“Melrose,” Natchez

Melrose, Natchez – (1847) (National Historic Landmark). Probably the most intact antebellum plantation/housing complex remaining in Mississippi. The eighty-acre Melrose estate contains the main house (Melrose), kitchen, dairy, octagonal cistern houses, smoke house, privy, carriage house, barn, and the last remaining slave quarters in Natchez. Maryland-born builder/architect Jacob Byers designed and constructed Melrose, the only building that can be definitively attributed to Byers. Mills Lane gives a good description of Melrose in Architecture of the Old South: Mississippi-Alabama, “Melrose’s unusual plan is arranged around an interior central hall, which still retains its original painted floorcloth. The stair is set in a lateral passage, a practice often favored in the large mansions of Natchez. [Interior] Doorways are framed by engaged Ionic columns.” Also, Melrose possesses an unusually large widow’s walk, as well as beautiful plaster ceiling medallions, solid pocket doors, and sunburst-type woodwork above many interior doorways.

Melrose, front parlor

4 replies

  1. I would like to contact and correspond with the curator for Melrose. I was there when John Callon owned the house. I sold him a number of pieces of furniture for the house. At that time, I recall, a number of pieces of furniture had allegedly been made by Charles H. White, or CH & JF White for the house. I am now finishing extensive research on CH White which I started in 1973 (that is not a typo). Are there account books, bills of sale, coastwise cargo manifests, correspondence or ledgers attesting to the purchases from CH, or CH & JF White?

    Please forward this email to the appropriate individual at your earliest convenience. Thank you very much.

    Anthony

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  2. Hi Anthony

    I am the interior designer who directed the restoration of Melrose for Betty and John Callon. As you probably know, Melrose is now a National Historical Trust property; and as such belongs, I believe, to the US Park Service.

    I have not been in Melrose since the Park Service took over the property. However in 1976-79, as a part of my determination to document the property before we introduced the 20th century, I hired a man who was architect for the National Park Service and who oversaw all US historical properties when repairs were made, etc. to assure that they are maintained as period. He also consulted on private properties. In the middle of the summer, he flew into Natchez and logged the details of the house before we “decorated” it.

    It was hot as hinges; but, we started in the attic at 6AM (to try to beat the heat). I followed him for two days with a hand held microphone. John, then had the recordings transcribed. I have no idea where these transcriptions are now, but there is a very, very detailed description of the physical properties of the house as it was when the Callons purchased it.

    In a similar manner, I hired a 19th consultant from Winterthur and we put in another two days documenting the lighting fixtures and furnishings. To your question about a Charles White piece, it is the c.1835-40 sideboard in the big dining room to the left of the front door as you enter the house. The Winterthur expert and others had attributed it to Anthony Querville, but I during a discussion with them about the piece, I opened the center top drawer and there was a label “Charles White” I don’t remember the middle initial. The label had been varnished over and was barely visible. I took it out on the front porch in the strong sun and there it was “Charles ?? White, Phildelphia”. The expert from Winterthur was thrilled as it seems they have a sister piece at Winterthur which they had always presumed to be Querville. He went rushing back to Delaware to re-evaluate and possibly change the attribution.

    There are many, many such discoveries from our examination of the house before our updating. Just a few follow:

    The front parlor chandler is a labeled Philadelphia fixture ( with research I could remember by whom)
    Betty, John and I bought (on a very snowy day) the pair of mirrored console tables in the entrance from a
    Philly antiques dealer. I don’t think they are labelled, but we bought them as Querville.

    The attic is an absolute treasure trove. It is filled with cases of Baccarat glass lamp shades and other wooden crates filled with necessaries to run a grand home. The basement housed the original planes and other woodworking tools used to create the molding for the construction. One of the out buildings had all of the tools and implements used to run the property. The Henry Ford Museum tried to buy them from John without success.

    About that………Betty and John bought the property from Marian Ferry. She was the descendant of the second family who owned the property. It was my understanding from the Callons that she was very focused on maintaining the property as a whole rather that selling it off piece by piece. I did some work for her also and she was a very reflective and bright woman.

