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Windsor Plantation Mansion Ruins

The ruins of Windsor plantation hide deep in the Piney Woods region of Mississippi. It's a place that defies history and stirs 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. Known simply as the Windsor Ruins, the Windsor Plantation Mansion Ruins, in rural Claiborne County, Mississippi, is where aging oak and walnut trees stand guard over this mysterious place. Arriving on foot, far from the beaten path, a moment of quiet solitude reveals 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 towards sunlight over the mansion’s shattered bricks and rusted cornices.

At that moment, the 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.

Swept into the duality of two centuries while standing among the historical remnants, the legends are easy to believe.

 

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The Story, The History of Windsor Ruins in Mississippi

This is a story of good versus evil, of survival and eventual death, and of fated destruction. The story began in 1859 when Smith Coffee Daniell II started the construction of Windsor, his plantation home. The location was ideal, with distant views of the Mississippi River and access to the broad river at Bruinsburg Landing. The plantation’s buildings represented the best of southern life in this pre-war era, with large rooms, elaborate furnishings, and abundant fireplaces. The Windsor Plantation was a typical southern plantation. Mr. Daniell lived only a few weeks after Windsor was completed, dying at the age of 34, in 1861.

Windsor Plantation Architecture

At the time of construction, 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. 

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 championed sturdiness and judicial balance. For homesteads, Greek-influenced styles exemplified wealth and long-standing prosperity, with symmetrical shapes, and large entrance columns.

The buildings in Greece were made of stone, but the American homes of this style typically were constructed from the abundantly available lumber and locally cast bricks. Brick and lumber edifices achieved the illusion of stone when covered with a smooth plaster and painted white. The Windsor Plantation mansion in Mississippi was typical of the era in this method of construction. The mansion boasted living quarters and entertainment areas on the lower floors. The fourth-floor ballroom remained incomplete. Above the ballroom was a rooftop observatory.

Daniell started the construction at Windsor near the active river port of Bruinsburg Landing, not far from Port Gibson, Mississippi. Peter Bryan Bruin settled in the area in 1788. A few years later, Andrew Jackson established a small trading post along the riverbanks and lived in the area in the 1790’s. Bruinsburg became a village in 1796. The village developed into a port of commercial importance due to its location and ease of access.

 

close up image of the charred bricks inside columns at Windsor Ruins in Mississippi
image in black and White of southern belle at an event
“The mother art is architecture. Without an architecture of our own, we have no soul of our own civilization”. ~ Frank Lloyd Wright
image of Windsor Plantation Ruins in Port Gibson Mississippi

The American Civil War in Mississippi and 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. 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, he moved down river 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.

With the many skirmishes and fierce fighting in the area, Windsor Plantation mansion’s basement 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 Daniell pleaded for compassion, reminding the Union soldiers of the care given to their wounded in her home.

The home was spared from flames, but a plantation barn was burned as a warning against aggression towards federal soldiers. During this time. 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

After the war, the plantation suffered the same economic devastation as experienced throughout the South. 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 years rolled by.

A Winter Morning Fire

Having survived the ravages of the civil war, the beautiful Windsor Plantation mansion was destroyed in a winter’s morning fire in 1890. This accidental fire remains a mystery. Most rumors promote either of two general scenarios.

One version states that a guest ventured to the unfinished fourth-floor ballroom and dropped a cigarette on some wood shavings during a gala event in the mansion.

Another rumor proposes that a carpenter making repairs on the third-floor started the fire.

Regardless of the cause, that devastating first spark was perilous. Within minutes, the entire mansion was ablaze. There was no chance for recovery. Guests and family members fled the flaming building. By nightfall, the reality of the loss was evident in the mansion’s charred ashes. All tangible memories of the family and its mansion had vanished. The wooden structure burned quickly and completely, but the brick columns and ironwork ruins smoldered from the heat for many days.

After the Blaze at Windsor Plantation

In the quiet solitude, while wandering the mansion's ruins, my imagination reconstructs the beauty of this mansion over a hundred years ago. Windsor Ruins’ charred columns rise to glorious skies. The elegant staircase reappears, and the bustle of plantation life is easy to visualize. However, as the day ends, the evening fog appears, and history dissolves, leaving the visitor in today’s reality. The fog looks like smoke again as the columns become humble tombstones in tribute to the lives lost within these walls.

If You Go:

Natchez Trace Parkway

Grand Gulf Military State Park

Rodney – Deserted Town near Windsor Ruins

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