A Fair and Stately Palace
by Joseph N Goodell
“From that chamber as I fled aghast, a fissure widened and the mighty walls rushed asunder. I heard a tumultuous shouting and saw the deep and dank tarn close sullenly over the fragments of the House of Usher.”—Edgar Allan Poe
Mount Holly Mansion
No such dramatic collapse is claiming Mount Holly, as was the fate of Edgar Allan Poe’s tormented hall. But still my reference seems fitting, as I witness instead the relentless burden of time, the coarse encroaching weeds, and vandals ruin this once manor of brilliance. I cannot help but grieve for what should not be, but is. Under a pewter sky ready to weep at any moment, the atmosphere of gloom and sorrow broods of a fading future.
A splendid Italianate red brick house of thirty rooms, ornate mirrors and chandeliers, walnut woodwork throughout, a rosewood staircase, and balconies with wrought-iron railings, Mount Holly was the concept of Margaret Johnson Erwin, who lived there after 1859, and died there in 1863. Her setting among primeval trees was surrounded by an expanse of rich farm land at the shore of Lake Washington, Mississippi. To lakeside lay graceful pasture; access from Route 1 passed through iron gates, and between rows of spreading oaks.
Ms Margaret managed her estate carefully. She had fashioned a marvel not only of beauty, but of life; a suitable companion for Annandale of Madison and Ammadelle of Oxford. She hosted a steady whirl of family and guests, including Jefferson Davis and Albert Sidney Johnston. All the time with charm, hospitality, and courtesy. But after the War ownership became an intricate stream of tangled episodes. The mansion did serve with distinction as headquarters for rescue efforts during the flood of 1927. And then, following a period of decline, enjoyed reprieve during the 1990s as a comfortable inn rendered by the accommodating family of T.C. and Ann Woods.
But now isolation is the pervading spirit; desolation is evident; erosion from the elements seems irreversible enough to preclude rehabilitation. Mount Holly is unlike Windsor, whose majestic, though forlorn columns, are tended by a public trust. Unlike Waverley, whose grandeur is sustained by the devotion of charming hostess, Melanie Snow and her Dad. Mount Holly clings to its heritage, but is crumbling, alone without family lineage, and feeling the tug of melancholy’s undertow.
The wear of time is escorting this disintegrating place away from Mary Carol Miller’s “Great Houses of Mississippi” to an eternal repose in her “Lost Mansions of Mississippi.” Mount Holly belongs to the poets now. Margaret Erwin’s compilation of letters, “Like Some Green Laurel,” which quotes William Yeats in “A Prayer for My Daughter”: “O may she live like some green laurel, rooted in one dear perpetual place.”
Decay at Mount Holly Mansion
With the haunting beauty of “Al Dolce Guidami” the condemned Anna Bolena in Gaetano Donizetti’s tragic opera dreams of a return “to the dear castle where I was born” yearning for “one day of my youth, just one day of our love.”
Samuel Taylor Coleridge muses of royalty: “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a noble pleasure dome decree; on twice five miles of fertile ground, gardens bright with sinuous rills, where blossomed incense-bearing trees; forests ancient as the hills, and sunny spots of greenery.”
And Poe’s reflections from “Zante” and “The Haunted Palace:” “… how many memories of radiant hours, how many scenes of departed bliss, in the greenest of our valleys, once a fair and stately palace.”
Photo of Mount Holly by Andrew Morang is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to worldofdecay.blogspot.com
Photo of Waverly Plantation is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to www.flickriver.com