    I had hand made rugs made for the front parlor, music room (same pattern) Library, Dining room and one of the up stairs bedrooms. If you don’t know Mimi and Ron Miller, you really should. He is a Natchez historian of enormous knowledge. The day I was presenting a carpet design to Betty and John for the front parlor and music room ( they open into each other) Ron called me and asked if we had made a final decision for the Melrose carpets. I had and was presenting my designs with color palette to Betty and John that night. Ron said that he had found a remnant of a 19th century carpet at Arlington, another amazing Natchez mansion. He asked if we would consider it as it was known to be a local, mid-19th century choice. He brought it over to Melrose and we threw my proposed design and the Arlington remnant out on the floor…………they were almost identical in design. I was blown away and very gratified that “wow!!!!I had gotten it just right”

    A thousand words later, you must know that this was an amazing and very special project for me. It is so, so rare to have a client who has the vision and finances to do a restoration correctly.

    I loved every minute of it.

    Please let me hear from you if you think I might shed any additional light on your work.

    Best regards,

    Linda Allen
    3321 Old Quarter Drive
    Baton Rouge, LA 70809
    917-566-9236
    linda.allen19@att.net

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    • https://polldaddy.com/js/rating/rating.jsAttention: Linda Allen
      Hi Linda,
      The years I knew John and Betty Callon were quite a while ago and I never expected to get a response to my last inquiry on Charles H White in 2014. So many inquiries over the years, so few responses. Still at it and still not getting responses from eccentric southern relatives. Thank you for your note.
      I have been researching Charles H White since 1973 when I first discovered a labeled piece of his and the Philadlephia Museum of Art bough another labeled piece in London that year. I quickly found out through extensive research that he was one of the most prominent and sophisticated cabinetmakers in Philadelphia from at least 1824, when he started exhibiting at the yearly Franklin Institute exhibitions, if not earlier. He won more awards than any other cabinetmaker at the Franklin Institute exhibitions. His best work is superior to anything made in Philadelphia for the next 15 years. He was wealthy, owned a lot of real estate and had a large southern = mostly unknown – clientele.
      I knew many then-living family members/relatives in the 1970’s/1980’s. I have felt strongly since the time I was selling John Callon various pieces for Melrose that Charles H White made a lot of the furnishings found there. Happy to hear that at least one piece is documentable. I had hoped that some Mss material might have survived, or, some researcher on coastwise cargo manifests might have turned up something over the years regarding his sales/shipping to Melrose, but, nothing.
      Are you still doing restorations? I am always looking for new clients interested in doing restorations or furnishing with the finest Philadelphia and Boston furniture dating 1815-1845. My business is now small and mostly with museums and occasional major collectors interested in stellar pieces.
      Are you aware of any other furniture by C H White, or, C H & J F White? Any information or suggestions of possible contacts would be greatly appreciated.
      Thank you again for contacting me. I look forward to hearing from you in the event you might recall something or that anything of interest regarding C H White, or, C H & J F White might come to your attention.
      Best regards,
      Anthony
      >

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      • Hi Anthony

        I just saw your February 18 reply. Sorry to be so slow on the uptake. After the restoration of Melrose, I move to California and ultimately ended up in the commercial textile manufacturing business in NYC and Quebec Canada. Quiet an aesthetic swing but extremely interesting another ways.

        Now, I am back in the south living in Baton Rouge, LA ………only 80+/- miles from Natchez.
        I would love to be doing restorations again, but have been out of that loop for quite awhile and am really not in the right location for that sort of work.

        We may have met while I was on a buying trip with Betty and John. They bought a pair of wonderful console tables with massive scroll legs and mirrored backs on one trip. It was a snowy, snowy day. It seems the shop was out in the country, or maybe it just looked like the country because of the snow…..is that you?? I do remember the owner had some lovely pieces.

        As you may be aware, Betty and John sold Melrose sold fully furnished to the US Park service. AS I understand the purpose, it was intended to serve as the ending point for the Natchez Trace Parkway. I don’t know that the trace has ever been extended into Natchez.

        The Park Service did some redecorating. I have not seen the results.

        Certainly you and I were very lucky to have taken part in such an interesting project. While it is lovely for the house to be open to the public on a daily basis, it was grand to see it used as it was intended. Betty and John were the quintessential hosts. They had grand parties with lovely floral arrangements, wonderful southern food (Betty was and excellent cook) and always an unusual mix of people from the locals to friends met in their travels and business associates.

        The Callons passed away some time ago. I understand Natchez is quieter that it was as several schools and industries have closed.

        So good to remember that period. I applaud your work on White. It is so important to preserve and understand our past.

        Best regards,

        Linda Allen

        PS: I have been making jewelry in the last 10 years. My website is:
        http://www.lindaallenjewelry.com

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