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Dunleith


Dunleith — Natchez, MS

Photo: Dunleith, — built by General Charles Dahlgreen in 1847. This home is one of the most beautiful examples of southern colonial architecture and is one of the earliest mansions built in the area. The columns that completely surround the exterior are brick stuccoed. The bricks used in the building were hand made by slaves on the premises. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith, Library of Congress, Highsmith Archive, www.loc.gov, accessed October, 2012.

Dunleith was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. Adaptation copyright © 2011, The Gombach Group.

Description

Dunleith [now called Dunleith Historic Inn, 84 Homochitto Street], a 5-bay, 2-story residence with full attic and original cellar beneath the dining room, faces east on its 39.8-acre site within the city limits of Natchez. The exterior walls and the 2-story columns are plastered brick painted white. Ornamental iron balustrades of different patterns but similar proportions enclose the galleries of the first and second floors, and the design of the entrances centered on each level of the facade is identical. Side lights, transom, double pairs of pilasters, and fully expressed entablature framing a single-leaf opening produce a large-scale treatment in keeping with the monumentality of the house. There is a degree of enrichment in the use of panels with carved borders on the door and pilaster shafts and underneath the side lights. The first and second floor rear entrances are like those on the facade but lack the carved panels. Floor-length double-hung windows are 6-over-9 and have 3-part green wooden shutters. The upper surfaces of their decorative lintels extend inward in a rising curve from square endblocks and join center blocks which simulate keystones. Tuscan columns surround the house in a colonnade which supports an architrave with paneled soffit, a plain frieze, and a projecting cornice heavily bracketed. The peaked gray slate roof features six dormers: two on the front slope, two on the rear, and one on each side slope, all with classical framing and double-hung 6-over-6 sashes. A rectangular cupola with square corner columns joined by a balustrade was removed by a previous owner.

The original plan of both residential floors of Dunleith was a continuation of the symmetry which characterizes the exterior, with wide central hallways flanked by two rooms on each side. Baths and closets were subsequently added to each of the four bedrooms on the second floor, utilizing former gallery space, and a breakfast room was similarly built in at the northwest corner of the first floor. West of the breakfast room are the butler's pantry and the kitchen, which project beyond the rectangle of the main block, and the dining room and the library are east of the breakfast room, completing the north side of the first floor. Across the hall on the south are the living room and the drawing room, which can be thrown en suite by opening sliding wooden doors and which share certain decorative detail. Mantelpieces are white Carrara marble richly carved in triple engaged columns at the sides; an arch of incised cable molding around the fireplace opening and triangular panels in the spandrels above it; and a floral cartouche centered beneath the curved mantel shelf. Narrow panels are set within the reveals of the floor-length windows, the lower sashes of which can be raised to a height of six feet to provide access to the gallery. Plaster ceiling medallions are composed of acanthus leaves and lotus blossoms. In the library and dining room are identical medallions in a design of alternating acanthus leaves and a single flower on a leafed stem. The library mantelpiece is gray veined beige marble, probably Florentine, and that in the dining room is red Verona marble (actually salmon pink in color); both are carved similarly to those in the living room and the drawing room.

The central hallway features the 5 to 7-inch pine floor boards, 15-foot ceiling, and prominent cornice seen throughout the house and like the dining room has a 6-inch wide chair rail. Molded framings of the entrances to the four adjoining rooms and to the front and rear galleries are highlighted by hooded cornices which form the overdoors. The two medallions in the hallway ceiling repeat the acanthus/flower motif, in this instance sprays of roses. The trim of the stairwell opening, installed ca. 1944, consists of paneled pilasters from which springs an arch centered with a keystone. The half-turn staircase with landing has a rounded handrail supported by turned newels and balusters placed two to a tread, and a molded stringer running beneath carved step ends. A half handrail and stringer ramp along the opposite wall in continuation of the chair rail and baseboard in the hall below, merging again with these features on the second floor. The rooms there are finished in a unifying repetition of decorative element such as ceiling medallions composed of multiple torus moldings; mantelpieces of carved black or white marble; and door and window lintels which project laterally in "ears" or crossettes. Hinged side lights at the front and rear gallery entrances and louvered hall doors for the bedrooms provide increased circulation of air. There are four rooms, each with fireplace, in the attic story; originally they served as bedrooms and are now utilized for storage. The furnishings at Dunleith are chiefly English pieces of the late eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth century.

