Moonlight, Magnolias & Murder

One of Natchez’s smaller architectural gems, Glenburnie Manor was built in 1833. A handsomely proportioned, one-story raised cottage with a gracious, columned veranda, it was enhanced in the classic colonial style in 1904, just in time to welcome its most celebrated—and infamous—owner: Jane “Jennie” Merrill (1864-1932). As the daughter of cotton baron Ayres Merrill, Jennie boasted blood that was among the bluest in Mississippi. She was a newborn when her Unionist father took the family to New York to wait out the Civil War. Jennie was raised in luxury on Washington Square, and when her father was named Ambassador to Belgium by his friend President Ulysses S. Grant, Jennie was presented to Queen Victoria at the Court of St. James. It was said that the tiny monarch...

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The Siren Call

Natchez’s celebrated treasure trove of antebellum architecture, unlike that of most historic Southern cities, was largely built by a society seeking to be, as F. Scott Fitzgerald put it, “rich together.” Imitating the English gentry who maintained townhouses as well as country homes, the region’s phenomenally wealthy cotton barons escaped the ennui of rural plantation life via city homes where they could socialize with their peers. Sometimes modest, usually grandiose, these houses bloomed in the heart of Natchez and in park-like settings, some as large as eighty acres, on the outskirts of town. Arguably the oldest surviving “suburban villa,” as the style came to be known, is Gloucester. Its most famous occupant–and a highly unlikely candidate for the...

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Iron Maiden

The splendid Natchez home called Elms Court began life in 1837 as a simple two-story frame house with a central portico. Nestled amid 29 forested acres south of town, it was purchased 16 years later by wealthy cotton baron, Frank Surget, who offered it to his daughter Jane and her husband, Ayres Merrill, a Harvard-educated lawyer with money of his own. Once ensconced, the pair set about making their new home more reflective of their lofty social station. Accustomed to the best, the Merrills engaged celebrated architect Thomas Rose and assigned him the task of making Elms Court one of the brightest stars in Natchez’s galaxy of early-19th-century homes. Because the town had more millionaires per capita than any city except New York, men who had peppered the...

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