Melrose Mansion – Inside an 1850s Time Capsule

Natchez, Mississippi – Our road trip last month included a few days in Natchez, Mississippi to tour homes as part of their Spring Pilgrimage.  We’ll have a Natchez post soon, but today we are taking an inside tour of an 1850s mansion with 90% of its original furnishings still intact. Only 3 families owned this home, and the contents were sold with the house.

John T. and Mary Louisa McMurran built Melrose over an 8 year period, from 1841-1849.  A wealthy lawyer and planter, the house was furnished with the finest of everything available at the time.

Operated by the National Park Service, there are guided tours of the mansion, with last daily tour at 4.   The clock on the car read 3:50, so I sped into the gravel parking area  hustled to get in and buy tickets – only to find it was 2:50.  I forgot the car still showed Eastern time, not Central time! D’oh!

Front View of Melrose

Originally located on 130 acres, this is not a plantation.  It’s considered a suburban estate, as no cash crops were ever grown at Melrose.

Melrose Front Hall

Entering the front of the house, I was surprised seeing carpet and the painted floor cloth in the entry hall.  I was expecting hardwood floors.  Carpet was expensive, and only came in small sections – so they had to be bound together on site.  There are 36 original solid cypress doors that are painted to look like white oak.

Painted Floor Cloth – a section of the original is in the corner of the hall.

In the drawing room you get a sense of the money put into the furnishings.  The furnishings are considered Rococo Revival style – so ornate!  The room was meant to impress visitors, and it sure does that.  Melrose does not have a lot of rooms, but they are all very large.

Drawing Room

The adjacent parlor is just as fancy.  Notice the venetian blinds?  They are actually unusual for the time this house was built.  Mr. McMurran purchased them in Philadelphia, and wrote a letter detailing their color (French Green) and that decorative tape was sewn into them.

Portrait of Julia Davis (Kelly), daughter of the second owner

The furnishings in this house were moved around and reupholstered over the years.  In fact, much of the original furniture was in the attic when the Park Service assumed ownership of the house.  Old fabric patterns from the furniture had been saved, and have been duplicated.

Parlor

Melrose is over 16,000 square feet of living space

The library below has two enormous bookcases that are to the left of the photo – no way to get a picture of them.  A little less ornate than the drawing room and parlor, it’s a more masculine looking room.

Office

The dining room is equally as impressive as the parlor and drawing room, and you can see a “punka” or “shoo fly” fan in the middle of the room.

Dining Room set with original china

The “punkah” was used to provide a bit of a breeze, and help keep flies from getting on the food.  These have been around for a long time, though this is the most ornate one I saw on our home tours in Natchez.

“Punkah”

I was surprised to hear that 300 pieces of the original china were still in the house.  Our guide said originally there were about 1,000 pieces of china.

Butlers Pantry area

Upstairs is the family’s private area, and like many other houses of the period, it’s less ornate than the public rooms downstairs.  You don’t see quite the same crown molding etc upstairs.

Master Bedroom

When our guide said the room below was their son’s room, he quickly added that this room was redecorated for his wife.

Son & Daughter-In-Law Bedroom

The beds have hooks on the canopies in order to use mosquito netting.  Their daughter’s bedroom had the netting on the bed.  Remember, there were no screens on the windows back in the 1850s!

Another interesting fact about Melrose – it’s only had 3 families as owners.  When the McMurrans sold the house and its contents in 1865, there is a detailed inventory of items in each room.  The next family to own the home, the Davis/Kelly family left the house vacant for a couple of decades. In 1901,  George Kelly and his wife Ethel (a New York debutante) chose Melrose as their primary home (they owned several homes).  Ethel lived here until her death in 1975.  They were early preservationists, keeping Melrose just as it had always been.  There was no kitchen in the house – it was a separate building.

Melrose in 1934 (HABS Survey)

The dependencies behind the house are unusual to be in such a state of preservation.  The kitchen, dairy, cisterns, smokehouse, and an outhouse are all intact just behind the main house.

Kitchen, Cistern, and Smokehouse

Taking one last look at the back of Melrose before the end of the tour.

Back View of Melrose

That’s our tour of Melrose – if you have an opportunity, it’s definitely worth a visit!  Thanks so much for reading the blog – I appreciate it!

 

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