Windsor Ruins Artist Rendition

Windsor Ruins Artist Rendition

Windsor Ruins are the remains of one of the great antebellum mansions located along the Mississippi River. It can be accessed off Rodney Road, near Port Gibson, in Claiborne County, Mississippi. At a quick glance you might think the great home was burned, as were so many others, by Yankee soldiers during the War of Northern Aggression. However, it was completed in 1861 and burned to the ground in 1890, victim of a guest’s cigar. I spent much of my childhood in nearby Vicksburg, and even worked two years on the construction of the “even-nearer” Grand Gulf Gulf Nuclear Station. I knew about Windsor Ruins and always wanted to visit, but never made the trip. But then again, it is located on the four corners of nowhere, in the midst of the great Kudzu Jungle. While on a recent photo shoot to Vicksburg, my wife and I decided to make the side trip. Unfortunate for a photographer, we arrived during the harshness of the midday sun with almost no cloud cover…typical!

Windsor Ruins circa 1935

Windsor Ruins circa 1935

The home, situated on a sprawling 2600 acre plantation, was built by Smith Coffee Daniell II. The design was by David Shroder, who also designed the nearby Rosswood Mansion. The 45 columns, 23 of which still remain, were built from bricks manufactured in a kiln across the road. They were finished out with mortar and plaster to resemble Greek fluted columns, complete with Corinthian capitals, forged of iron. There were iron steps as well. These were salvaged and moved to the chapel at nearby Alcorn University. To complete the custom ironwork were beautiful balustrades which connected the columns. All the ironwork came from a St. Louis foundry and was shipped down the Mississippi River. Craftsmen were imported from New England for the custom woodwork. It is amazing to me this home was completed in less than three years. The cost was approximately $175,000, which equates to well over $4.5 million today.

Windsor Ruins sketched by Union Soldier

Windsor Ruins sketched by Union Soldier

Wikipedia gives us a few of the layout details. We are told Windsor contained over 25 rooms, each with its own fireplace. On the main floor, flanking the broad hall, were the master bedroom, a bath, two parlors, a study and the library. In the ell off this part of the structure was located the dining room. Directly below in the above-ground basement was the kitchen, with the two connected by a dumbwaiter. Also in this basement were a school room, an on-site dairy, several storage rooms, a commissary and a doctor’s office. On the third floor were an additional bath and nine more bedrooms. Above the smaller fourth floor, which contained an uncompleted ballroom, was a roof-top observatory. Among other innovations, the mansion featured interior baths supplied with water from a tank in the attic.

What a place to live, right? Well, the sad news is Smith Daniell died a few weeks after moving into the mansion. He never really got to enjoy the fruit of his labors. Shortly afterwards, the war drew closer and closer to home. The Confederates used the tall roof observatory for observation and signaling. Once the yanks captured the region, they also used the observatory and turned the home into a hospital. At least the pyromaniacs kept their matches sheathed, and spared the home. The odd thing is we would not even know what the home looked like today if it were not for a sketch drawn by a Union soldier camping on the grounds in 1863. It was found by historians in 1991, and is the only extant image of the home.

1957 MGM Movie, Raintree County

1957 MGM Movie, Raintree County

There is not much known about the home after the war. Legend has it that Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain, stayed at the home and observed the Mississippi River from the rooftop observatory. The home was used for social gatherings and at one such house party in 1890, a guest left a lighted cigar on the upper balcony. Once spread it burned the entire house from top to bottom, leaving only the magnificent columns as a reminder of its former glory.

Why do a few remaining columns from a 125 year old house fire continue to draw visitors, photographers and movie producers? I can only speak for myself. As a photographer, I am drawn to the mysterious ghostly remains. As a historian, I am intrigued by its sad, but eventful history. As an amateur (wannabe) art historian, I have an interest in its architecture. As a carpenter, I am always fascinated by the intricate craftsmanship of the day. Unfortunately, nothing remains of the woodwork but some scattered writings. In short, my wife and I both like it because…it is old! It continues to weather and crumble, but I hope it can endure for generations to come.

The photos below are taken from our recent visit. I desperately want to return in the evening so I can compose some really nifty shots without the harshness of the noon sun.