Near Port Gibson, off Highway 252 in Claiborne County, stand the ruins of the largest Greek Revival mansion ever built in Mississippi on what was once the twenty-six-hundred-acre Windsor Plantation. Designed by David Schroder, the architect of Rosswood in Lorman, the mansion was erected by slave labor in 1859–60 for farmer Smith Coffee Daniell II (1826–61).
Daniel ordered the seventeen-thousand-square-foot mansion’s iron stairs, balustrades (used to join the columns), and Corinthian column capitals from St. Louis and hired New England carpenters to craft the finished woodwork. The project cost $175,000 (equivalent to more than $4,000,000 today) and produced a magnificent classical structure with more than twenty-five rooms, second- and third-level galleries, and twenty-nine forty-five-foot-tall fluted columns supporting a projecting roofline with frieze and molded cornice. The interior featured fireplaces in all the bedrooms, an attic tank supplying running water to all the baths, two parlors, a library, and an above-ground basement replete with a kitchen, a commissary, and a doctor’s office. Atop the fourth floor stood a cupola serving as an observatory, from which Confederate troops sent lamp signals across the Mississippi River to their comrades in Louisiana.
Members of the Daniell family saved the house from destruction by allowing Union forces to use it as a hospital following the Battle of Port Gibson (1 May 1863). After the Civil War, Windsor become renowned for grand parties, at least one of which was attended by Mark Twain, who had earlier mistaken the mansion for a college when passing by as a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi.
The mansion burned to the ground on 17 February 1890. The conflagration left only twenty-three of the original columns standing, along with the four iron staircases and sections of the balustrade. Three sets of the iron stairs subsequently disappeared from the site, but the one remaining set and the surviving balustrade now grace Alcorn State University’s chapel in nearby Lorman.
Hollywood featured Windsor’s haunting columns in the movies Raintree County (1957) and Ghosts of Mississippi (1996). On 23 November 1971 the Windsor Ruins were added to the National Register of Historic Places. The property remained in the hands of Daniell family descendants until 1974, when it was donated to the State of Mississippi, and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History now administers it. All plans and photographs of the mansion burned in the 1890 fire, meaning that the mansion’s appearance was known only from written descriptions until 1991, when a Civil War–era drawing by Union soldier Henry Otis Dwight surfaced. A short distance from the ruins, atop an Indian ceremonial mound, is the Daniell-Freeland family cemetery.
- Jim Fraiser, Mississippi River Country Tales (2000)
- National Register of Historic Places Property Report (2 June 1992), http://www.apps.mdah.ms.gov/nom/prop/3600.pdf