The Greek war for independence in 1821 spawned a fascination in the United States with architectural finds from antiquity and heralded the Greek Revival period in architecture. Like the Federal style that immediately preceded it, Greek Revival elements first appeared in the design of public buildings such as schools, churches, and banks. Temple-like facades, symmetrical structural design, bas-relief friezes, and grand columns recalled classical times and are the hallmarks of Greek Revival design.
One of the first significant Greek Revival buildings in Mississippi was the Agricultural Bank of Natchez. Built around 1833, this structure incorporated Doric columns and a facade resembling an Ionic temple. Three of the state’s best examples of public architecture in this style are Jackson’s Old Capitol building, the Governor’s Mansion, and the Lyceum on the campus of the University of Mississippi, all of them designed by British architect William Nichols. The Old Capitol, completed in 1839, includes a domed rotunda and stately Ionic columns. Construction on the Governor’s Mansion was completed in 1842. With its massive portico and grand Corinthian columns, this building is the second-oldest continuously occupied governor’s mansion in the nation. The Lyceum, completed in 1848, is the oldest building on the campus of the University of Mississippi and features the fluted Ionic columns typical of this period.
While Greek Revival architecture in Mississippi originated in the state’s public buildings, it reached its apex in residential design. It is synonymous with the archetypal image of the columned antebellum plantation mansions of the South. Many design features of Greek Revival architecture served a practical purpose, helping to alleviate the heat of the Mississippi summers. Deep porches, high ceilings, and tall windows aided in ventilation. The simple design at the core of Greek Revival style permitted its replication in remote areas.
Holly Springs, the site of substantial prosperity in the late antebellum period, showcases one of the largest collective representations of decorative and elaborate Greek Revival residential architecture in the state. Montrose, built in 1858 by Alfred Brooks, contains an extravagant curved staircase and ornate ceiling medallions. Oakleigh, built the same year, has faux marble painted baseboards in its dining room, a fashionable design treatment at the time.
Natchez is synonymous with elegant elaborate mansions. Its two greatest examples of Greek Revival architecture are in Stanton Hall and Dunleith. The palatial Stanton Hall, built in 1857, covers an entire city block. Its facade contains a bas-relief frieze and Corinthian columns. Dunleith, with twenty-six Doric columns, is the last surviving example of a fully colonnaded home in Mississippi and features a two-tiered gallery that encircles the entire structure.
Perhaps the most recognizable and grandest colonnaded structure in the state is no longer standing. The remains of Windsor lie approximately ten miles southwest of Port Gibson. Built by Smith Coffee Daniell II, it was completed in 1861, only a few weeks prior to Daniell’s death. The forty-foot-tall Corinthian columns that surrounded the mansion were its defining architectural element. In February 1890 an accidental fire destroyed the home, and only twenty-three of the original twenty-nine columns still stand.
Greek Revival architecture held sway in Mississippi long after the national obsession waned. Its popularity paralleled the state’s strongest period of sustained economic growth, from 1830 to 1860. When the rule of King Cotton came to an end, so did the prevalence of Greek Revival architecture. Many of the great Greek Revival mansions of Mississippi were abandoned after the Civil War, some were destroyed by fires, and others were divided and used for tenant farmer and sharecropper housing.
- Mary Wallace Crocker, Historic Architecture in Mississippi (1973)
- Marc R. Matrana, Lost Plantations of the South (2009)
- Mary Carol Miller, Great Houses of Mississippi (2004)
- Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Old Capitol Museum website, www.mdah.state.ms.us/museum/oldcap/
- National History Landmarks Program website, www.nps.gov/history/nhl
- Oxford Convention and Visitors Bureau website, www.oxfordcvb.com
- Ruins of Windsor website, http://home.olemiss.edu/~kcozart/ruins.html
- Visit Holly Springs website, www.visithollysprings.org
- Visit Natchez website, www.visitnatchez.com