Friday, April 1, 2011

Melrose Built In 1842-1848 Part I

Built In 1842-1848
Natchez, Mississippi
Owned Today By The Citizens Of The United States
Since It Was Purchased By The National Park Service In 1988
Part I

The national park service is returning the white front that was given in the 1930's its Gone With The Wind "Tara" white look to its original New York "brownstone" appearance of the 1840's. The park service has to complete this exterior work plus repair some major water damage to one side of the house before they make repairs to the interior. The national park service got this home at bargain basement prices. It was listed for six million in the late 1980's but didn't sell. The park service than got it with all the original home furnishings and family diaries for around 1.2 million dollars.
Here you see a house visitor viewing the repair work on one side of the home.
This park ranger was very energetic and gave a fascinating history of this home.
This is a side view of the home of the exterior of the home. We learned that this home has some sad history. The Natchez lawyer, John McMurran, who migrated from Philadelphia and became quite wealthy and had the home built lost everything because of the civil war. First, he no longer had slaves to farm his cotton plantations and second, he lost valuable European furnishings on ships headed to America because these ships' cargo was confiscated by the Union as a result of the Atlantic embargo to the south.

Consequently he was forced to sell his beloved home with all its furnishings to the George Davis family. He and his wife planned to then return to Philadelphia after he made one last trip to New Orleans by ship. But the ship he was on in the harbor in New Orleans caught on fire. John McMurran jumped into the cold December waters of New Orleans harbor, caught pneumonia after his rescue and died four days later.

So his widowed wife Mary Louise had no home since it had already been sold to the Davis family and she had no income since her husband, the family bread winner, was now deceased. Mary Louise was forced to stay in Natchez and move in with her parents who lived in a residence called Woodland which was not far from Melrose. So till the day she died Mary Louise had to live near her former home and watch the Davis family use all her former furnishings, china and silver.
This was the receiving room in the home so consequently it had the most lavish furniture. The mirror above the fireplace mantle was gilded in real gold. The fireplace surround has Italian marble. The furniture is by John H. Belter. In fact this home has a 23 piece matching Belter French rococo set that is the only one of its kind in existence. The porcelain china is from Europe.
This is the wedding dress worn by a former lady of the house. With time it has mellowed to an off white hue. There is a happy story connected to this home too. A Davis grandson, George Malin Davis Kelly inherited this plantation house as well as three others in the city of Natchez in 1883. This George Kelly went to Yale, married a lady from New York and brought her down to Natchez on his lengthly honeymoon. He had never told his bride that he owned four plantation homes in Natchez so on his honeymoon he pointed out to Ethel, his bride, his four estates: Melrose, Cherokee, Choctaw and Concord. He told her to look these homes over and decide which one she would like to move into because he was leaving New York City and moving back home to run his plantations. Ethel was not too happy about this turn of events but in the end chose Melrose as her home.

Ethel Davis is credited with starting the historic home conservation movement because she refused to throw out all the old antebellum furniture that was no longer fashionable in 1910 and replace it with more modern furniture. Because of Ethel Davis this home is a completely furnished antebellum house with letters, diaries, furniture, etc. that had belonged to the house before the civil war. It is a historic time capsule.
In this photo you will notice a very rare Belter made tet-a-tee chaise lounge used for courting. The middle section of the chaise kept the man and woman separate and chaste!
Above and below are photos of the home's dining room. That fancy carved mahogany board above the center of the table was a shoe fly board that was a way to keep flies away from the guests and the food. A male slave child would stand in the corner by the fireplace and pull the rope to work the shoe fly board.
The lovely blue china on display on the table is hand painted and decorated with gold. It is from the porcelain de Paris house of china in France.
This was the men's after dinner parlor for smoking, drinking and discussing the day's events. You can just see a bit of the porcelain spittoon by the fireplace.
The ladies after dinner room would also be known as the music room and have an ivory keyboard piano for the ladies enjoyment. The ladies would also smoke and use the spittoon after dinner parties. Tobacco was a big crop in the south and the best came from the state of Kentucky.
Here's one of the ornate upstairs bedrooms complete with four poster bed and daybed.
Here's another upstairs bedroom.
Camellias in bloom on the grounds of Melrose.
This color of camellia was common at all these Natchez mansions .
Another view of the grounds with spring flowers in bloom under the old oak trees.

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