Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Tragic Neglect: Arlington Mansion, Natchez, Mississippi

Arlington in its prime (undated post card courtesy of Preservation in Mississippi)

Natchez is a historic city on the banks of the Mississippi River in west central Mississippi. In the pre-Civil War era, the city generated fabulous wealth from the cotton and sugarcane trade. The wealthiest families built suitably fabulous mansions to demonstrate said wealth. Much of this economic activity came to an abrupt halt when the war started, but fortunately, the city did not suffer warfare or burning. After the war, the city's fortunes revived for a few decades but generally declined in the twentieth century. Fortunately, much of the architecture remained intact, including many of these amazing mansions.

Arlington, Natchez (Tri-X Prof. film, Tachihara 4×5" camera, 135mm ƒ/5.6 Caltar-S II lens)

One of the grand structures is Arlington, now located at 1320 John A. Quitman Boulevard. It has suffered decades of neglect and may be on a demolition list because it is structurally unsound. According to Wikipedia,

Arlington is a historic Federal style house and outbuildings in Natchez, Mississippi. The 55-acre (22 ha) property, which includes three contributing buildings, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. It was further declared a National Historic Landmark in 1974. Following a fire that destroyed much of the main house, it was placed on Mississippi's 10 most endangered historic places for 2009 by the Mississippi Heritage Trust.

Arlington suffered a devastating fire in 2002. According to a 2018 article in the Natchez Democrat newspaper,

Arlington was built by John Hampton White in 1818. In 1973 the property was listed in the National Register of Historic Places and in 1974 was declared a historic national landmark.

In September 2002, Arlington suffered severe fire damage, which destroyed the roof and the second floor. A roof was installed shortly after the fire, but no work was done to protect the house from weather or vandalism, the Democrat reported in a 2012 story. In 2009, the house was named the second most endangered historic property in Mississippi by the Mississippi Heritage Trust. The Mississippi Heritage Trust has been releasing a list of 10 most endangered places since 1999. 

The owner is a Dr. Thomas Vaughan, who has let the property suffer severe deterioration. I do not know the present status of the City of Natchez' plan to condemn the structure and assume ownership. Preservation in Mississippi described some of the confusion and issues around the status of the building, which obviously have not been addressed as of the time of my visit in late 2020. 

Someone (occasionally) mows the driveway and part of a former front lawn. But the sides and back of the house are thick with brush, and I did not try to walk out back. The porch is a mess of poison ivy. The driveway had tire tracks, and some trash and bottles attest to visits by vandals. 

Formerly grand central hall
Drawing Room (Kodak Panatomic-X film, Leica M2, 25mm ƒ/4 Color-Skopar lens)
Mobile phone view of the Music Room
As you can see, there is nothing left in these rooms. The floor looked marginal in some areas and I did not venture inside.

Side entrance to Arlington (Panatomic-X film, Hasselblad 501CM camera, 50mm ƒ/4 Distagon lens)
Plaster lath and plaster panels

The east side is overgrown and almost impassable. In summer, I think you would not want to battle with the poison ivy (and snakes and bugs?)

After a few hours exploring, what is there to do in Natchez? Why, go eat some barbecue at Pig Out Inn on Canal Street. Outdoor seating, good food, and room for social distancing.

Natchez is an interesting and well-preserved city. I will return for more exploring.


Jim Grey said...

This is a shame of epic proportions.

Mike said...

You did an excellent job of preserving the essential qualities of the architecture and documenting its demise. I can't say I think it is worth doing more to preserve the place. It is, after all, a monument to an atrocious system.