Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Windsor Ruins in Mississippi

Snow and ice have made an unwelcome appearance here in Mississippi, but before it arrived we had the opportunity to visit the magnificent Windsor Ruins.  Windsor was a plantation owned by Smith Daniel II, his wife Catherine and their seven children (only three survived to adulthood).  Smith completed his home in 1861 using slave labor.  Skilled carpenters from New England were brought in to complete the interior woodwork.

The columns are 45 feet high and made of bricks covered with mortar and plaster.  It cost $175,000 to build - equivalent to $4,593,426 in today's dollars.  Unfortunately, Daniel only lived in the house a few weeks before dying at the age of 34.  His wife and children continued to live in the home and throw many lavish parties.

There were 25 rooms, each with it's own fireplace, and interior baths fed by a water tank on the roof.

The mansion had four floors and a cupola.  The main floor was the 2nd floor, containing a broad hall, two parlors, a bathroom, the master bedroom, a study, a library, and the dining room.  The ground floor had the kitchen, schoolroom, commissary, and doctor's office.

The 3rd floor had another bathroom and nine bedrooms with the 4th floor serving as the ballroom.  During the Civil War, both Union and Confederate troops used the house as a hospital and observation station.  Mark Twain actually stayed at the home and viewed his beloved Mississippi River from the cupola.

Surprisingly, Windsor survived the Civil War only to burn down on February 17, 1890 when the family was away.  Someone, a guest or worker, left a lighted cigar on an upper balcony burning down the mansion, leaving only 23 of the 29 columns and a lone metal staircase.  This picture was taken in 1901.

All the house plans and records were destroyed in the fire so no one really knew what the mansion looked like until, in 1991, a drawing was discovered in someone's attic.  Henry Otis Dwight, an officer in the 20th Ohio Infantry, had sketched Windsor when his troop was camped on the grounds in 1863.

Despite it's fairly remote location, the remains have served as settings for several movies, including 1957's Raintree County starring Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor.  In a scene in the movie they ascend the staircase and Taylor tells Clift about how her home had burned when she was a child.

Eventually, the staircase was removed and installed in the chapel at nearby Alcorn State University.  In 1971, the Daniel descendants donated the ruins to the state of Mississippi who oversees the property now.

We certainly enjoyed our tour of some Mississippi history.  We can't wait to see more.  If only the weather would cooperate!

3 comments:

  1. Great tour! We really enjoyed our stop there during on Natchez Trace drive.

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  2. Ive seen pictures of this place in magazines and on media sites, but never knew anyone who visited there. Now I do! What an interesting place. So sad that it was destroyed or you might have been able to visit it as a museum. Another reason not to smoke! :D

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  3. Those columns are incredible! I can't even imagine how grand that house must've been for that time.

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