You Are Here: Windsor Ruins

2006.10.09-MS.PortGibson-WindsorRuins-03B+W

Windsor’s columns are much larger than they seem in photos.

Twenty-three Corinthian-style columns and a few sections of wrought-iron linking them are all that remain of what was once the largest mansion in Mississippi.

The columns have lost much of the plaster that made them look like they were carved from stone, revealing the common brick underneath. Ferns sprout from the tops of many of the columns, arcing in curls that echo the ornate column capitals to which they are attached.

2006.10.09-MS.PortGibson-WindsorRuins-07And yet it’s easy to look at the “Windsor Ruins” and imagine from just these few bare bones how beautiful the face of this plantation home must have been.

Windsor was built in 1861 on a 2,600-acre plantation near Bruinsburg, a port town on the Mississippi River halfway between Natchez and Vicksburg. It was also near the old Natchez Trace, a trade route that ran from the Mississippi River at Natchez, MS to the Tennessee River at Nashville, TN.

The house was luxurious, even by todays’ standards.  Typical for antebellum plantations homes, it was a massive block built in a Greek Revival style.  Twenty-five rooms (each with its own marble fireplace) were stacked four floors high, and wrapped by galleries (long covered balconies). A rooftop observatory permitted a view of the Mississippi River some distance away.

2006.10.09-MS.PortGibson-WindsorRuins-04AInside, the house featured a wrought iron grand staircase, bathrooms with running water supplied by an attic cistern,  and expensive hand-milled furniture brought down from St. Louis.

The house’s ground-level floor was the “basement”, where a school room, doctor’s office, kitchen, and dairy were located.  (“Dairy” being a room for the storage and processing of milk products, not for housing cows.)

Construction costs came to $175,000, a fantastic sum in that era, equivalent to over $5 million today. Considering the dramatic increase of labor costs over the years (and that much of the work was done by unpaid slave laborers), today’s true cost would be much higher. And that doesn’t count the furnishings and décor.

2006.10.09-MS.PortGibson-WindsorRuins-02In true southern gothic manner, the house was to have a colorful and ultimately tragic life.

The owner, Smith Daniell II, died at age 34, within a few weeks of moving into the house, leaving his wife Catherine to manage the plantation in his absence.

During the Civil War, the house was used first by Confederates and later by the Union; both prized the rooftop observatory’s view of the river and the Union Army used it as a hospital for a time.

2006.10.09-MS.PortGibson-WindsorRuins-01ARemarkably, the house survived the war with most of its furnishings, but the Daniell family was forced to begin selling off parcels of land to pay their bills.

And then on February 17, 1890, the house burnt to the ground, less than 30 years after it was constructed.

Lore has it the fire was started by a cigarette left to burn by a guest. Regardless, all that remained afterward were 23 of the 29 columns and a wrought-iron staircase. The furniture and all possessions were lost in the fire.

Today, after more than a century of rains, wind, ice storms and the oppressive heat of Mississippi summers, the columns still stand.

And they still inspire curious visitors to imagine what the house must have looked like and to wonder what it would have been like to visit the grandest home in Mississippi.

Plan your trip:

From I-20 (west of Jackson) or I-55 (north of Jackson), take the Natchez Trace Parkway south to the exit for County Highway 552. Follow Highway 552 past the turnoff for Alcorn State University; follow the signs to the site entrance.

The site has no official website, but the Natchez Trace Compact’s site has information about all scenic and historic sites along the trace: scenictrace.com

Visitors to Vicksburg National Military Park can pick up information about Windsor at the park’s visitor center.