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A National Historic Landmark:
The House on Ellicott Hill

Built Between 1797-1801; Restored 1934.

“The American Story of Natchez Begins Here”

In 1797, Major Andrew Ellicott of the United States of America marched to the highest ridge in the young town of Natchez, set up camp, and raised the first American Flag claiming Natchez and all former Spanish lands east of the Mississippi above the 31st parallel for the United States. The Spanish authorities watched the activity from their garrison at Fort Rosalie on the bluff south of town.

 
 
Click for larger view

Today, the United States Flag of 1797 – boasting only 15 stars – waves atop Ellicott Hill commemorating Major Ellicott’s act in defiance of Spain.

When the House itself was built (1797-1801), Natchez’ famous public green or Spanish Promenade began practically at its doorstep.

In the 1790s, the Spanish town-plan for Natchez required that only wealthy merchants and professionals receive the coveted lots on the "front" street (Canal Street) of the young town. Today’s Broadway Street did not exist.

Not only was this West Indies style house the second most valuable residence in town, the view from its galleries was exquisite: the rolling green of the park, the daring drop of the bluff, the roaring river, the endless untamed west, and the glorious sunsets.

Today, the House on Ellicott’s Hill is the last remaining 18th-century merchant's house on Canal Street.

Background:

 
After restoration: click for larger view
 

During the Spanish era the United States became increasingly interested in the Natchez region. Spain controlled the Mississippi River and the port of New Orleans. Americans needed access to both. After exerting due pressure on the Spanish regime in Madrid, the United States won its prize. By treaty in 1795, Spain agreed to withdraw above the 31st parallel and to allow the United States access to the river. Natchez was now officially part of the United States.

Since the treaty was signed in 1795, why did the Spaniards remain in Natchez until 1798?

The Spaniards tarried, probably hoping that some stroke of luck, such as the collapse of the American government, would allow them to retain possession of Natchez. But the outward excuse for their delay was a question as to where the thirty-first parallel actually was.

 
 
Click for larger view
 

In 1797, Major Andrew Ellicott arrived in Natchez, assigned by President George Washington, to survey the 31st parallel and to settle the question of the boundary between Spanish West Florida and the United States once and for all

Ellicott set up his camp on this ridge, raising the American flag for the first time over the Mississippi Territory and describing the event in his journal. The United States Flag of 1797 flown on Ellicott Hill today marks this act in defiance of Spain.

Not until March 30, 1798, did the Spanish governor Manuel Gayoso de Lemos relinquish control of his beloved Natchez and withdraw his troops from Fort Rosalie.

On April 7, 1798, one week after the Spaniards withdrew completely, the United States Congress officially created the Mississippi Territory. Natchez was the capital and Winthrop Sargent was named governor.

(Sources: The Complete Natchez, Classic Natchez, and Elizabeth Boggess)

History:

 
Before restoration: click for larger view
 
 

James Moore, a prominent Natchez merchant planter, built the House on Ellicott Hill between 1797 and 1801. The Spanish town-plan required that only wealthy merchants and professionals receive 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 Federal architectural details such as vaulted
ceilings and fanlights in Natchez. In 1807, it was exceeded in taxable value only by Texada, the first all-brick town house constructed in Natchez.

Moore acquired this lot from the mother-in-law of Governor Manuel Gayoso de Lemos in September, 1797. She had received it during her daughter's betrothal negotiations in January 1795. James Moore married in September, 1799, and his family rapidly increased in numbers. His wife preferred to reside at their plantation on the Liberty Road, now known as Oakland.

 
Before restoration: click for larger view
 
 

Samuel Brooks, member of the distinguished New England family of that name and cousin of President John Adams, rented the House on Ellicott Hill from February 1801, until 1807 or 1808. Brooks was appointed the first mayor of Natchez in November 1803. He died in 1817 while serving as the first State Treasurer. After the Brooks family purchased their own home, James Moore rented the property to Dr. Frederic Seip, one of several graduates of the Medical College of Philadelphia who had come to Natchez about 1803. Seip purchased the house from Moore in 1816. Although the doctor died in 1819,
his wife and son lived here until 1825, when the house was sold. There are extant inventories of Federal-period furniture belonging to Moore, Brooks and Seip. The present furnishings are based on these inventories.

