Concord – the first mansion built in Natchez -- was physically impressive, the countryside around it beautiful and the hospitality extended from within its walls and on its grounds remembered for generations.
Even the marble staircase that survived a catastrophic 1901 fire seemed a symbol of happiness and peace. Children played on those beautiful steps until their removal in the mid-1950s.
Concord's story began in 1789. It is generally believed that the Spanish Gov. Manual Gayoso built the home that year, shortly after his arrival in Natchez. When the mansion was destroyed by fire in 1901, The New York Times reported it was “a beautiful residence of the Spanish style of architecture … In the early days of the South, Concord (“Concordia” in the Spanish language) was the scene of the most magnificent entertainments ever given in Natchez.”
Arriving in Natchez at almost the same time as Gayoso was his secretary, Jose Vidal. Already in the settlement was Stephen Minor, born in America but long associated with the Spanish.
These three men headed up Spanish government in Natchez for more than a decade. Minor would die in Natchez and Vidal would spend most of the rest of his life here. He donated property on the west bank of the Mississippi that became the nucleus of early Vidalia, named in his honor.
A TOUCH OF EUROPE
Gayoso rented a home during the early days of his tenure while beginning a search for just the right property on which to construct his mansion. He found the perfect location two miles northeast of Fort Panmure (Rosalie) in a shady grove of trees sitting on a hilltop. Gayoso, LaSalle and Fisk streets border the home site today. The old Armstrong Tire plant is down the hill to the east. Gayoso's property, more than 1,200 acres, stretched from there to the river.
A visitor to Concord during its glory years said the "very first sight of the house" is "seen through a long vista of noble trees ... About half way from the gate is a large pond surrounded by gnarled old cedars, after which the road branches into two, on each side of an extensive sloping lawn, and at the end of the delightful drive brings us to the house itself."
The house's brick walls were "fully two feet thick ... On the ground floor a broad gallery paved with brick completely circles the house, and lofty pillars stretching to the roof support another broad gallery upon which all the second story rooms open. These pillars are about four feet in diameter, made of brick covered with mortar, which give them the appearance of stone."
This visitor, like all others, was especially impressed with the stairs: "Two winding flights of stairs, one on each side of the entrance, made of the purest white marble lead from the ground to the upper gallery, where they meet in a solid slab of snow white marble about six feet wide by ten feet long."
Vidal and Minor were as familiar with the home and grounds of Concord as its owner, Gayoso. The three men dined there with their families and conducted government business there.
At Concord on a spring day in May in the 1790s the leaders of the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations passed the peace pipe. Under a nearby grove of fruit trees, "Spanish officers and Indian warriors chatted" and achieved "understanding," according to Gayoso's biographer, Jack D.L. Holmes.
At Concord, Gayoso enjoyed gardening. He relaxed on the grounds during the crisp autumn nights and breezy spring days. Beneath the shade of the tall trees on hot summer days, he often smoked a hand-rolled Havana cigar.
Soon, Concord became the social heart of town, where, Holmes reported, the governor "entertained in the grand continental manor" bringing "a touch of European manners and customs to the rustic Spanish American frontier."
When Gayoso sailed to America from Spain in 1789, he left behind a one-year-old son, Manuel Jr. Why the child remained in Europe is not known. When the governor died in 1799, Gayoso had outlived two wives and an infant daughter. His third wife as well as a second son, two-year-old Fernando, born at Concord in 1797, survived him.
Vidal returned to Spain only once before his death. Minor would die in Natchez. Both men are buried in the Natchez City Cemetery.
Promoted to governor-general of Louisiana, Gayoso departed Natchez for New Orleans during the late summer of 1797. Minor was promoted to the governorship of the Natchez district. In April 1798, Spanish troops evacuated Natchez as part of the Treaty of San Lorenzo. Representatives of the American government moved in and Winthrop Sargent was named governor of the Mississippi territory. He lived briefly at Concord.
After his departure, Gayoso saw to it that Vidal was rewarded for his years of service with a land grant on the west bank of the Mississippi, which was still in Spanish control. Additionally, Vidal was instructed to build a fort directly across the river from Fort Panmure (Rosalie). The west bank of this fort was to front the Mississippi by a width of three arpents to a depth of 20 arpents, about 51 acres.
Vidal named the new post Concord, soon to be known as Vidalia.
Gayoso's widow sold the Concord mansion to Daniel Clark Jr. in 1799 for $5,000. Clark sold it to William Lintot in 1800, who later that year sold the home to Stephen Minor for $10,000. The Minor family owned the home for many years.
In 1882, Mississippi historian J.F.H. Claiborne wrote that the old mansion "is still standing. The cornices and mantles were imported from Spain." He said Minor lived in Concord "in very stately style, dispensing a splendid hospitality until his death. His highly respected widow, one of the most intellectual ladies of the South, for many years maintained the hospitality of the mansion, succeeded by her accomplished son, the late William J. Minor."
Claiborne concluded, "No one mansion in Mississippi has so many historic memories clustering about it as the old Gayoso-Minor house 'Concord.'"
One of two buildings attached to the original mansion to house slaves after Gayoso's residency was later converted into a home which still stands on the Concord site today. During the latter part of the 19th century, streets were developed around the mansion, including Gayoso, Concord, Vidal and Minor.
WHITE MARBLE STAIRCASE
In 1901, George Malin Davis Kelly, reared in New York, arrived in Natchez on a honeymoon trip. He inherited from his grandfather the mansions Concord, Choctaw, Cherokee and Melrose, and while in town he and his bride visited Concord but stayed at Melrose. During the time of his visit, Concord burned to the ground. All that remained after the fire was the beautiful white marble staircase, one support column, and one attached building.
From 1938 to the mid-1950s, some 15 decades since Concord was built, Mildred Zimmerman Benson lived on the corner of Lamar and LaSalle streets, right across from the Concord grounds.
In 2006, she recalled fondly the years she and other children played on the grounds and on the staircase of Concord. She said the pond described by the Concord visitor of the 19th century was "filled in, but before that, people were baptized there." Another pond was located nearby. She also remembered "several cedar trees" on the property.
But those stairs, which faced LaSalle Street, were something, Mrs. Benson said.
"We loved them."
CONCORD AFTER its heyday, photographed in 1890, 11 years before it burned to the ground in 1901. (Photo from Thomas H. and Joan Gandy Photographic Collection, Mss. 3778, Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collection, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, La.)
THE WHITE marble staircase, a support column at far right and one of two attached buildings (behind stairs at right), pictured in 1930, survived the 1901 fire. (Photo from Thomas H. and Joan Gandy Photographic Collection, Mss. 3778, Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collection, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, La.)