Mississippi mansion unveils facelift, column color a ‘big shock’

Published 10:49 am Tuesday, February 26, 2019

NATCHEZ — History is not whitewashed, as one can tell from looking at the new facade of Magnolia Hall.

When members of the Natchez Garden Club started digging through archives in order to paint a historically accurate picture of Magnolia Hall as Thomas Henderson built it in 1858, they learned that the imposing columns in front of the house were not a clean, white color like the flower the house is named after.

The columns were actually brown.

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“We actually commissioned a paint analyst to do a complete report for us,” said the Natchez Garden Club Preservation Chairman, Christine Bartha. “We did know that there was a brown finish, but no one really knew what the actual color was. We certainly didn’t know that the columns were brown, so that came as a big shock.”

True to their word, Natchez Garden Club members continued the project they set out to do in 2012, said NGC president, Jennifer Jones Smith.

The work will be unveiled at the Magnolia Ball on March 9.

In 2016, the NGC was awarded a $210,000 grant from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History with a 25-percent match requirement for the restoration of the house, Smith said.

The community’s participation in NGC events and fundraisers such as a Mother’s Day Tea, an Easter egg hunt, the pilgrimage tableaux and the Magnolia Ball have helped fulfill the fund requirements, Smith said.

Over the past two years, NGC has replaced the heating and cooling system, repaired support beams in the floors and completely changed the exterior of Magnolia Hall, scraping away the layers of paint from the walls and shutters and refinishing them to reveal the house’s true colors.

However, the renovation is more than just giving the house a historically accurate appearance, Bartha said.

“We are literally getting away from the ‘whitewashed’ illusion of Southern grandeur to a more realistic interpretation of life in the antebellum South just before the war,” she said. “Magnolia Hall with her new facade personifies that reality.”

Evidence of an untold story exists within the design of the house, she said, from a laundry area to distinctly separate living quarters where an office and restrooms are today.

After placing the finishing touches on the front of the house, contractors are rescreening the back porch, which had been sectioned off so that the house’s original occupants would be separated from enslaved members of the household who were doing domestic chores, Bartha said.

The NGC has partnered with the Historic Natchez Foundation to tell the story from the “other side of the screen,” she said, and hopefully, uncover the names of the enslaved persons who worked at Magnolia Hall for a museum display.

“I don’t know if we will be able to come up with the names of the people who lived there, but I hope we will,” she said. “We’re trying to be as historically accurate as we can be in this restoration. … This is an exciting chapter in the history of Natchez. For too long, we have just put blinders on to the way things really were.”