The main house is joined on its rear elevation to a 3-story, 8-room service wing of white-painted brick. From the ridge line of the tile roof rise three tall rectangular chimneys with molded caps. Galleries of the second and third floors are supported by square wooden columns which are based on brick piers at ground level. Doorways have floor-length louvered shutters and derive individuality from a variety of paneled patterns which adorn their jambs and soffits. On the interior of the service wing, and extending beneath the main house itself, are the structural remnants of a significant nineteenth-century plumbing and heating system. Outside, paired curving flights of five brick steps lead to the second-floor gallery of the wing, which is on grade with the first-floor gallery of the main house. Beyond the rear lawn, brick steps descend the series of terraces which characterize the Dunleith property. At the foot of the second terrace is a building containing garages and kennels, with a turreted, hexagonal, 3-tiered columbary centered on its roof. In the meadow west of the house is a 2-story brick barn with wooden carriage ramp leading to the upper floor and stables located on the ground level. The core of the building is rectangular in shape with square projections at the four corners and a crenellated parapet atop the whole. There are two smaller outbuildings in the same style: a servant's lodge with Tudor gable ends a short distance north of the barn and a greenhouse below the terraces south of the main house. The highest slope of the south terraces is spanned by a broad flight of 15 stucco steps which at top and bottom is flanked by large paneled bases on which rest decorative urns. According to tradition, the steps approached the original Routhlands, which was reputedly built with its facade to the south.

Significance

Dunleith is on the site of an earlier house, Routhlands, which was built probably in the late eighteenth century by Job Routh. One of the largest landholders and planters in the Natchez district, Routh was the son of Jeremiah Routh, a Welsh immigrant who in 1775 was one of the first English-speaking settlers to obtain a land grant in the area — 4,000 acres near the mouth of Coles Creek. The wife of Job Routh was Anne Miller, sister of Christopher Miller, who served as secretary to the Spanish governor in Natchez, Don Manuel Gayoso de Lemos. In 1797, after refusing to cooperate with United States surveyor Andrew Ellicott in locating the boundary line between American and Spanish territory, Governor Gayoso proceeded to strengthen Fort Panmure, of which he was commandant. In retaliation, Lieutenant John McCleary stationed troops on the grounds of Routhlands and raised the American flag. The encampment was shelled by the guns of Fort Panmure prior to the Spanish evacuation in 1798, and in later years cannon balls were plowed up in the fields of Routhlands.

The original house was a one-story structure which Job Routh subsequently increased to two stories with columns and upper galleries on two sides. In 1837 "the large house, outhouses and other buildings owned and occupied by the late Job Routh in his lifetime as a family residence, together with fifteen acres of land on which said house and other buildings are situated" passed to Mary M. Routh Ellis, daughter of Job Routh and wife of Thomas G.P. Ellis. The Ellises were the parents of the writer Sarah Anne Ellis Dorsey (1829-1879), who in the year of her death bequeathed her Gulf Coast estate Beauvoir to Jefferson Davis. Mary Routh Ellis' second husband was Charles G. Dahlgren (died 1889), brigadier general in the Army of Mississippi, a member of General Leonidas Polk's staff, and bitter opponent of the war policies of Davis. General Dahlgren was the son of Bernard Ulric Dahlgren, Swedish consul at Philadelphia, and his brother was John Adolphus Bernard Dahlgren (1809-1870), the father of American naval ordnance.

On August 17, 1855, according to General Dahlgren, Routhlands... "was struck by lightning and destroyed, in consequence of my wife desiring terra cotta chimney tops placed, which were elevated above the surrounding china trees, and so affording an object for the electric fluid. I rebuilt the house after a plan by Mr. A.J. Downing, carried out by Mr. Crothers, one of the best and ablest mechanics, and which barring accident, will long remain as evidence of his skill and fidelity, for no more substantial house was ever erected...." (The Daily Democrat [Natchez], January 24, 1886, p.1, column 6.)

The attribution of the design of Dunleith to Andrew Jackson Downing (1815-1852), foremost mid-nineteenth century American authority on rural and landscape architecture, is otherwise unconfirmed and rather surprising, in view of Downing's influence in discrediting the Greek Revival mode. A direct commission from the Dahlgrens was certainly unlikely, since Downing died three years before their need for building a new home occurred, and there are no designs similar to Dunleith in either of Downing's two books which deal principally with architecture: Cottage Residences (1842) and The Architecture of Country Houses (1850). "Mr. Crothers, one of the best and ablest mechanics," is presumably the John Crothers, master carpenter, listed in the 1860 Adams County census. A resident of Natchez, Crothers was 41 years of age in 1860, having come with his family to Mississippi from his native Maryland prior to 1850. Well-established in his craft (his assets in 1860 included $6,000 in real estate and a personal estate of $18,000), Crothers would have been a likely choice for executing a project of the scope of the second Routhlands, as the new house continued to be known.

In her will dated January 16, 1858, Mary M. Routh Dahlgren requested that her husband purchase Routhlands (valued at three to four thousand dollars before being rebuilt) from her estate and that the proceeds be distributed to her children. Dahlgren complied, paying $5,000 for the property, and in 1859 he conveyed it to a wealthy planter, Alfred Vidal Davis, for $30,000. Davis was a grandson of Don Jose Vidal, last Spanish commandant of the Concord district in Louisiana, across the Mississippi River from Natchez. Mrs. Davis was Sarah Surget, whose brother Frank Surget, II, was master of Clifton, one of the most elaborate antebellum homes in the city, when it was detonated by Federal forces during the Civil War. Mrs. Davis' grandfather was Pierre Surget, French-born West Indian merchant who emigrated to Natchez in 1785 and left large estates at his death 11 years later. The maternal grandfather of Mrs. Davis was Sir William Dunbar (1749-1810) of The Forest, south of Natchez, noted scientist and explorer of the Old Southwest. During the Davises' occupancy of Routhlands, its name was changed to Dunleith and parts of the estate were enclosed by the ornamental iron fence still in place today. A year after the Civil War ended, Alfred Vidal Davis sold the property, including "all furnishings now remaining in the dwelling," to Hiram M. Baldwin for $33,000. After Baldwin died intestate, Dunleith became the object of lengthy litigations during the 1870s between his widow and executrix, Mary M. Baldwin and his creditors, the banking firm of Britton and Koontz, which eventually took possession. George F. Warner held the property for one year before conveying it in 1880 to Joseph Neibert Carpenter for $22,000.

