National Register Home in Mississippi Left to Crumble

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Arlington Mansion | Adams County, MS | c. 1818

It would be difficult to describe the feeling that overcomes you as you stand in front of Arlington. This feeling is only trumped by the next one that overcomes you as you enter the hollow shell of a mansion from another era. But through 200 years, this place has seen a lot and been through even more- and you can definitely tell. Embroiled in a tenuous battle between the private owner and the city where it sits, the future of this historic site is very much in jeopardy.

This land where Arlington sits was purchased by Lewis Evans, a wealthy plantation owner in 1806. At that time, Natchez was already a thriving river town that had been founded in 1716 by French colonists.

It grew quickly to prominence because of its location on the busy Mississippi River. This would explode even more with the invention of the cotton gin (1793), steamships, and the subsequent growth of the Southern cotton industry. In fact, by 1860 Natchez had more millionaires per capita than New York City.

Arlington Mansion: The Belle of Natchez

The records are somewhat contradictory about what happened on this land next, leading to some confusion about when Arlington was actually built.

In 1814, a land speculator named Jonathan Thompson bought this land from Lewis Evans then in 1818, Thompson sold it to Mr. and Mrs. John & Jane White who were from Elizabethtown, NJ. By most accounts, Mr. John White (who designed the first bank building in Mississippi) is accredited with designing this home for his wife, Jane Surget White. While other accounts speculate that it was designed by architect Levi Weeks who also built Auburn and many other mansions nearby. And a final theory is that this home was actually designed and built by Pierre Surget for his daughter Jane Surget (White).

However, an architectural survey in the 1970s surmised that portions of the house dated back to 1806. If this was true, it seems that the home might have actually been started by Lewis Evans and then perhaps expanded and improved upon later.

An unknown child poses on the steps of Arlington

John and Jane Surget White

In any case, John & Jane White oversaw the final construction of the home on 55 wooded acres, but John would not get to see it finished as he passed away on October 15, 1819, from yellow fever. When the home was completed in 1820, Mrs. White had an opening party for friends and family.

“The whole chamber had a yellow sheen- Aubusson carpet, embellished with floral patterns; lines of gold flowers against the paper wall; satin damask curtains, French mirrors framed in gold leaf; gold leaf cornices, tie-backs at the windows in the shape of gilt-bronze leaves holding grapes of milk-white glass.”

-Description of the drawing room when Mrs. White opened the home

She died mysteriously the next day. The couple is both buried in Adams County and had no children.

Arlington Gets New Owners

Arlington and all its antiques and furnishings were then passed to Jane’s sister, Mrs. Bingaman. Then passed to Judge Samuel Stillman Boyd, a rising lawyer from Cincinnati, and his wife. It reportedly sat empty for some time before coming under the ownership of Mrs. L.S. Gillette from 1917-1924.

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A short time after, Mrs. Gillette, a widower named Hurbert Francis Barnum bought Arlington with many of its original furnishings still inside. Soon, he met his neighbor, Annie Shotwell Green Gwin, the owner of Monmouth and a widow with 3 young children. In a short period of time, he proposed to Annie and offered Arlington as a wedding gift to her. She moved from Monmouth next door with her 3 children. Mr. Barnum died in 1937 (or ‘39), leaving the house to his wife Annie who would continue the long traditions of Arlington.

When Annie passed away, her daughter Anne Gwin Vaughan was the next to inherit along with her husband Jack Chapline Vaughan. They had at least three children in this home, Anne, Thomas, (its current owner), and Gwin. Sadly, in 1945 at one year old, Gwin died in an accident that occurred at Arlington.

As recently as the 1970s, the home was still in great shape- boasting a beautiful garden of azaleas, magnolia trees, and moss-laden Live Oaks- some of which are registered with the National Live Oak Society. It still had a 300-year-old piano, art from around the world, thousands of books-many of them first editions, chandeliers, fine china, and more. In 1973, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places and in 1974, it was designated a National Historic Landmark.

Photo from the 1973 National Historic Landmarks Application.

Tragedy Strikes At Arlington

But according to accounts from locals, it had fallen into disrepair by the 1990s, after Anne & Jack Vaughan passed away. There were reportedly plans and efforts underway to repair the home but in September of 2002, the home was nearly consumed by a fire that started upstairs, reportedly from an electrical fire that started with a faulty extension cord in the attic.

Photo of the fire damage to the back of the home in 2002.

The roof was completely destroyed as well as much of the interior of the home. At the time, many of the fine furnishings, books, and art were still in the home-mostly in the attic where the fire started. There are stories that the Smithsonian intended to visit the home to acquire some of the books and art before the fire, but it isn’t clear if they ever made it.

Photo of the fire department on the front lawn of Arlington in September 2002 as they worked to extinguish the fire.

