Briars auction set for Oct. 7 clears way for new owners

Published 1:34 pm Wednesday, September 27, 2023

NATCHEZ — History buffs and antique lovers are in for a treat on Saturday, Oct. 7, when the owners of The Briars will hold a public auction to sell furnishings acquired when they purchased the estate.

Chip Newman, the son of the late Spike and Ginger Newman, was raised in Natchez. Purchasing and restoring The Briars with his wife, Clara, is a dream come true.

“I want things to go back to their original state when the house was built,” Newman said, including paint colors and furnishings from its beginning circa 1818.

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What remain at the houses — six on the property in total — are primarily Victorian-style and late Empire furnishings from former owners, including Bob Canon and Newt Wilds, and furnishings from when the home was used as a bed and breakfast. Also included in the Oct. 7 auction are items from the estate of Spike and Ginger Newman.

An open house will be held on Friday, Oct. 6, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. for those wanting a preview of available items. The auction will begin on Oct. 7 at 9 a.m.

“Growing up in Natchez, Natchez was our whole world,” Newman said. “I have always been fascinated with history. To me, it was always a goal to reach a place where I could buy a historic home in Natchez. I have such a love for Natchez. Natchez never leaves you.

Newman, like his father, is a commercial real estate developer and owns apartment complex, strip center, warehouses and land throughout Mississippi, including in Natchez.

He said he has always been a history buff and when The Briars became available, “it checked all the boxes.”

Arguably the most historically significant house in Natchez, Jefferson Davis, who would become president of the Confederacy, married Varina Howell in a parlor in The Briars, where her family lived, in 1845. Her family did not own the house, but leased it.

The Briars, which is situation on 19 acres of property known as The Briars Plateau, is located on the highest point from the mouth to the source of the Mississippi River.

“It has the best view of the Mississippi River anywhere. Some friends joined us and watched the July 4 fireworks at The Briars. The view was spectacular. And when you are there, you feel completely secluded, yet you are just two minutes from downtown Natchez,” Newman said.

The Newmans have a daughter, Virginia Caradine Newman, who graduated summa cum laude from the University of Alabama in May, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology. The family plans to use The Briars as a vacation home.

“We will offer the property for events and it will be on tour, but it will not be a bed and breakfast,” he said.

Newman hopes to have restoration complete by Spring Pilgrimage.

“I have been very fortunate to have so much help from people here. I was very fortunate to find Dewane Hawkins for construction. He is about the best I’ve ever encountered,” Newman said.

He said Dr. Brad LeMay, who along with his wife, Dorie, recently renovated the historic home Oakland, introduced him to many in he construction industry and has been very valuable.

“He has such a lover for renovations in Natchez,” Newman said.

Richard Branyan of Lower Lodge Antiques has been helpful with furnishings and Doug Mauro, who owns Oak Hill bed and breakfast, has been a Godsend with the landscaping.

“We have been concentrating on the outside of the house first. We will soon move to work on the interior,” Newman said.

Newman said working with Chris Landers has been “a wonderful experience. He is a master with false graining and has created many incredible doors and other works of art all over. Natchez is fortunate to have him.”

He and his wife, Clara, attended last year’s Balloon Festival, where the idea of buying a property here was born.

“Clara and I looked at each other and both agreed, Natchez is on the cusp of something great. The city was teeming with people. All the hotel rooms were sold out. I told her we may look back and wish we had done something here now,” Newman said. “The new leadership here — Dan Gibson at the top — has done a great job bringing in people from all over. Dan is certainly the hardest working person I have ever seen.”

Newman said his daughter is a new fan of Natchez, too.

“When Virginia was young, she really didn’t enjoy Natchez. She loved to go to Papa and Gigi’s, but she didn’t find much else about Natchez exciting. Now, as a young woman, she absolutely adores Natchez. She has discovered Smoot’s, Under the Hill, The Corner Bar. It is fair to say Virginia is enjoying the legendary social aspects of Natchez. We are sponsoring a balloon and she is bringing her roommates from college to Balloon Fest this year. She’ll get to go up in a hot air balloon,” he said.

Newman’s late parents loved Natchez and its history and instilled that love in him. They also loved each other and were inseparable.

“My mom died in 2019 and I remember telling my father when it happened. He went to his room and got in the bed and never got up. He died nine days later.”

Growing up in Natchez, “I remember every family had that green book with all the houses in it and I would look through that book and think, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to have one of these one day.’ My biggest regret is that Mom and Dad aren’t here to see this. I hope they are looking down and seeing what’s going on at The Briars. They would love it,” he said.