Windsor was situated on a 2,600 acre plantation, the home of a planter with the unlikely name of Smith Coffee Daniell, II. The four-story mansion featured massive columns with iron Corinthian capitals, ornate wrought-iron balustrades, and a rooftop cupola. Construction took over two years to complete at a then-handsome sum of $175,000.
Unfortunately, Daniell lived only a few weeks after the house was completed in 1861, and ownership passed to his heirs. During the Civil War, both Confederate and Union troops used the cupola as an observation post, and the house served as a Union hospital following the 1863 Battle of Port Gibson. After the war Mark Twain also used the cupola to observe the nearby Mississippi River, and his description of Windsor appears in his memoir Life on the Mississippi.
On February 17, 1890, fire – allegedly started by a party guest’s cigar – destroyed the home, leaving only 23 columns, the grand staircase and other wrought-iron adornments. The staircase was eventually removed from the ruins and installed at Oakland Memorial Chapel on the campus of nearby Alcorn State University, where it still obliges footsteps today.
Windsor Ruins have been featured in several films, most notably 1957’s Raintree County, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift. The family retained possession until 1974, when they turned the property over to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, which in 1985 gave it landmark status. For decades no one was sure what the original home looked like – visitors could only guess. But in 1990 an amazing image was discovered in the State Archives of Ohio (of all places), in the notebook of a Union officer who had sketched it contemporaneously in 1863. This is the only known image of the house before it was destroyed, showing us just how elegant and imposing a home it was.
Know Before You Go
From Port Gibson, follow Rodney Road about 10 and a half miles west. Sign for entrance to Windsor Ruins will be on your left. Please stay outside of the fence, this is a ruin and is not stable.