The local historical society rallied together to replace the roof to prevent further issues while something was decided. The owner, Dr. Thomas Vaughan (who lives in Jackson, MS), alleges that at this time, valuables, art, furnishing, and equipment were stolen from inside the home. This would be the start of a strained relationship between Arlington’s current owner and city & preservation professionals that continues to this day.

Upstairs bedroom missing windows and walls burnt from the fire.

Arlington Mansion In Its Prime

The condition it’s in today makes it difficult to imagine what it looked like in better days, so I gathered some photos of the home before it was abandoned.

The central hallway on the first floor of Arlington when the home was still adorned with artwork and fine furniture.

“Across the broad hallway which is hung with rare paintings by old-world masters such as Vernet, Baroccio, Carlo Dolci, and Coccanari, is the Music Room which contains a spinet more than three hundred years old. There are family portraits in this room—some of musicians in the family—by such renowned artists as Sully, Audubon, Albani, Fidanza, and Maratti. The Library holds some five thousand books.”


Arlington: A Museum For Fine Collectibles

As the years went on, many fine antiques, books, artwork, musical instruments, and furniture were passed from owner to owner, creating an irreplaceable collection that spanned the globe and many eras.

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The incredible collection that once resided in this home began with the antiques, art, furnishings, and literature of the Surget Family. They were wealthy French immigrants who acquired most of their collectibles from Europe, including a piano that was 300 years old and still here in the 1970s.

Later owners, Judge S.S. Boyd and Mrs. Annie Barnum reportedly had an incredible collection of rare books as well, many of which were first editions.

Drawing Room with chandeliers, fine carpets, mirrors, and furnishings, much of which were imported from France. Some of the images you see below are of this same room as it looks today.
Arlington’s library eventually came to house one of the most extensive collections of fine literature thanks to many first-edition books collected by the homes owners.

Arlington: Then and Now

Rearview of Arlington in the 1930s and in 2015.

You will notice that the entire rear two-story porch, including its columns, has collapsed.

Another view of the rear of Arlington and its backyard, in the 1940s or 50s and as it looked overgrown in 2015.

The front elevation of Arlington c. 1930s and 2015.

Front doorway c. 1930s and 2015.

The entry was once described as: “The great carved entrance door leading to the spacious hall is crowned with intricately wrought fanlights, and the broad veranda is approached by wide steps of concrete.”

A Palace Now in Shambles

Although the roof was replaced, most of the rest of Arlington remained in ruin with fire damage to mantels, walls, doorways, and floors. The home was open and unmonitored as well which led to vandals and thieves making their way with this home. Today, nearly all of the finishes, detail work, and any wood that could be removed has been. A home that was once decorated with the finest art from around the world is now a shell adorned with obscene graffiti and littered with trash and signs of vagrancy. The front porch railings are missing and the two-story back porch has collapsed completely. Every window and door is gone.

The owner has been taken to court on numerous occasions and levied with huge fines to do something about the home, but the allegations and distrust have been bred so deep, that Dr. Vaughan and the city seem to be doomed to an eternal gridlock. He has been charged with demolition by neglect, however, because the home is his private property, it has been difficult to compel him to act. A small victory came when arrangements were made for monthly lawn maintenance here so as not to be an eyesore to the community.

To add to the troubles, insuring Arlington is a huge hoop that any potential buyer would have to be ready to face. After all-how do you insure something that is literally irreplaceable? Alas, I’m getting way too far ahead, as he refuses to sell the home to interested buyers so only time will tell how soon we might lose her altogether.

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One of the 4 large rooms on the first floor. I believe this was the sitting parlor or maybe the library.
One of the 4 large rooms on the first floor-likely the library or sitting parlor.
Doorway openings are trimmed with radiating brick voussoirs and with keystones and impost blocks of carved marble. Each opening contains a twelve-panel, single-leaf door, two sidelights with decorative muntins, and a fanlight with radiating, swag, and oval muntins.
The view from the second-floor central hall. The exposed beams from the ceiling and surrounding the door are damaged from the 2002 fire.
2nd-floor bedroom with windows missing and graffiti. The exposed beams you see above are from the new roof that was put on after the 2002 fire. The shutters you see on the ground used to adorn the front windows.
More visible fire damage to the 2nd-floor bedrooms as a result of the 2002 fire. The damage to this particular room makes me think that the attic fire likely started above this room.
Another view of a 2nd-floor bedroom with fire damage to the wood portions of the room and vandalism to the interior hearth. I wonder how many cold evenings were warmed by this fireplace before heat and electricity were available.
2nd-floor bedroom with substantial fire damage. The exposed beams in the ceiling are from the new roof that was replaced after the fire in 2002.

