In a region of Mississippi rich with grandiose antebellum homes, one in particular stands out from the rest. Billed as the largest octagonal home in the United States, Longwood comprises six levels including the basement and an observatory. Cotton created the fortunes of Natchez’s elite, but Dr. Haller Nutt ambitiously desired to surpass his fellow planters in extravagance. The mansion was to contain 32 rooms, with every bedroom opening to its own outside balcony, and it was crowned by a large and exotic onion-shaped dome.
Construction did not begin until 1860, and the architect, Philadelphia’s Samuel Sloan, specially hired craftsmen from the same city to go south and work on the emerging edifice. However, with the outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861, the workmen abruptly abandoned their tools and their jobs, worried for their lives and those of their loved ones, hurrying back north and never to return. Only Longwood’s exterior and the first or basement level were completed. The rooms in the basement area became the living quarters of the Nutt family. Adequately skilled local labor could not be found and recruited to replace the departed workers and continue the building project. The war also devastated Dr. Nutt financially. Even after the hostilities ceased, work on the upper levels never resumed.
Driving onto the premises after passing through the security checkpoint (where admission is paid), you are engulfed on both sides by massive trees eerily draped with Spanish moss, until the home finally comes into view. It feels like you are entering into another world, or perhaps traveling back in time. Unlike other Natchez surrounded by the hustle and bustle of modern life, Longwood is secluded amidst a vast tract of wooded land. To this very day, the upper floors remain incomplete, although a spire was added to the top of the onion dome in 1993. Presently owned by the Natchez Pilgrimage Garden Club, the home can be toured daily except for Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Visitors on the guided tour will have an opportunity to go to the second level where one can look above to see the massive inner shell of the rotunda. The unfinished state is purposely maintained as a reminder of the cost of war, and one man’s unfulfilled dream.