The Windsor Ruins hide deep in the southern river region of Mississippi. The ruins of Windsor defy history and stir the soul. The humid air smothers like a wet wool blanket. Fog creates an illusion of wafting smoke that lingers, then permeates and claws at your lungs.
Aging oak and walnut trees stand guard over this mysterious place in Claiborne County, Mississippi. Although officially named the Windsor Plantation Mansion Ruins, these architectural remnants are known locally as simply the Windsor Ruins.
Arriving on foot, far from the beaten path, a moment of quiet solitude lets the imagination wander to hear the crunch of carriage wheels on a long gravel trail.
Layers of time evaporate. Kudzu and wisteria vines cling to the remaining antebellum columns and creep toward sunlight over the mansion’s shattered bricks and rusted cornices.
At that moment, the architectural beauty of this place is exposed. The Windsor Plantation Ruins’ ornate Corinthian columns rise majestically. The plantation’s mansion surfaces once again in the mind’s eye. To this day, legends are told of ghosts wandering the grounds.
The legends are easy to believe when swept into the duality of two centuries while standing among the historical remnants.
The Story, The History of Windsor Ruins in Mississippi
This is a story of good versus evil, survival and eventual death, and fated destruction. The story began in 1859 when Smith Coffee Daniell II initiated the construction of Windsor, his plantation home.
The location in a rural area near Port Gibson was ideal for planting cotton fields, with distant views of the Mississippi River and access to the broad river at Bruinsburg Landing.
Windsor Plantation, completed in 1861, showcased the elements of pre-war southern life for plantation owners. Its grand buildings boasted spacious rooms, elaborate furnishings, and numerous fireplaces. Tragically, Mr. Daniell, the visionary behind Windsor, passed away at the age of 34, only two weeks after he moved into his mansion.
Windsor Plantation Architecture
At the time of construction, the Greek Revival architecture style was quite popular in the United States. James Stuart and Nicholas Revett had recently completed their extensive study of Athens, Greece, and ancient Greek architecture as published in The Antiquities of Athens.
Greek Architecture Influence in America
As a new and growing country, America was intrigued by Greece and sought inspiration in architecture, philosophy, arts, and science. This intrigue is evident in the numerous Greek-themed city names throughout the eastern United States and in the architecture of many public buildings.
The structural formality of this architectural style championed sturdiness and judicial balance. For homesteads, Greek-influenced styles exemplified wealth and long-standing prosperity, with symmetrical shapes and large entrance columns.
In Greece, the ancient buildings rose proudly, their formidable structures hewn from sturdy stone. However, across the vast lands of America, a new style of homes emerged, born from the plentiful forests and the artistry of local brick-making.
Greek Architecture at the Windsor Plantation Mansion
These American homes, artfully crafted from bricks and lumber, conjured the illusion of grand stone masterpieces, their surfaces adorned with sleek plaster and adorned in pristine white.
Transport yourself to the grandeur of the Windsor Plantation mansion nestled in Mississippi, a true testament to the era’s architectural marvels.
This tall, majestic residence offered lavish living quarters, elegant furniture, and opulent entertainment areas on its lower floors, inviting guests into the world of plantation extravagance.
Yet, like an unfinished symphony, the fourth-floor ballroom remained a tantalizing mystery, awaiting its final touches. Above, a rooftop observatory crowned the mansion.
What Happened at Bruinsburg Landing?
Embark on a journey through time to the captivating region of Bruinsburg Landing, a thriving river port nestled in the heart of Mississippi near the charming town of Port Gibson. Here, the visionary architect Daniell set his sights on creating a magnificent masterpiece known as Windsor.
Delving into the area’s rich history, we uncover the tale of Peter Bryan Bruin, who settled in this picturesque land in 1788, paving the way for future pioneers to follow. The allure of the river’s embrace drew the attention of none other than the legendary Andrew Jackson, who, in the 1790s, established a humble trading post along the riverbanks near his home.
As time progressed, Bruinsburg flourished, evolving from a modest village into a bustling hub of commerce. The strategic positioning of this port and easy accessibility soon evolved the village into a vital center of trade and economic significance.
“The mother art is architecture. Without an architecture of our own, we have no soul of our own civilization”. ~ Frank Lloyd Wright
The American Civil War in Mississippi: The Battle of Port Gibson
The Battle of Vicksburg was the turning point in the American Civil War. The Bruinsburg Landing port was General Ulysses S. Grant’s staging area for the critical Battle of Port Gibson, which is not far from Vicksburg. In April 1863, Grant attempted to cross the Mississippi River from Louisiana at Grand Gulf, Mississippi, about ten miles northeast of the Windsor Plantation mansion.
Unsuccessful in that attempt, General Grant moved downriver to Bruinsburg Landing, where some 17,000 Union soldiers successfully crossed the daunting river. The troops advanced towards Vicksburg, using the same tree-lined road that passes beside the Windsor mansion.
Windsor Plantation’s Role in the American Civil War
With the many skirmishes and fierce fighting in the area, the basement of Windsor Plantation mansion became a Union hospital after the Battle of Port Gibson.
During this time of military occupation at the plantation, a Union soldier was shot and killed in the front doorway of the home. Rumors say that this shooting resulted in the immediate dispatch of troops to burn the home. The widow Catherine Freeland Daniell pleaded for compassion, reminding the Union soldiers of the care given to their wounded in her home.
The mansion was spared from flames, but a plantation barn was burned as a warning against aggression toward federal soldiers. During this time, Lieutenant Henry Otis Dwight, an officer in the 20th Ohio Infantry, sketched the mansion, which is presently the only known pictorial of the building.