Reflections on Arlington

Imagine a carriage that approaches on the long drive to the magnificent entrance of this home. Mrs. Jane White climbs from her surrey in a fine custom dress and bonnet. She pauses to admire the American palace that she now calls home. As her wide hoop skirt brushes the doorway, she steps into the grand central hall adorned with artwork and antiques that have been gathered from across the world.

As she passes through the hall she marvels at the collection and grins in gracious acknowledgment. Moments later, her first guests are announced- the time has come to open her home to showcase her standing in Southern society.

As she passes through the hall she marvels at the collection and grins in gracious acknowledgment. Moments later, her first guests are announced- the time has come to open her home to showcase her standing in Southern society.

The finest h’ors doeuvres are served, fine wines from Europe are imbibed, music fills the rooms, and the upper crust of Mississippi Plantation Society saunters from room to room, admiring the marvel that was erected here.

A great evening is had by all and at the close of the night, she bids her guests adieu and heads up the grand central staircase. She climbs into her bed and lays her head upon fine silk sheets. As she takes stock of the evenings’ success, she passes into sleep. Mrs. White would never wake up.

These are the actual stairs she climbed to head to bed that last night.

This narrative, while slightly embellished, is the generally-accepted account of Mrs. White’s last night in Arlington and her last night on this earth. I think of this story often and of that night in her home.

I recall the bedrooms I stood in and know that one of them was the room. How bizarre that almost 200 years later, her home still stands here, and here I find myself, pondering her life in the very room she took her last breath.

In many ways, it feels intrusive to be in such a heavy place, but on the other hand, the story is important and deserves to be brought to light. I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I did.

Arlington in the News

Read more about Arlington

Arlington’s Floor Plans

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  1. Truly enjoyed this article on Arlington. I live in Alexandria, LA and visit Natchez area alot. I love the history of this home. Great job on the history and pictures.

  2. Honest to God shame the actual owner won’t fix this Grand Lady! He should fix it up or give it to the register of historic places and let them fix it up! Would be a wonderful museum!

  3. That such a beautiful and historic home was allowed to crumble is a tragedy and a terrible loss to the community and history.

  4. My husband and I visited Natchez often between 1975 and 2010. We hoped to settle there and were looking for historic property. We visited with Annie Guin Vaughn several times, hoping to get further than the entrance hall – but to no avail. In 2002 my husband called me, sobbing, – when I calmed him down, he told me Arlington had burned. We felt we had lost an old friend.

  5. So lucky to have the photos and the plans for this house. If the owner ever gets over himself and realizes this is precious history; one could but this and try to restore to it’s grandeur with modern amenities. It will take a lot of money, but could be beautiful and truly honor this house and it’s history!

  6. What a tragic fate. I never understand why people who do not care end up with such incredible treasures in their care. I’d have given anything to be entrusted with her fate, happily documenting and recording each and every artifact in that grand home. It’s the kind of thing you make a life project. And yet it was bestowed into the wrong hands. Allowing it to fall into such disrepair and loss should be criminal. I’m absolutely heartbroken reading about this grand estate. Thank you for sharing… I only wish somehow we had known much sooner so this wonderful treasure would have stood a chance at preservation.

  7. Kelli, I loved the article on Arlington, but it breaks my heart to think of the history that will be lost if this home is not restored. Seeing the graffiti just makes me furious. Those incredible fan lights, the detail, the symmetry, all of it is incredible. The fire destroyed so much and the money to restore this wonderful landmark will be a huge amount. I hope the owner and the city can co.e to terms. I am sure the owner is not young and he may think so little of the home that he will ignore it and continue its neglect. A landmark lost forever. It seems a crime.

  8. Arlington House
    As an archivist the history of the Arlington and its artifacts would be a great collection to document. Even if the Arlington could be preserved in a data base of only a collection of documents, accounts, oral interviews, and images. Bringing together this scattered collection would be a challenge but would at least preserve the memories electronically within a museum data base. A task I would enjoy.
    As a person the history of the Arlington is a tragedy.

  9. As an old house lover since childhood, and, having seen Arlington when it was beautiful, this breaks my heart. The loss, the loss is incredible and so typical of preservation in America. I cried after reading this but thank you for posting it, though bittersweet. Goodbye, beautiful lady.

  10. This old home holds a spirit that needs saving… so many lives embedded in the substance of her walls! Time and elements are not kind to brick and mortar. It takes loving hands and a willful heart to determine her fate. So many who are willing to gently take her into their hands and carry her forward. I only hope that my plea lands into the hands of the owner…. If of no interest to you, please let those who would lovingly care for this sanctuary that once held its inhabitants and their stories within its walls, save her dignity and her legacy!

  11. update? Has anything changed? Are efforts still underway to stabilize and restore this Grand Dame?

  12. It is heartbreaking to read the history of this beautiful home and see the pictures. It hurts to see how damaged it is and all the thief done to it. The owner is selfish to just let it die a slow death.

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