By Kara Kimbrough
When the Mississippi Department of Archives and History calls a place “Mississippi’s most iconic site,” it’s worthy of a visit. Located in Claiborne County about 10 miles from Port Gibson, the Ruins of Windsor is a two-acre site featuring 23 45-foot-tall Corinthian columns, remnants of the largest antebellum Greek Revival mansion ever built in Mississippi. The 17,000-square-feet antebellum home was destroyed by fire in 1890; everything, that is, except the stately columns, balustrades, four wrought-iron staircases and a few pieces of china.
Visiting the hauntingly beautiful site that has been featured in movies like Raintree County and Ghosts of Mississippi offers the perfect excuse to visit Mr. D’s Old Country Store in nearby Lorman. There you’ll find some of the best fried chicken in the state. If you believe the sign in front of the store, it’s the “world’s best fried chicken.” According to Food Network personality Alton Brown, Anthony Davis’ fried chicken is even better than his. Similar accolades have been written about Davis' fried chicken by national magazines and television networks. If you’re a Mississippian and haven’t sampled a piece, it’s time that you did.
To work up an appetite for lunch, a trip to the ruins is the perfect solution. Named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 and designated a Mississippi Landmark in 1985, like Mr. D’s chicken, it’s another thing every Mississippian should experience. And for those who delight in taking the perfect selfie, it’s an Instagrammable place unlike any other.
Today, the site is largely deserted except for the occasional bird or other wildlife darting through the nearby woods, but it wasn’t always this way. Known as Windsor Plantation, the three-story mansion was built for Smith Coffee Daniell, his wife and six children in 1861. Originally built with 29 columns, the mansion contained approximately 25 rooms, each with its own fireplace. A rarity for those days was the addition of two inside bathrooms equipped with rainwater from an attic tank. In today’s dollars, construction costs of the stately mansion equated to over $5 million.
Like many buildings during the Civil War, Windsor was invaded by Union troops. Union General Ulysses S. Grant and 17,000 Union troops landed nearby and took over the mansion. After the Battle of Port Gibson, the Union Army turned Windsor was into a hospital. The Daniell family was allowed to remain in their home on the mansion's third floor.
Windsor survived the war and continued to be occupied by the Daniell family until Feb. 17, 1890. On that date, a guest dropped ashes from a cigarette or cigar into debris left by construction workers. The mansion was completely destroyed with the exception of the columns and ironwork. Over the years, three of the four cast iron stairways that survived the fire disappeared from the site. Today, the remaining stairway occupies a prominent place at Alcorn State University, serving as the entrance to Oakland Memorial Chapel.
After visiting the ruins, head south to Lorman and stop in front of the weathered clapboard building fronted by a porch that’s usually packed with customers waiting to enter. Over 100 years old, the building formerly served as a general merchandise store. Today, remnants of the past remain in the restaurant. An assortment of “a little of everything” is spread throughout the dining room on shelves and hanging on the walls.
But it’s not the memorabilia that draws people by the hundreds into the Old Country Store seven days a week. It’s the bounteous buffet filled with mountains of golden fried chicken, ribs and pork chops. A piece of cornbread or a biscuit is the perfect accompaniment to vegetables like black-eyed peas, corn, green beans, turnip greens, okra and tomatoes and macaroni and cheese. Don’t forget to sample Mr. D’s sweet pea and homemade desserts like peach, blackberry and apple cobbler. If You Go:
Ruins of Windsor Where: Rodney Rd., Port Gibson Hours: 8 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. Sunday-Saturday Contact: 601-576-6952 Old Country Store Where: 18801 US-61, Lorman Hours: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Sunday-Saturday Contact: 601-437-3661