Orlando Lane, who bought the house in 1825, was a real-estate speculator who rented the property to a variety of tenants. One short-term occupant may have operated a coffeehouse for patrons of a nearby hotel. Another was Dr. William Jones, in the late 1840's. In 1850 the house was sold to a group of five prominent Presbyterians (including the owner of Magnolia Hall, which is also owned by the Preservation Society of Ellicott Hill) who established the private Natchez High School for Boys on the premises. This boarding school survived until 1878, when it became housing for workers at the adjacent
cotton mills. When the mills were abandoned in the 1920's, the house stood empty until 1934.

Restoration:
The House on Ellicott Hill was the first restoration of a historic property by a civic organization in the State of Mississippi.

 
Before restoration: click for larger view
 

The Natchez Garden Club purchased the House of Ellicott Hill on August 13, 1934 for $2,000. Most recently, the building had been used as tenant housing for cotton mill workers. The structure was in deplorable condition. The club members persuaded a prominent New Orleans architect, Mr. Richard Koch, of the New Orleans architectural firm Armstrong and Koch (later Koch and Wilson) to oversee the restoration of the building for the grand total of $150 plus his traveling expenses. The work began in 1935 and was completed in 1937.

Roane Fleming Byrne, who was the chairman of the restoration committee, carried on a lively correspondence with Mr. Koch during the process. At last, on January 27, 1937 she wrote:

“Dear Mr. Koch: Ellicott’s Hill has passed through troubles and excitements too numerous to enumerate here but we have managed to weather the various storms and expect to open the place with ceremonies and celebrations during the garden club’s pilgrimage of March 28 – April 4, 1937. The house and the hill are attracting a great deal of interest wherever they are advertised, especially among artists, writers, etc. Stark Young seems really crazy about the place and has given us some very interesting relics.”

 
After restoration: click for larger view
 

The Preservation Society of Ellicott Hill acquired the property when the garden club's charter was revised in 1976, and has recently completed (September, 2006) a three-year
project to rehabilitate the exterior and interior of the building, under the direction of Robert G. Cangelosi AIA, Principal in the Koch and Wilson firm.

rev. 3/26/2007

Architecture:
The House on Ellicott Hill exterior and floor plan are considered to be "West Indian," as exemplified by the high-pitched roof over the center part of the house and the exterior galleries along the west (river) front. The ground floor is brick, and the upper story is post-on-sill timber framed.

The general floor-plan, consisting of a larger, central "great room" or salon flanked by narrower chambers, with three narrow rooms (loggia and cabinets) of the same long dimension across the back, is found in many houses of the Lower Mississippi Valley in one adaptation or another. At the House on Ellicott Hill, however, this plan is carried out in a distinctively formal manner reminiscent of official residences in Spanish colonies such as Santo Domingo and Mexico.

The second floor interior is the most fully developed example of the Federal decorative style remaining in the Natchez region. The Federal style is characterized by elaborate moldings deriving from Classical Greco-Roman prototypes (as understood by 18th century Europeans and Americans), by the use of fanlights over doorways, and particularly by the use of vaulted and domed ceilings which emphasized the "republican" nature of the new country by the direct allusion to Roman building elements.

 
 
Click for larger view

Mathematically precise vaulted and semi-vaulted ceilings are found in all the rooms on the main floor except the Great Room. The pre-existing roof structure above the Great Room was such that the ceiling could not be recessed or vaulted, hence the insertion of the metal ship's dome in which the chandelier hangs. This dome was the largest size that could be made to fit in the available space, and has always been painted to look like plaster. The latest restoration makes use of documented paint colors throughout the second floor, which was the formal family quarters.

 
 
Click for larger view

Three bridges cross the English Basement, which provided light and access to the ground floor, which has served a variety of purposes. Moore may have intended to use the space as an adjunct to his mercantile business, but may never have actually done so because of his marriage. Mayor Brooks probably conducted political and administrative business in the central ground floor room. Dr. Seip used the rooms in various ways appropriate to his medical practice. The basement is lime washed, a technique believed to have sterilizing properties and therefore appropriate for a doctor's office.

The principal kitchen was outside to the north, and has long since disappeared.

It is important to understand that houses of this type made a significant statement about the wealth and particularly about the status of the people who lived in them. That a "frontier" town in the "new" Mississippi Territory (established in 1798) could offer a property of this distinction and sophistication by 1799, or even by 1801, is truly remarkable. It is not surprising, therefore, that President Adams' cousins, the Samuel Brooks family, would take up their residence here in February 1801.

Although the house was once identified as Connelly's Tavern, that business was actually located one block further east.