Julia Nutt was left to live out the rest of her days in the basement of her dream home.
You'll find the grand home of Longwood hidden in Natchez, Mississippi. This stunning architectural landmark is the nation's largest octagonal house, and, it's certainly impressive at what would have been 30,000 square feet and six floors. From the outside, the home looks like it would have a grand interior with marble statues and multiple bathrooms; however, this former dream house was actually only ever that – a dream – and it was never finished. The story behind the house, now owned by Natchez's Pilgrimage Garden Club, is even more wistful.
"Everybody thought it was going to be a short war, and they'd come back and finish the house," said tour guide Gay Guercio.
Meet Haller Nutt, a Mississippi businessman back in the 1860s. With a large sum of money made in the cotton industry, Haller had big dreams for the Natchez mansion he was building for his bride, Julia. When the Civil War happened, however, Haller moved his family into the basement – the only finished part of the home at the time. Along with most other wealthy Natchez businessmen at the time, Haller didn't support succession; he knew what a war would do to their economy. So, he sought out protection papers, signed by the Union Generals in Louisiana, stating that Longwood would not be destroyed.
He died there, in 1864, a year before the war ended, of pneumonia and stress. While the house still stood, all of Haller's crops and livestock had been burned by Grant's troops, resulting in the loss of most of the Nutt fortune. So, Haller died broke – owing money, even – and left his wife Julia, a widow, to raise their eight children in the basement of her unfinished dream home.
She managed to hold onto the house, and lived out the rest of her life in Natchez, but she never had the money to finish Longwood. The mansion is now titled a National Historic Landmark; it graphically illustrates the effects of the Civil War on Mississippi's economy and culture. So, the house will never be finished.
It would have been a masterpiece, though, as the plans by architect Samuel Sloan depicted. The floors in the home are cypress, known as the "wood eternal." Cypress is very resistant to termites and humidity, making it an ideal building material for the heart of the South. Most of the upper structure of the house is cypress wood, as well, with over 300,000 feet of cypress in the entire house. This is actually part of the reason that, now, a builder wouldn't be able to finish the construction on Longwood; simply not enough cypress exists.
Julia had a difficult time after the war, naturally, losing her husband and becoming suddenly the sole provider for her eight children. She grew vegetables to feed her kids and raised chickens and cows. She also sued the federal government for damages to another Nutt property in Louisiana. She went to Washington, D.C. to the Southern Claims Court and filed a deposition. Although it took awhile, she was finally awarded a sum of money. And, because it was pro-rated over the years, it was never enough at one time to finish Longwood.
There were 26 coal-burning fireplaces designed for the house, with various colors of Italian-imported marble for the mantels. There were also going to be 24 closets, a modern idea for this historic home. And, four of the closets were going to be used solely for wine storage.
If house had been finished, directly above rotunda on the main floor would have been black-and-white marble tile in the shape of a star, with a hole through each point, so that light shone down through the center. The front entry also planned for black and white marble, with marble-and-stone steps and wrought-iron railings. Can you imagine?
Had all six floors been finished, the home would've allowed for a basement, a main floor for dining and entertainment, a third floor with six bed chambers, a fourth floor with additional bedrooms, a solarium, and an observatory on the top floor. The house has a rotunda in the center looking all the way to the top; Mr. Sloane's intention in designing Longwood was to create a convective current through it to handle the hot Southern summers. The difference in temperature between the top and bottom floors was about 20˚F.
With over 750,000 bricks used in Longwood, you can imagine the scale and grandeur of this mansion in Natchez. The home also has four beautiful verandas, so that – no matter the time of day – you could find a place to sit with shade and a breeze. And, as you sit on the verandas, you'd be looking into ancient oak trees. On the far side of Longwood was a 10 or 20-acre rose garden that Haller built for his wife. There was an equally large orchard of peach and pear trees, and a small bowling alley for the family's amusement. However, now, all that's left of the garden plan is the path of the driveway.
Although Samuel Sloane designed Longwood to be an "Oriental villa" fit for a city like Damascus or Constantinople, he actually didn't know what these buildings looked like. So, he built an Italianate house, put a few Moorish details on it, and called it an Oriental villa. But, he did know the buildings in the Middle East were made of stone, and there was no building stone in Mississippi. So, he was going to fake it. All of the brick work at Longwood was going to be covered in coat of rough cast plaster, which would be scored to resemble large blocks of sandstone. The metal dome and wooden trim would be painted to match, with the paint on the trim actually including sand in its last two coats so that the texture would feel rough.
Today, it'd cost about $35 million dollars to finish this piece of Mississippi history, if it was possible. You'd also likely want to add a second bathroom to the blueprints.