Magnolia Hall, the beautiful mansion at 215 S. Pearl St., was built in 1858 by Thomas Henderson, a wealthy planter, merchant and cotton broker. Henderson was a 60-year-old widower when he built his new mansion on the site of his family home, Pleasant Hill. He moved the old house by having it rolled on logs to its present site a block away.
Located at 215 South Pearl St.
Friday -Sunday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Tours begin at the top of the hour.
Magnolia Hall is the last grand Natchez house built before the Civil War. It is one of the finest examples of the Greek Revival style in Natchez. The house features a hooded doorway and a well-proportioned portico with massive Ionic columns. The upper deck of the portico is enclosed with wrought-iron banisters. Henderson had his new brick house stuccoed, painted brown and scored to imitate the brownstone so popular in the northeast at the time. The lower floor of the main structure contains six rooms, including a library, double drawing rooms, a banquet hall, a private sitting room and a bedroom. The wide hall is lofty and has a mahogany-railed stair leading to the upper floor, where there are six more large rooms. Magnolia Hall derives its name from the plaster arabesques of magnolia leaves and blossoms that adorn its ceilings.
In 1853 Thomas Henderson had been elected vice president of the American Colonization Society, an organization formed to free slaves and return them to Africa. When war broke out, Thomas’ two sons fought for the Confederacy. One was wounded, the other taken prisoner. During the Civil War, Magnolia Hall was damaged by the Union gunboat Essex, which bombarded the town from the Mississippi River several blocks west. A shell from the boat struck the service wing of the house. The damage was slight, and no one was injured.
The Hendersons were a prominent pioneer family. Thomas Henderson’s father, John, had left his native Scotland in 1770. He owned numerous plantations in Natchez, wrote the first book published in the Natchez Territory and helped found the Presbyterian Church in Natchez in 1807.
Thomas Henderson died at Magnolia Hall before the war ended. Shortly thereafter the house was sold to the Britton family, who occupied it for many years. Fortunately an inventory of the furnishings of the Henderson family had been made to settle Thomas’ estate, giving later owners an exact idea of what it contained. In later years the house became a rooming house and a private Episcopal school. During the school years all original partition walls were removed, all but two of the original mantelpieces were sold, the ceilings were lowered, the original chandeliers were sold and the home became institutional in character. In 1976 the house was deeded as a gift to the Preservation Society of Ellicott Hill, the preservation arm of the Natchez Garden Club, by Mrs. George Armstrong of Fort Worth, Texas, and Woodstock Plantation in Adams County.
During the years following its acquisition, the Natchez Garden Club completed a restoration of the house under the direction of New Orleans architectural firm Koch and Wilson and of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Magnolia Hall is owned and maintained by the Natchez Garden Club, which in the 1930s began a movement to restore, preserve and promote the historic homes of Natchez. The club has acquired many of the original Henderson furnishings and artifacts. The mansion houses a museum featuring costumes reminiscent of the antebellum period, displays of historical importance, a collection of dolls and a gift shop. It is the site of luncheons and candlelight dinners served by the Natchez Garden Club members for tour groups the year around.