Political posturing…a Spanish land grant…West Indies architectural flair wedded to sophisticated Federalist influence…glory days to destitution to resurrection—all these inform the history and heritage of the House on Ellicott’s Hill. To Natchez established in 1716 as the oldest city on the Mississippi River, President George Washington in 1797 by rights granted in a 1795 treaty with Spain, sent Major Andrew Ellicott and his regiment to raise the first American flag in the Mississippi Territory. Ellicott’s bold stance on this highest hill of the fledgling town, a straight shot north and fully visible from the Spanish Fort Rosalie, put the entrenched Spanish forces on notice that the United States had staunchly claimed its own. To this day atop Ellicott’s Hill, Old Glory flourishes its fifteen-star 1797 finery.
Also in 1797 from the mother-in-law of Spanish Governor Manuel de Lemmos, wealthy merchant-planter James Moore purchased this hilly lot on the street then closest to the river bluff, an area reserved by Spanish city plans for the homes of the most prominent and wealthiest Natchez citizens. Constructed between 1797 and 1801, Moore’s expansive town home, built into the side of the hill, enjoyed a commanding view of the Spanish park and promenade immediately below, of the adjacent bluff area framing the venerable Mississippi River with its splendid sunsets, and of the vast lands beyond awaiting their impending Louisiana Purchase.
Most impressive about the exterior of this brick basement story and its upper wood-framed main floor, are the home’s West Indies-inspired distinctive high-pitched vernacular shed roof and august yet graceful upper and lower front galleries. Most intriguing is the home’s posterior dry moat, creating passage, light, and air flow behind and around the lower story and necessitating short bridges from the upper story to the top of the adjacent hill. The elegance of the era’s fashionable Federalist architecture appears in the home’s millwork, fanlighted front and rear doorways on the main floor, and domed and vaulted ceilings.
From its early laurels as one of the two most valued properties in early nineteenth-century Natchez, the House on Ellicott’s Hill, as eventually designated, faced a motley future as rental property, a boys’ high school, perhaps a coffee house or tavern (hence its earlier designation as Connelly’s Tavern,) and a residence for workers at local cotton mills from the 1870s to the 1920s. In 1934, when bought by the Natchez Garden Club—the first organization to purchase and restore a historic home in Mississippi—this once-heralded site appeared a dilapidated, hopeless cause. However, with its architectural integrity still intact and under the guidance of New Orleans architects from 1935 to 1937, the garden club restored the home to the glory of it prestigious origin, thereby modeling restoration and preservation endeavors for hundreds of statewide historic homes thereafter.
In 1976, following a change in The Natchez Garden Club’s charter, the Preservation Society of Ellicott’s Hill assumed ownership of the House on Ellicott’s Hill and in 2006 completed a more recent and researched renovation of the home. In 1974 and 2001, respectively, this distinguished structure acquired long-merited status as a National Historic Landmark and a Mississippi Landmark. Today, the House on Ellicott’s Hill, Natchez’s oldest surviving territorial-period building, invites its many visitors to immerse themselves in the charm and eminence of its heritage and the prominence of its history.
(Sources: The Complete Natchez, Classic Natchez and Elizabeth Boggess)
The Natchez Garden Club gratefully acknowledges member Jean Biglane for penning these sentences about the House on Ellicott’s Hill. Thank You.
Magnolia Hall c.1858
A significant grande dame of the area’s historic mansions, regal Magnolia Hall, circa 1858, sits atop a slight plateau at the northeast corner of Pearl and Washington Streets in uptown Natchez, Mississippi. Designed by Massachusetts architect and engineer J. Edwards Smith as the family home of Natchez native and cotton magnate Thomas Henderson, Magnolia Hall is an imposing Greek Revival structure with an opulent Ionic portico and interior Italianate embellishments in vogue “up East” at the time, most notably its marble mantels and floral designs of the center-hallway cornices and parlors’ ceiling medallions with their magnolia flourishes that influenced the mansion’s later name. Equally intriguing is Magnolia Hall’s brownstone exterior—walls of brick, stuccoed and then painted and scored the academically researched, original lush chocolate, replicating the modern mansions of the affluent and refined families (“Brownstoners”) of New York City and other notable up-east cities of the time. Interestingly, mid-nineteenth-century Natchez boasted over a hundred brownstone structures; Magnolia Hall is one of only two remaining and the only one restored.
In 2016, when the members of The Natchez Garden Club and its endorsed non-profit Preservation Society of Ellicott’s Hill began the vast exterior renovation of Magnolia Hall, they received from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History a substantial grant. Among its directives, this grant required that the facade, both its walls and majestic columns, must be returned to its historically accurate color—a well-kept secret that lay beneath over a century and a half of paint and patchwork. The resulting bold and innovative restoration has warranted praise for its historic accuracy in scraping away the layers of inauthentic color and inauthentic southern lore and replacing it with the genuine grandeur of its origin and honest reflection of its era.
(Information gleaned from general knowledge among NGC and PSEH members; from documents related to the historic background of the Thomas Henderson home; and from the expertise of Mimi Miller, former Director of the Historic Natchez Foundation, in her 2017 Natchez Magazine article)
The Natchez Garden Club gratefully acknowledges member Jean Biglane for penning these sentences about Magnolia Hall.Thank You.