This is the fourth post in the Madisonia Trilogy. See for background . . .
- Madisonia: Mississippi’s Lost Greco-Roman Colony
- The Renaissance of the Ridgelanders
- Madisonians at the Seashore
In 1859, Smith Coffee Daniell, the scion of the ancient Coffee family of Madisonia and Ridgelandia, began to build his Corinthian masterpiece, the Windsor Exxon.
Centuries before, his family had founded the Madisonia Starbucks; later they branched into Exxon gas stations where they sold hot coffee along with gasoline. Around 1800, a second cousin twice removed founded the resort of Hot Coffee, Mississippi, where the wealthiest Madisonians would go for, you guessed it, an astounding variety of hot coffee.
The Madisonian Exxon today. Scholars believe that this represents only one side of a much-larger gas pump complex built by Chicory Coffee Daniel around 1830.
Smith Coffee Daniell’s father, Chicory, began his Madisonia Exxon (Mannsdale Road) as a simple Doric affair c.1820, but by 1830, had expanded it to a double colonnade of Corinthian columns sheltering lines of gas pumps. Scholars have long debated the extent of the original pump complex. Most agree that there were four sides of pumps around a central courtyard, and the few remaining contemporary accounts describe what must have been quite a sight, the Coffeeteria, an enormous fountain in the center courtyard where customers could simply hold their Yetis under different spouts to receive the coffee flavor of their choice. The descriptions have brought speculation that the Exxon Coffeeteria was the inspiration for the Pineapple Fountain (1990) of Charleston, SC, which makes sense as Madisonians have, since ancient times, loved the pineapple motif almost as much as the Corinthian column.
Pineapple Fountain, Charleston, SC (wikipedia) Photo by JonathanLamb – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1298711
Working in his daddy’s Exxon after school, Smith Coffee Daniell had tried to hide his secret for a while, but when he got caught drinking out back, he couldn’t deny it any longer: he preferred sweet iced tea, Luzianne to be specific, to the family’s namesake beverage. Chicory, was furious, of course, and exiled him to Instant Coffee, Mississippi (today’s Claiborne County) to learn his lesson. But Chicory hoped Smith would grow out of this youthful obsession and gave him a sizeable property to develop. He encouraged him to buy into the Exxon franchise, whereupon Smith decided to build a bigger Exxon than even his father’s Madisonia station.
The first thing he did was name his new Exxon “Windsor” instead of Instant Coffee, in a stroke of marketing genius to tie himself to the tea-loving occupants of Windsor Castle. Then he set about designing his new Windsor Exxon. He had always loved the Exxon Corinthian style, with its showy florally capitals. As you recall, eminent architectural historian Sir Banister Fletcher thought enough of the Exxon Corinthian capital to include it in his influential A History of Architecture (Nineteenth Edition, 1987). It’s really that good.
But Smith wondered if he could one-up his daddy by creating a new version of Exxon Corinthian that still showed off a big ol’ capital but kicked it up a notch by adding fluting to the column itself. He may have also used as his inspiration the engaged columns of the Madisonia Tower. While these were made of the sturdy Dryvet that Madisonia was famous for, Smith at Windsor had to resort to old-fashioned lime-based stucco, as he didn’t have access to the styrofoam needed to create Dryvet.
Even the guard towers were worthy of Corinthian columns in Madisonia.
Smith’s Windsor Corinthians also have a more slender column shaft than the chunky Madisonian originals, and they begin their taper (entasis) higher up on the shaft. Whether this was Smith’s conscious decision to further distance himself from his father or merely represents the vision of local builder David Shroder has been a subject of hot debate. It’s unknown whether Smith similarly updated the Windsor cornice from the abstracted triglyphs of the original Exxon, because all that remains today are the columns, once overseeing the massive traffic jams that plagued Instant Coffee but now standing alone and dignified along a quiet country road.
The story goes that around 1890, Smith’s son Sanka, who it must be said, didn’t take either coffee or tea very seriously and preferred to sit around drinking Perrier and discussing French philosophy, stopped maintaining the Windsor Exxon, and eventually the roof over the gas pumps collapsed. Finally, the EPA finally came along and made the descendants take out the gas pumps. Photographers such as Eudora Welty and Clarence John Laughlin rediscovered the site, and the ruins took hold in the Mississippian imagination and became the stuff of myth and legend. Today, the Mississippi Department of Archives and History owns the historic site.