"An antebellum house in the Mississippi Delta is a rare sight. This rich land, which would prosper during the Cotton Kingdom's second stage in the late 1800s, was sparsely populated in the years before the Civil War. Without levees to hold back the annual spring floods from the Yazoo, Tallahatchie, and Sunflower rivers and myriad streams and creeks, it was uninhabitable. Vast cypress swamps were roamed by bears and choked by alligators and water moccasins. Those few pioneers adventurous or foolish enough to try their hand in this harsh land battled malaria, typhoid, and yellow fever. It was much easier, and immeasurably safer, to plant cotton in the gentle hills of Marshall County or along the Tombigbee River prairies than to risk life, limb, and fortune in the Delta.
There was one exception. On the westernmost edge of the region, Washington County was a remote outpost of pre-Civil War civilization. Greenville grew into a decent-sized town in the mid-1800s, and a hardy contingent of Kentuckians and Carolinians carved out plantations along the banks of Lake Washington. Settlements with names like Wayside, Chatham, Erwin, and Glen Allan ringed the lake and gave rise to most of the Delta's rare antebellum architecture.
The sale of Choctaw Indian lands in the 1820s and Chickasaw lands a decade later brought an influx of settlers to north and central Mississippi. Only a few were willing to tackle the challenges of the Delta, with its heat, floods, fevers, and wild animals. Of those who did, none made a more lasting architectural impact than the Worthington brothers. Kentucky natives Samuel, Elisha, William, and Isaac Worthington bought thousands of acres of land in Mississippi and Arkansas and established vast plantations. Each brother built at least one house. Isaac's was Leota, close by the Mississippi River at Leota Landing. He ignored the warnings of his neighbors that the house was too close to the river. Rising spring floodwaters took first his lawn, then swept Leota from its foundations and off to the Gulf of Mexico. Samuel Worthington's Wayside was a thirty-eight room mansion that also, if more indirectly, was a flood victim. It withstood the disastrous 1927 holocaust, only to be condemned and demolished when the new levee construction placed it on the west side of the earthworks.
....To Find Out More about the Worthington Brothers' Father, click here...
Of all the Worthington houses, only Belmont remains. The land where it stands was sold by the U.S. government to Governor Alexander G. McNutt, the first white man to own it. Samuel Worthington purchased it in 1853 to complement his three existing plantations: Redleaf, Mosswood, and Wayside. Two years later Samuel sold it to his brother, Dr. William W. Worthington (Pictured, Above Left). Worthington was apparently more of a planter than a doctor, as evidenced by his eighty slaves and the hundreds of acres which surrounded Belmont. He built his house between 1855 and 1861. It is a blend of the prevailing Greek Revival and Italianate styles of the day. The main two-story block is red brick with a full-height portico featuring square Doric columns, turned balustrades, and a pediment pierced by a circular window. The cornice line is heavily bracketed. The roof is of shallow pitch, hipped and crowned with molded chimneys. Windows are tall and narrow, capped with stone lintels. An ell extends from the main block to the rear.
Inside, Belmont features some of the finest decorative plaster work in Mississippi. Local lore holds that German plaster artists were stranded in Washington County when the Civil War started; having no means of escape and no other work, they whiled away the war years by carving intricate molding and ceiling medallions into Belmont's plaster. Another version relates that Dr. Worthington met a group of Italian carvers on a boat trip to New Orleans and convinced them to return with him to Belmont. Regardless of its origins, the decorative work in Belmont rivals the finest interiors of Natchez or Columbus.
The large central hall is backed by an elegantly turned stair. Two rooms open on either side of the hallway. To the right, the formal rooms can be divided by huge wooden doors which glide in and out of the walls. On the left [is a music room and a library]. Upstairs are four bedrooms, separated by a wide hallway that serves as a [billiard] room. Ceilings soar to fourteen feet on both levels. A two-story ell adds several more bedrooms, kitchen space, and [the formal dining room], all opening onto long, high-ceilinged screen porches that look out over endless cotton fields. Altogether, the house encompasses nine thousand square feet, with three thousand square feet of porch space, ten bedrooms, and twelve fireplaces.
