The Ruins of Windsor

Published: Apr. 30, 2011 at 1:49 AM CDT|Updated: Dec. 26, 2012 at 7:25 PM CST
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I don't think anyone who has ever visited the Ruins of Windsor has not viewed it with a profound sense of loss. What must have been one of the most magnificent homes in America at the time is, gone, with the exception of some decorated columns, that stand erect where they were slave built in 1849. And they've cast shadows of all the decades that have passed ever since.

It is a wonder that such a house was ever built at all. It cost about $175,000 in 1861 when it was finished. That's equates to about $3 and a half million modern dollars. Windsor had over 25 rooms. Each room had its own fireplace. There were bathrooms with water supplied from a tank in the attic that caught and stored rainwater.

On the main floor were two parlors, the master bedroom, a study and a library, all off a broad entrance hall that ran the length of the house. In the ell to the rear was the dinning room, directly above the kitchen, which was located in the basement along with a schoolroom, a dairy, a commissary, a doctor's office and several storage rooms.

Up above on the 3rd floor was another bathroom and nine more bedrooms. The 4th floor ballroom was never finished, and WAY up above was a roof-top observatory, used by such various people as the Daniel family, who built and lived in the house, to alternately Union and Confederate forces during the War Between the States, to Mark Twain, who'd wander by from time to time on trips up and down the Mississippi during his river piloting days.

Iron balusters enclosed the galleries on the upper levels, attached to the fluted columns. The bricks for the 29 columns were formed and fired at a kiln across the road on the grounds of Windsor. The cast iron Corinthian capitols atop the columns were manufactured in St. Louis at the same foundry that cast the balusters, and were shipped down the Mississippi River to the now extinct port town of Bruinsburg and hauled overland to Windsor.

The ironies of Windsor abound. Smith Coffee Daniel II waited patiently for three years for his house to be finished, only to die a few weeks after moving in, in his mid-30s.

The home was completed on the eve of the Civil War. And after Union General Ulysses Grant couldn't land his troops upriver at Grand Gulf as planned, he came farther south to Bruinsburg and promptly encamped his men in the cornfields of Windsor. I guess it's a good thing he did. Because the sketch by one of his troops, Henry Otis Dwight, an officer in the 20th Ohio Infantry of Windsor in his diary, is the only know likeness of the house in existence made while it was still standing. His sketch wasn't discovered until 1991. All of the plans, photographs and any contemporary sketches of Windsor went up in flames a hundred years earlier, along with the house in a fire that broke out in 1890 when a guest's lit cigar butt was discarded carelessly.

Today there are 23 of the 29 columns of Windsor left standing. The original iron steps were taken to the Chapel at nearby Alcorn State University, where they are still in use.

And the 23 columns that stand, stand as a silent monument to the past. A part of this nation's past that has made ALL of us what we are today to one degree or another. We are ALL a part of the shadows of Windsor in that sense.

Copyright 2011 WLBT. All rights reserved.