In 1934, the Natchez Garden Club voted to purchase a dilapidated building on Ellicott’s Hill overlooking the Mississippi River in downtown Natchez and to restore it as headquarters of the club. This was the first restoration project in Natchez.
The house, research revealed, was built about 1798 as a home by James Moore, a prominent Natchez merchant. During the Spanish administration, only people of importance such as doctors and wealthy merchants were granted lots fronting on Canal Street, at that time the “front” street of the new town. This is the last remaining 18th-century merchant’s house on Canal Street and the oldest building exhibiting high-style architectural details such as fanlights in Natchez.
211 N. Canal St.
Friday – Sunday: 10 a.m. to 5p.m.
Tours begin at the top of the hour.
The hill on which James Moore built his home played a vital part in local history. In 1797, George Washington appointed Andrew Ellicott, a noted mathematician and surveyor, to ascertain and mark the position of Parallel 31, which divided U.S. possessions from those of Spain following the Treaty of San Lorenzo de Real, signed in October 1796.
When Ellicott arrived in Natchez on Feb. 24, 1797, he set up camp near the site chosen by James Moore for his house, raising the American flag over the Mississippi Territory for the first time and describing the event in his journal, published in 1814. The U.S. Flag of 1797 flown on Ellicott’s Hill today commemorates this encampment in defiance of the Spanish government, which refused to withdraw its garrison from Natchez until March 30, 1798.
James Moore’s family increased in numbers beyond the capacity of this house, and they moved to a plantation near Washington, Miss. The house was rented for several years. Among the noteworthy tenants were Samuel Brooks, who was later mayor of Natchez, and Dr. Frederick Seip of Philadelphia, a founder of the Natchez Hospital, to whom Moore sold the property in 1816.
Dr. Seip died in 1819. His wife and son continued to occupy the house until 1825, when it was sold. Inventories of the furnishings were taken when Dr. Seip died and again when Mrs. Seip sold the house and contents. The new owner rented the property to tenants, including another doctor, William L. Jones, in the late 1840s. In 1850, the house was sold and became Natchez High School, a school for boys that closed in 1878.
When the Natchez Garden Club purchased the house, it had for many years been used as tenant housing for the workers in local cotton mills. The house had fallen into disrepair, but the group hired New Orleans architect Richard Koch, who helped them restore the building to the architectural gem it was at its beginning.
Fortunately, the two inventories of Dr. Seip’s furnishings survive, one taken at the time of his death in 1819, and one at the time his widow sold the house in 1825. There is also an extant inventory of James Moore’s furnishings as of 1829. It is on the basis of these three Federal-period inventories that the club has furnished the house.
The house is considered to be West Indian in style with a plan common to many Spanish colonial structures: a large central room or salon, a narrow rear room or loggia and smaller chambers on each end.
This plan is repeated on both levels of the house. The structure consists of a brick first floor and frame second floor, fitted into the steep hill.
The timbers are hand-sawn. James Moore also included hand-carved mantels and cornice moldings, fanlights over front and rear French doors and several vaulted or curved ceilings on the second floor.
Some of the curved timers in these ceilings appear to have been re-used, and may have come from dismantled sailing vessels and flatboats, a common practice among early builders in Natchez. Other interesting features include three bridges across the English basement at the back of the house and a metal ship’ lantern-dome inset into the drawing room ceiling.
The restoration has made use of documented 18th-century paint colors throughout the second floor, which was the formal family quarters.
The ground-floor rooms had simple white lime-washed brick walls. The large central room was probably used as Moore’s display room, with the smaller rooms for offices and other business purposes. These spaces would have served Dr. Seip as medical offices, including a surgery and dispensary. Dr. Seip may have prepared his prescriptions in the room presently shown as a “summer” or “preparation” kitchen.