tourist dollars and donations.

J. Clark Feiser is the president of Auburn Antebellum Home.