Cottage Gardens was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2011, The Gombach Group.
Cottage Gardens (816 Myrtle Avenue) faces easterly toward Myrtle Avenue. The house is constructed of cypress and poplar timbers, mortised and pegged together. A sloping roof extends across the front of the house, forming a gallery with six Doric columns which support a pediment containing an oval window with molded architrave and radiating muntins. The window is unusual in that it can be raised for ventilation. There is a dormer window at the opposite end of the upper hall, overlooking the courtyard to the rear. Windows on the second floor have the same number of panes as those on the first floor but are smaller. The steep pitch of the roof, along with the chimney placements, probably dictated their size. The original wooden railing of the front gallery incorporates a motif of three crossed sticks.
On the interior, the graceful half-circular stair in the center hall is partially unsupported and enriched with scroll carving. Fanlighted doors open onto the front and rear galleries, and a matching fanlight is repeated over the double doors between the drawing room and the dining room. The sliding doors are concealed in casements.
The house rests upon a basement, which contains a room with double arches of brick, adding structural support. There is also a small dairy where formerly troughs filled with cool water kept food fresh, and open arches beneath provided space for storage of vegetables. Windows in the basement are barred, some with wood and others with iron.
A dry moat lines the sides of the house, its brick walls supporting terraces; a walkway to the rear is at the base of the moat. An iron fence which borders the property on the Myrtle Avenue side originally surrounded the old Episcopal chapel belonging to the Butler family at Laurel Hill Plantation south of Natchez.
When Cottage Gardens was restored in 1963, the kitchen and breakfast room were attached to the main structure. Rounded columns were reconstructed for the gallery, in place of the existing square ones. In 1973 the back gallery was enclosed, and a wooden arbor was built in the courtyard area.
Cottage Gardens is an excellent example of the late Federal style of architecture as it developed in the Natchez region of the Lower Mississippi Valley. It was also the home of noted photographer Earl Norman (1888-1951), who for nearly forty years continued a family profession of visually recording the people and scenes of Natchez and its environs.
According to local tradition, Cottage Gardens was built ca. 1795 as the home of Don Jose Vidal, the last of the Spanish-appointed acting governors of the Natchez district and, after dissolution of the Spanish regime in 1798, consul of Spain. It presumably was substantially remodeled when purchased in 1828 by Adam Bower (Natchez Metropolitan Planning Commission of Adams County, Natchez-Adams County Landmark Inventory [Natchez: City Hall, 1973-78]). The regional cottage form with inset gallery and large central pediment is enriched by the high quality of the interior and exterior trim, notably the interior stairway and the gallery railing. The former feature is similar to the stairway at The Burn (nominated to the National Register of Historic Places, 1979), while the latter resembles the railing at the Neibert-Fisk House (entered in the National Register, 1979). These similarities suggest the hand of a single master craftsman working locally from the late 1820s to the mid-1830s.
Earl Norman was the son of Henry C. Norman (1850-1913), who in 1870 joined a photographic firm which had operated in Natchez since the 1850s. In 1877 Henry opened Norman's Studio, and during his peak years in the 1880s and 1890s, he was unrivaled locally as a photographic artist. In 1913 Earl Norman inherited the studio, and as was subsequently demonstrated, he had also inherited his father's talent. The careers of the two men produced approximately 75,000 prints and negatives which document Natchez from the time of Reconstruction through the first half of the twentieth century.
Earl Norman lived his married life at Cottage Gardens with the family of his wife, Mary Kate Foster, herself an artist specializing in tinting photographs. In 1960 Mrs. Norman sold the collected work of her husband and her father-in-law to Thomas H. Gandy, who cataloged and preserved it (Joan W. Gandy and Thomas H. Gandy, Norman's Natchez [Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1978], pp. 19, 24-25). Cottage Gardens was purchased in 1963 by William C. and Sarah McGehee, who restored it.
Beach, Rowan Moody, grandniece of Earl Norman. Interviewed by Mary Warren Miller, restoration consultant, at Natchez, Feb. 22, 1979.
Gandy, Joan W. and Thomas H. Gandy, comps. and eds. Norman's Natchez. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1978.
† Dorothy Jane McNeil, Cottage Gardens, Adams County, Natches, MS, nomination document, 1979, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.