Carpenter was the son of Nathaniel Loomis Carpenter (1805-1892), who had come to Natchez in 1833 from Lancaster, New York, with a letter of introduction from Millard Fillmore attesting to his "good reputation and moral character." Nathaniel Loomis Carpenter engaged in a series of commercial enterprises, including building and lumber mills, cotton factoring and ginning, textile manufacturing, and a line of steamers, and in later life lived at Dunleith with his son Joseph. The latter, born in 1846 in Natchez, returned home from the Civil War to join his father in business and eventually served as president of the Natchez Oil Company, the Natchez and Vidalia Packet Company, and the Natchez Cotton Exchange. Joseph Neibert Carpenter and his wife, the former Zipporah Russell of Louisiana, were the parents of two daughters and a son, Nathaniel Leslie (1870-1931), who became head of the cotton brokerage house of Carpenter, Baggot & Co. in New York City, where he resided. In 1909 Nathaniel Leslie Carpenter contributed Carpenter School Number 1 to the city of Natchez in memory of his sister Camille Carpenter Henderson, followed by Carpenter School Number 2 in 1913. His sister Agnes, for whom the Agnes Carpenter Library in Natchez and Carpenter Hall at Jefferson College, Washington, Mississippi, were named, inherited Dunleith in 1921 by deed of gift from her parents. After her death the property passed in 1936 to her nephew, Joseph Neibert Carpenter, II. The latter's son, Nathaniel Leslie Carpenter, II, and his wife, the former Alma Kellogg of The Elms in Natchez, are the present [1972] owners, their children being the fifth generation of the Carpenter family to live at Dunleith.

In design, the house is the acme of the Greek Revival mode, i.e., the temple form carried to its ultimate conclusion in the use of the peripteral or fully surrounding colonnade. The result is more typically Louisiana than Mississippi, and indeed the resemblance to certain Louisiana plantation houses is unmistakable: Greenwood (1830), near St. Francisville; Oak Alley (1836), near Vacherie; and Three Oaks (1840), south of New Orleans. It is not known when the service wing and the various outbuildings on the estate were built; they may be part of the layout of the original Routhlands or date from the time the present house was erected. The wing appears to be a regional type from the early nineteenth century, and one of the outbuildings — the large barn — is as striking an example of the Gothic Revival as the main house is of the Greek Revival. House and dependencies survive as an unusually complete nineteenth-century complex, significant in terms of domestic planning as well as architectural style.

References

Abstract No. 943; Covering "Dunleith, "Adams County, Mississippi J.N. Carpenter, Lessor. 2 vols. Mr. and Mrs. Nathaniel Leslie Carpenter, Dunleith.

Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Mississippi. Chicago: Goodspeed Publishing Company, 1891. Vol. I: "N.L. Carpenter," pp. 513-514; "Gen. Charles G. Dahlgren," pp.611-612. Vol. II: "The Routh family," pp.522-523.

Cooper, J. Wesley. Ante-Bellum Houses of Natchez. Natchez, Mississippi; Southern Historical Publications, Inc., 1970. Pp.50-53.

"Dunleith" Picture and Subject Files. Collections, Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Jackson, Mississippi.

Interview: Mr. and Mrs. Nathaniel Leslie Carpenter, Dunleith, Natchez, Mississippi, January 12 and 13, 1972.

Marshall, Theodora Britton, and Evans, Gladys Crail. They Found It in Natchez. New Orleans: Pelican Publishing Company, 1939. Pp.209-211.

Personal inspection by Dawn Maddox, January 12 and 13, 1972.

Pishel, Robert Gordon. Natchez: Museum City of the Old South. Revised edition. Tulsa, Oklahoma: Magnolia Publishing Company, 1959. Pp.38-39.

Reber, Thos. Proud Old Natchez. Natchez, Miss.: Natchez Printing & Stationery Co., 1909. Pp.46-49.

Rowland, Dunbar, editor. Mississippi. 3 vols. Atlanta: The Southern Historical Publishing Association, 1907. Vol. III. (Contemporary Biography): "Carpenter, Joseph N.," pp.178-180.

United States Censuses, 1850 and 1860. Adams County, Mississippi, Population Schedules.

† Dawn Maddox, architectural historian, Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Dunleith, Adams County, Natchez, MS, nomination document, 1972, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Dunleith Map

Street Names
Homochitto Street • Route 61

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