Originally, the grounds extended to the Mississippi River. Just across the road (now [the levee]) was Wayside, the home of Dr. Worthington's brother, Samuel. That house suffered more directly than did Belmont during the Civil War, with one of Samuel's sons being shot by Union soldiers in his own pasture. Roving bands of troops wreaked havoc across Washington County for several months, foraging and burning Greenville. Remarkably, all of the Lake Washington homes, including Belmont, were spared.
Belmont remained in the Worthington family until the late 1920s. A young girl living at Wayside in the early years of the twentieth century recalled Dr. Worthington's son, always known as "Mr. Will": "[He] was really a southern gentleman. He wore white linen suits and panama hats and on hot days he carried a parasol, or umbrella, and he was a very genteel person." (Recounted from Mary Howey Key, interview by Roberta Miller, MDAH and Washington County Library System Oral History Project (Oct 1977).)
In 1927 the Delta was devastated by a great flood and broken levee- the story alledges that Belmont had 9 feet of water inside her first floor. Faced with immense repair costs, the Worthington heirs decided to walk away; the insurance company foreclosed on the plantation by 1928. Despite the enormous amount of work, lack of electricity and plumbing, and turbulent depression era economy, Belmont was purchased from the insurance company by the Weathers family who immediately hired an architect and set to work restoring the estate. They repaired plaster, installed indoor plumbing and modern electricity, purchased new furniture, and even created closets between the bedrooms by salvaging doors and moldings from Wayside Plantation which was going to be surrendered to the River across the new levee.
Today, The Story Continues...
from Joshua Cain
Mr. Cuquet was quite a colorful character- a former New Orleans attorney and banker who developed the Delta's first casinos in Tunica and Greenville. He also served as a WWII spy and later helped the FBI solve a notorious white slavery case. Mr & Mrs Cuquet lived in Belmont until 2012. The Cuquet restoration was completed towards the end of 1993, and despite all valiant efforts to sell the home or find a family member who would care for the massive estate, it begin to fall into a state of decline even during the Cuquet's final decade of residence.
Belmont Plantation was foreclosed by the bank in 2014 and was subsequently put on the market at a dramatically reduced price because of the now extensive restoration work that was needed to bring the home back to its former glory. The front porches were collapsing, the entire plumbing system was a wreck, the roof was littered with leaks, and the once stately mansion was filled with mildew, mold, and a variety of Delta critters. Unlucky for those critters, interior designer, builder, and historic preservationist Mr Joshua Cain had his eye on the plantation for some time.
Joshua is a son of the South (a distant cousin of Governor Dennis Murphree who saved Belmont during the 1940s); born in Brandon Mississippi, and is an ardent supporter of Mississippi historic places. He has a long family history in the state going all the way back to its origination, both in the Delta and the Hill Country. It has been his lifelong dream to save and restore an antebellum estate, so he traveled to the Delta in the dead of a bitter 2015 winter and saw the old girl in 9 degree weather- it was love at first sight and the rest will be written in history...
Governor Dennis Murphree bought the house from the Weathers in the 1940s and converted it into a hunting lodge. Over the next half-century, it was occupied only by hunters and sportsmen. The elegant rooms were filled with bunk beds, mattresses, muddy boots, and deer heads. Plaster cracked, and sections of the elaborate ceiling medallions crumbled. A room in the upstairs back ell was designated for drinking, in a valiant effort to keep inebriated sportsmen from further damaging the old home. After the hunting club disbanded, Belmont was converted back into a private residence. Mr. and Mrs. Fernando Cuquet attempted to restore it to its antebellum elegance. It stands a few hundred feet back from the traffic of Highway 1 as a last reminder of the Worthington brothers and the pioneers who claimed the Delta."
Belmont Plantation History
as penned by Mary Carole Miller
Dr W.W. Worthington
A Weathers Family Wedding,
Belmont Parlor, Circa 1934