The Windsor Ruins
Port Gibson, Mississippi
The columns of the Windsor Ruins stand among the trees along the Mississippi River like a misplaced Parthenon. Of course, when the columns were built they were much more visible; the trees were not there; the land was mostly cotton fields.
The columns supported the roof of the plantation mansion of Smith Coffee Daniell II, a millionaire who owned thousands of acres and hundreds of slaves. He had barely unpacked in his newly-built home -- the biggest in Mississippi -- when he died from a mosquito bite (Yellow Fever or Malaria). The date was April 12, 1861, which also happened to be the first day of the Civil War.
The Windsor Ruins, however, did not become ruins at the hands of evil Yankees. Despite its current fame as a photo-op for the lost grandeur of the antebellum South, the house survived the war unscathed. It stood as the Daniell family home for another quarter-century, until a careless houseguest dropped a lit cigar on February 17, 1890. The house burned to the ground, leaving behind only the columns -- and the mosquitoes.
The Windsor Ruins today stand just a few hundred feet off a quiet county blacktop, surprisingly easy to visit. Routine groundskeeping (the Ruins are maintained by the state) keep the 45-foot-tall columns free of sprouting trees, and the grass is mowed where the house used to be. The latticework connecting the tops of some of the columns are not a modern attempt at stabilization, but the remains of the iron railing that encircled the home's upper veranda. Everything else is gone, either burned up, looted, or sold for scrap during the Great Depression by Daniell's great-grandchildren. Kudos to the anonymous slaves who actually built the columns, which have somehow stood, ramrod straight, all these years.
The Windsor Ruins have a long history as an attraction. Postcards of it go back a century. Hollywood has stopped by, filming moody scenes for movies such as Ghosts of Mississippi. People pose for their wedding pictures here, although the setting seems a little off-message. Ghost-hunters frequent the site, which has its own ghost, a Union soldier killed in the mansion, who has been seen by tourists in broad daylight (The Ruins are gated at night).
The columns are encircled by a flimsy one-strand fence and a lot of warning signs, which were happily ignored by everyone we saw during our visit. Reckless of the consequences, visitors stand next to the columns for a snapshots -- forgetting that this house is an attraction because it's been very unlucky. If you get conked by a falling brick, you'll have no one to blame but yourself -- yet another casualty of the Windsor Ruins.