Winds of Fate at Windsor Ruins in Mississippi
The nearby town of Rodney was literally tethered to the changing currents. The mighty Mississippi River abandoned the thriving town and moved to the west. The town of Rodney was stranded, both geographically and economically.
The final blow was when the railroad never came along the path into town. The town withered, folks moved away, and buildings crumbled as the years rolled by. Today, tourists visit the abandoned buildings in Rodney and reflect on the site of the Windsor Ruins.
In the aftermath of the American Civil War, hardship reverberated through the once-prosperous plantation, mirroring the economic devastation that befell the entire Southern region.
How the Mississippi River Destroyed Rodney, Mississippi
Nestled in the vicinity, the town of Rodney stood as a poignant symbol, intricately entwined with the ebb and flow of the mighty Mississippi River. When the relentless currents shifted their course, Rodney was marooned, both geographically and economically.
The town was eager for the promised arrival of the railroad, but it never materialized. With each passing year, Rodney’s inhabitants dispersed, and its once-proud structures succumbed to the relentless effects of time and weather.
Today, travelers visit the abandoned buildings in Rodney. An air of contemplation fills the air, inviting reflection upon the transience of human endeavors and the power of nature’s capricious hand. In this poignant journey, one cannot help but be moved by the intertwined narratives of triumph and tragedy that have left an indelible mark upon Rodney’s storied landscape.
A Winter Morning Fire at the Windsor Plantation Home
In a fateful turn of events, the elegant Windsor Plantation mansion, having weathered the tumultuous era of the Civil War, met its tragic demise on a wintry morning in 1890. This accidental fire remains a mystery. Most rumors promote either of two general scenarios.
One account weaves a tale that a guest inadvertently dropped a lit cigarette amidst the wood shavings of the unfinished fourth-floor ballroom.
Another rumor points to a carpenter, working on the third floor, unknowingly kindling the flames that would engulf the mansion.
Regardless of the fire’s origins, the consequences were swift and calamitous. Within moments, the inferno engulfed the entire mansion. Guests and family members scrambled to safety. As night descended, the tragic reality of the loss unfolded, revealed in the somber remnants of charred ruins.
All tangible memories of the family and their beloved plantation home were reduced to ashes. While the wooden structure succumbed swiftly to the voracious flames, the stoic brick columns and remnants of ironwork, once proudly adorning the mansion, smoldered with heat for several days, a poignant reminder of the grandeur that once stood and the fragility of the human-made.
The Appeal of this Historic Site
Today, visitors who venture to the Windsor Ruins historic site are greeted by the haunting remnants of this bygone era.
As they trace the contours of the charred remains, they bear witness to a poignant chapter in history, where fire and fate conspired to erase tangible legacies, leaving only the indomitable spirit of remembrance in their wake.
After the Blaze at the Windsor Mansion
As the sun begins its descent, casting a golden hue upon the Windsor Ruins, I find myself immersed in a captivating stillness. The tranquil solitude envelops me while I navigate the remnants of this once-storied mansion.
My imagination weaves a tapestry of the past, conjuring the grandeur that graced these grounds over a century ago.
Even after the fire, the Windsor Ruins have captivated audiences on the silver screen. These partial columns have made their cinematic debut not once but twice. The first was in the mesmerizing 1957 masterpiece, “Raintree County,” where Windsor’s haunting beauty served as a breathtaking backdrop for the unfolding tale.
Decades later, in “Ghosts of Mississippi” (1996), these crumbling columns and weathered stones once again stole the spotlight and introduced movie-goers to this historic national register destination.
The elegant staircase materializes in my imagination, beckoning me to ascend and absorb the echoes of a bygone era. The vibrant bustle of plantation life unfolds effortlessly.
The air hums with the energy of activity, and the bustling footsteps of both owners and workers resonate within the hallowed halls.
However, I am reminded of the darkness of plantation life and the harrowing stories of those who endured the shackles of enslavement upon these grounds.
As the day surrenders to evening, a mystic fog descends upon the scene, gently veiling history itself. The vivid images of the past dissolve, leaving behind only the reality of the present.
Through the mist, the columns, once towering symbols of opulence, transform into humble tombstones, standing as solemn tributes to the lives that were lived and lost within a complex tapestry of human existence.
I then leave the Windsor Ruins, carrying with me the weight of history’s lessons and the profound beauty of a place that holds both the joys and sorrows of generations. Windsor Ruins, a testament to the resilience of the human spirit, invites visitors to reflect, connect with the past, and honor the lives that have left an indelible imprint on these sacred grounds.
If You Go to the Windsor Ruins:
Windsor Ruins is accessible to visitor during daylight hours every day.
There is no fee to visit this historic site.
From U.S. Hwy 61 north of Lorman, take the Alcorn State University exit and proceed west on Mississippi Highway 552. Go past the Alcorn entrance and continue west and then north on 552. There are brown destination signs along the way. Watch for the entrance to Windsor Ruins on the right, about 3 miles past the Alcorn entrance.
Mississippi Department of Archives and History – A resource for planning your visit to Windsor Ruins and other sites in the southwestern part of Mississippi.
Natchez Trace Parkway – The Windsor Ruins / Natchez Trace Loop Route includes Alcorn and Port Gibson, Mississippi, with several historical sites to visit during the drive.
Rodney – Deserted Town near Windsor Ruins
Hotels Near Windsor Ruins – Port Gibson