Ghosts in the Woods: Mississippi’s Windsor Ruins

Tiny moon amid destruction at Windsor Ruins near Port Gibson Mississippi

See the tiny moon? Soaring columns are all that is left at the Windsor Ruins near Port Gibson, Mississippi.

(Note: Check with the Mississippi Dept of Archives and History to make sure the Ruins are open before you drive out there. COVID19 precautions are in effect.) 

After driving about 10 miles on curvy Rodney Road southwest of Port Gibson, Mississippi, you’ll see the 45-foot-tall columns rising up in a clearing in the woods… the 23 of them that survive.

The huge former home of cotton planter Smith Coffee Daniell II was built in 1861. It did survive the Civil War, but an accidental fire on February 17, 1890 left only these columns. Ironically, Daniell himself barely lived in the place – he died a few weeks after construction was completed.

The only reason we have any idea of what it used to look like is because a soldier in General Grant’s Union Army sketched it out in 1863, presumably at some point during the siege of nearby Vicksburg. That sketch wasn’t even found until 1991. All the other drawings and construction details were lost in the 1890 fire.

Drawing of how the Windsor Ruins Mississippi home used to look from placard at the site

Drawing of how the home used to look, from a placard at the site.

The house had 23 rooms, plus big rainwater tanks in the attic that supplied two bathrooms. It is not directly on the Mississippi River (it would have been foolish to build too close to a big river that floods) but you could see the river from the cupola atop the building.

The architectural details that are left hint of the craftsmanship throughout the house, built at least in part by enslaved persons.

I zoomed in a little on the top of one of the columns, as the setting sun shone on its curlicues…

Corinthian column detail at Windsor Ruins in Mississippi

Column detail at the Windsor Ruins. These cast iron capitals were made in St. Louis, Missouri and shipped down the Mississippi River to the plantation’s construction site. They are a composite of 36 individual pieces, either riveted or screwed together and into place. Learn more details like that on the Windsor Ruins Facebook Page.

The Mississippi Department of Archives and History is working to save what’s left at the Ruins, so they’ve fenced it in to protect visitors from debris; about three feet of masonry falls off/disintegrates each year.

There is a stabilization project in the works, but meantime, you’ll have to admire from afar.

Windsor Ruins Mississippi showing exterior fencing

A person and a car to give a sense of scale at the Ruins.

This was my second sunset trip to the Windsor Ruins. The first was at the height of a hot, sticky Mississippi summer about 15 years ago, and I’ll never forget being dive-bombed by mosquitoes as I jumped out of our family van at dusk to take a photo. Everyone else had enough sense to stay inside the vehicle and listen to bugs bounce off of closed windows while the A/C ran.

A March visit was cooler and MUCH more pleasant.

Here’s how my cyclist friends at The Path Less Pedaled experienced it:

It is quiet out there in the woods, and hardly any other cars go by on small two-lane Rodney Road. The site is normally open seven days a week, dawn to dusk. Crank up the MS Blues Trail Spotify playlist as you drive (or bike) there, for the full moss-draped Mississippi experience.

(All photos by the author)

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