About 10 miles southwest of Port Gibson, Mississippi sits a tract of cleared land where the ruins of twenty-nine gothic columns commonly called the Windsor Ruins.
The Windsor Ruins was once the beautiful plantation mansion called the Windsor. The Windsor was built by Smith Coffee Daniell II a wealthy land owner and farmer with holdings in Mississippi Delta, Arkansas, and Louisiana.
The Windsor Mansion Construction
In 1859 construction began on their Greek Revival styled mansion on their 2,300 acre plantation that over looked the Mississippi River (today you can’t see the river from ground level. The fields of cotton and other crops have been replaced with trees). The Windsor was built by England Craftsman and slave labor.
Architect David Shroder used skilled artisans carpenters, plasters, masons, and painters from Mississippi, northeastern states, and Europe to complete the finishing work on the mansion.
What the Windsor Mansion Looked Like
The footprint of the mansion had 29 columns supported a projected roof line with 9 ft wide porches on the second and third floors. The columns were constructed of bricks made by the plantation slaves using the site’s own kiln and then covered with stucco. The 40 ft columns sit on 10 ft tall paneled brick plinths and were close to 5 ft square. And the fluted columns were crowned with ornate iron Corinthian Capitals. At the height of the third floor, the columns were joined together by ornamental iron balustrades.
The iron stairs, column capitals, and balustrades were manufactured in St. Louis and shipped down the Mississippi River to the Port of Bruinsburg which is about 2 miles of west of Windsor mansion.
In 1861 the Windsor Manson’s construction was completed. The Mansion was a 3 story block styled house that had a ground floor basement with the living quarters on the second and third floors. The main block was 64 ft on each side and a 3 story wing was on the east side of the house and measured 59 ft by 26.5 ft.
The completed house was 17,000 sq ft mansion with three hallways and 23 to 25 rooms all with their own fireplace! Along with the rooms the house had two bathrooms that had its water supplied by a rainwater tank in the attic. At the time of the construction this feature was considered an innovation and I believe only the very wealthy could afford to have bathroom with access to water with type of design.
The reported cost of building this plantation mansion cost about $175, 000. Today that would equal about $4,729,729.73! – inflation calculator.
The ground floor held the doctor’s office, commissary storage rooms, kitchen, and the school room. The second floor had the master bedroom, hallway, two parlors, study, library, and a bathroom. In the wing of the house, there was the dinning room with a dumbwaiter that went down to the ground floor kitchen. The third floor had eight more bedrooms and the second bathroom.
On the slate-covered roof there were eight chimneys and domed cupola with glass walls that was built above the attic over the main block of the house.
The Windsor Mansion – During and After the Civil War
During the Civil War the Confederate forces used the the Windsor Mansion cupola as an observation platform and signal station. After the Battle of Port Gibson, the mansion was used by Union troops as a hospital and as an observation station. During the Union occupation the Daniell family was allowed to live on the third floor.
The Windsor Mansion survived the Civil War but sadly the mansion burned to the ground on February 17, 1890. The fire is believed to be started a guest dropped ashes from a cigarette or cigar into saw dust and other construction debris left by carpenters who were making repairs. All that was left of Windsor mansion was the columns, balustrades, cast iron stairways, and pieces of bone china.
The Windsor Ruins
The Windsor Ruins stayed in the family until 1974. The family donated the 2.1 acres of land surrounding the ruins to the state of Mississippi. Currently the historic site contains 23 standing columns and 5 partial columns. The Site is maintained by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
Just north of the Windsor Ruins is the family cemetery where the Danell and Freeland families are buried since the early 19th century. I have yet to see this cemetery and it is on private property. The location isn’t public knowledge. I last year I put in a request to tour and photograph the cemetery so I can add those images to this articles since it is part of the history of the Windsor Mansion and the ruins. But I haven’t heard back from them yet.
If you know the family and I how I can contact them, please contact them. I still have hopes to tour the old cemetery.
The Windsor Ruins – Today
Today the ruins are in rough shape. I do not see the columns lasting another 100 years unless they spend the time and money to secure the columns and the bases they sit on. If you take a look at several of the bases, their almost gone. Don’t get me wrong the place has been taken care and looks very different than it did a 100 years ago or even 50 year ago.
From some old pictures I found, about a 100 years ago there was a barn and pond nearby. The area was cleared of trees and other brush. The area was still a working plantation. But sometime in the near past, the area returned to a forest and the pond was filled in. I’m curious to know how much of the land was farmed and how much was still a forest. Much of the trees in the area are roughly the same age. The old oaks on the Windsor Ruins site are large enough and old enough they may been young trees during the construction of the Mansion. Image Source: Library of Congress
I was on site last summer and I noticed that forested area in front of the Windsor Ruins has been cleared and looks like the owners of the surround land might be using the land once more. Image Source: Library of Congress
My Thoughts on the Windsor Ruins
We have a small family farm about sixty miles south of Jackson. With my busy schedule, I’m only able to visit several times a year. When I do get the chance, I try and visit the ruins and several other places in the area every time I visit the area. The Windsor Ruins are one of my favorite places to visit in the state. Its a peaceful and beautiful location. At some point I will plan to shoot the ruins at night.
I am currently looking for old photos of the Windsor Ruins. If you have any pictures (there a few out there but I need permission or purchase the rights to share them here), I would love to add them to this article. Please contact me if you have some to share. If you know the area and remember how much of the area was farmed out or when the area was repopulated with trees, please share your stories about the area.
About the Images
The images were shot with my Sony Nex-3N with the pancake kit lens, then I processed them with Adobe Lightroom and post processed the images with Topaz Labs Clarity to add more texture, remove shadows, boost brightness and contrast. I finished processing the image with some vignetting.