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Ravenna


Ravenna was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. Portions of the text below were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2011, The Gombach Group.

Description

Ravenna (8 Ravenna Lane) is situated on an approximate three-acre landscaped and wooded lot in the old southern suburban area of downtown Natchez. Ravenna is a two-and-a-half story, frame, Greek Revival residence that rests upon brick foundation piers and a partial brick basement. The gabled roof is pierced by one interior stuccoed-brick chimney, and two inside-end stuccoed-brick chimneys are located on the southern side elevation. Both the easterly facade and the westerly rear elevation are fronted by matching double-tiered galleries cut under the front and rear slopes of the roof. The galleries feature a full, molded entablature on both gallery levels. On the first-story level, the entablature is supported by wooden Doric columns and, on the second-story level, by wooden Ionic columns that are linked by a railing of rectangular sectioned balusters with molded handrail. The facade and rear elevation of the house are finished in plaster with a molded base having two fasciae, but the plaster of the first-story facade has been altered by the installation of beaded board. The windows, which have simple beaded frames, are filled with eight-over-eight, double-hung sash and are closed by shutter blinds, most of which are original. Only the upper third-story windows vary with six-over-six, double-hung sash. The upper and lower halves of the five-bay facade feature matching, center-bay, frontispiece entrances. A full molded and dentiled entablature is supported by pilasters and freestanding Doric columns which partially obscure narrow sidelights over molded panels. The massive, un-transomed, single-leaf entry door is seven-paneled and molded and is set within a paneled and molded jamb. The center-bay doorways of the upper and lower halves of the rear elevation are also matching but are more simply treated with a single-leaf, seven-paneled and molded, un-transomed door flanked by sidelights over molded panels set within an unmolded enframement with corner blocks. The upper and lower rear galleries are linked by a staircase within the gallery area that features rectangular-sectioned balusters and turned newels with finials.

The interior of the house features a double-pile plan with central passage. The central passage is visually divided by a molded, paneled, and keystoned arch that is supported by paired, freestanding Doric columns. The door and window openings have symmetrically molded surrounds with bull's-eye corner blocks and central molded tablets, the doors are eight-paneled and molded, the windows are set over molded panels, and the bases have two fasciae and are molded. The mantelpieces of the southern double parlors have a simple frieze supported by freestanding Doric columns, and the parlors are separated by twelve-paneled and molded sliding doors set within a full, molded and dentiled entablature supported by pilasters with incised Greek decoration. The mantelpieces of the northern downstairs rooms are pilastered and executed in black marble. Two of the downstairs rooms have fireplace cabinets and one has a fireplace closet accessed by a full-size door.

The outstanding, open, curved staircase, which features decorative scrolls, turned balusters, and a newel of clustered balusters, runs along the northern hall wall in a westerly direction to continue unbroken to the third story. The second-story hallway is trimmed in an identical fashion to the first story, and both the upper and lower hallway ceilings are adorned with plaster centerpieces that have foliated motifs within concentric circles. The bedrooms are only slightly less elaborately trimmed and have molded architraves with two fasciae around the door and window openings, and the windows are not set over molded panels. The mantelpiece in the southwestern second-story bedroom matches the mantelpieces of the double parlors, but the remaining, original, second-story mantelpieces have been replaced by earlier, Federal style mantelpieces. The third story is plain and unmolded and featured plaster walls and ceilings, some of which have been removed.

A sympathetic, two-story frame addition housing a kitchen and upstairs servant's room was added on the southern elevation, and a smaller, two-story frame addition housing bathrooms was added on the northern elevation, both additions being added around the turn of the century. No original outbuildings survive.

Significance

Ravenna is one of the most architecturally significant early Greek Revival mansions of Natchez. This significance is based upon its well documented construction, its high degree of architectural finish, and the uniqueness of its architectural form in Natchez. Ravenna was constructed in 1835-36 as the residence of William Harris, a commission merchant, real estate developer, planter, and Natchez alderman. In September 1835, Harris purchased the Ravenna property (Adams County Deed Book W:401), which was described in April 1836, as the fifteen-acre lot on which "the said Harris is now building for a residence" (Deed Book X:102). The Greek Revival style, which was introduced into Natchez in 1833, with the construction of the Agricultural Bank (now Britton and Koontz First National Bank), came into full flower residentially in 1836. Among the early Natchez residential expressions of this style are the National Register houses — The Burn, Elms Court, D'Evereux, Green Leaves (Koontz House), Belvidere, Richmond, Pleasant Hill, the Van Court Townhouse, and the Banker's House, all constructed in the 1835-40 period. Although several of these early Greek Revival houses retain elements of the earlier Federal style, such as the fanlighted rear doorway of D'Evereux, the architecture of Ravenna is pure Greek Revival. Outstanding architectural features of the house are the elliptical stairway and the hallway arch supported by paired Doric columns. The employment of superimposed orders, the first-story Doric and the second-story Ionic, of the matching front and rear galleries is unique for Natchez architecture, and the two-and-a-half story form with undercut double-tiered galleries on the front and rear elevations is known to exist on only one other Natchez residence. Although the Andrew Brown Saw Mill account books list charges to Harris that obviously relate to the construction of Ravenna (Andrew Brown Papers, University of Mississippi, Oxford, Mississippi), no notation was made to indicate the builder, who relied heavily on the published designs of Asher Benjamin. Information may yet be found to document the contracting firm of Neibert and Gemmell as builders of Ravenna, since one other documented Neibert and Gemmell house was constructed from Asher Benjamin designs and since William Harris was involved in several business transactions with Peter Gemmell in the mid-1830's. Among the leading Natchez master builders who worked for Neibert and Gemmell in the mid-1830s were James Hardie and Nathaniel Loomis Carpenter. Ravenna was recently purchased by Dr. and Mrs. Mallan Morgan from a descendant of the Metcalfe family, who acquired the house in the early 1850's. Many of the mid-nineteenth century Metcalfe furnishings will remain in the house.

References

Adams County, Mississippi: Office of the Chancery Clerk. Deed Books W, X.

Benjamin, Asher. The Practical House Carpenter. 1930. Reprint. New York: Da Capo Press, 1972.

Hamlin, Talbot. Greek Revival Architecture in America. 1944. Reprint. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1964.

Miller, Mary Warren. Historic Natchez Foundation, Natchez, Mississippi. Inspection of Ravenna, June 1982.

Oxford, Mississippi. University of Mississippi. Andrew Brown Papers.

† Mary Warren Miller, consultant, Ravennia, Adams County, Natchez, MS, nomination document, 1982, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

See Map

Street Names: Ravenna Lane

**Information is deemed reliable but not guaranteed. You should independently verify any information you use for decision making.
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