Longwood tours suspended following water damage

Published 6:34 pm Wednesday, January 17, 2018


NATCHEZ — Tours of antebellum Longwood’s interior have been canceled until further notice after a pipe burst earlier this month causing considerable water damage to plaster in one of Natchez’s most popular tourist destinations.

Mabel Lee, a guide at Longwood, was in the middle of a tour when a pipe burst on the sixth floor, she said, raining water through the open atrium and onto the second floor.

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“It was just, ‘Boom,’” she said. “The next thing I know, water is coming out of the skylights.”

As the water began gushing into the room where she stood, Lee said all she could think about was the vintage banquette, a circular couch in the center of the room.

“’I was thinking, oh my gosh, this cannot get wet,” she said.

Lee said she enlisted the two tourists to help her push the couch into the room next door.

“Then we got out, because the electricity was still on and I didn’t think it was safe,” Lee said.

The pipe, which froze and burst during a heavy freeze, damaged plaster on the ceilings of several rooms, and left large holes where the plaster fell to the floor.

The water caused no other severe damage to the antique portraits or furniture in the house, she said.“If it had to happen,” said Regina Charbonneau, President of the Pilgrimage Garden Club, which owns Longwood, “January is a good time. It could have been a lot worse.”

Charbonneau said fewer tourists come by in the winter months between spring and fall pilgrimage, meaning the loss of business will not be as potent as if the pipe had burst a few months later.

Though indoor tours are canceled until the plaster can be repaired, Charbonneau said outdoor tours are available at a reduced price for visitors.

The upper floor, which sustained less damage since that level contains no furniture or plaster, will likely open before tours to the ground floor are, Charbonneau said.

Charbonneau said she will be hiring a historic plaster setter to ensure that the replacement work matches the time period and method of the other ceilings in the house.

Approximately 10 people gathered in the house Thursday to remove Christmas decorations and to clean up places where water had caused the plaster to erode.

“It’s a historic home,” said Nancy McLemore, a member of the Pilgrimage Garden Club who volunteered to help clean Longwood. “We have to go by preservation standards.”

Lou McGee, a member of the Pilgrimage Garden Club who aided in the clean up, said the water had done little damage to anything except ceiling in the house, though some furniture had gotten wet.

“It really was a shock but we’re getting to it,” she said. “We couldn’t take down the Christmas decorations last week because they were all wet.”

McGee said her first thought when she heard of the water damage was, “Oh no, I want to go to work.”

“We all feel that way,” she said. “We love it.”

James Wade, curator at Longwood, said the water pipes are installed in the sixth floor to provide for a sprinkler system.

“It takes a lot of pressure to get water 150 feet in the air,” Wade said. “When it burst, the water just came pouring back down.”

Wade said the pipes are likely approximately 50 years old and could not handle the extremely cold weather of late.

The damage, he said, is primarily cosmetic.

“I think we were lucky,” Wade said. “It’s a huge mess, but we were lucky.”