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 private owner and the city where it sits, the future of this historic treasure is very much in jeopardy.
Arlington: the belle of natchez
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(18xx), and the subsequent growth of the Southern cotton industry. In fact, by 1860 Natchez had more millionaires per capita than New York City.
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 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 be started by Lewis Evans and then perhaps expanded and improved upon later.
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 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 are both buried in Adams County and had no children. 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 sometime before coming under the ownership of Mrs. L.S. Gillette from 1917-1924.
Sometime 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 from an accident that occurred at Arlington.
During the ownership of L.S. Gillette from 1917-1924, bathrooms were added on the landings of the stair and on the rear gallery
A long drive would’ve approached this home from the East elevation
There were numerous outbuildings and likely slave homes- although none are still within the property lines
Arlington Then and Now
Rearview of Arlington c. 1930s and in 2015. you will notice that the entire rear two-story porch, including its columns, have collapsed.
Another view of the rear of Arlington and its backyard, circa 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.”
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 art work 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 acknowledgement. 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 d’oeuvers 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 nights close, 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.