Friday, March 26, 2010


Nottoway Plantation, the house, 42 slave houses, barns, storage and equipment buildings, was built between 1855 and 1859. John Randolph was the original owner and builder and named it for his native Nottoway County in Virginia. Its pretty hard to imagine what 53,000 square feet of living space is like, even with eleven children  in an era before electricity and flush toilets.  In a word, opulent. Rich furnishings, priceless woods and craftsmanship, spacious rooms, (64 of them), astonishes, especially when you learn this house was continually occupied since it was built. The loving care shows. The house has had only five owners. 

From a site of 7,000 acres, fronting the steamboat landing on the Mississippi River, the mansion now is surrounded by 400 acres and serves as a bed and breakfast, restaurant and bar, both of which are open to the public. Above, notice right and left stairs, one side for the men, one side for the women. The women needed a separate stairway so they could lift their skirts slightly while climbing them without showing their ankles to the men. The center niche was a place for the livery slave to stand out of the rain and weather as he waited for approaching guests on horseback.  

This is known as a bustle chair, with low rounded arms to allow the women to sit with their flowing garments draped over the arms. In the foyer stands a wood valet with mirrors at calf level to check skirts and shoes to make sure your petticoat and ankles were not showing.

All the rooms have beautiful wainscoting, and chandeliers similar to this from the all white ballroom. John Randall had no mortgage because his slaves made every brick of the estate. They molded clay and spanish moss into the decorations above and produced gas for the gas lights. His architect was from New Orleans and famous in his day and time. The ballroom is now a popular place for weddings and another building is used for receptions.

The dining room table is set and ready for dinner. The plates are hand painted, each with a different scene. The fireplaces in the house are coal burning and have a chute at the bottom for ashes to be pushed down to a chamber for emptying. A metal plate warmer stands by the fireplace for cold days. People who came to the new world, and made their fortunesl, were proud of their wealth and liked to show it off.

This short mattress and four posters was typical of beds of the time. This bed is still used, but with a modern mattress instead of the lumpy spanish moss of old. It is one of the rooms rented for the bed and breakfast and has a modern toilet and shower built into a former closet.

Above the bed is a huge rolling pin that detaches to help take the lumps out of the mattress.

Below the entrance level of the house, a ten pin alley was constructed for the children. It now contains the bed and breakfast bar and lounge, also open to the public. The tour  includes a film that shows the building of the mansion, many of the slaves that worked here and important documents.

This talented woman was one of the most knowledgeable of tour guides. She has been with Nottoway for a long time, according to management. (She introduced herself and I forgot her name.) Randall managed to keep his house through the Civil War by removing himself and most of his slaves to Texas where he grew a less profitable crop of cotton rather than sugar cane. His wife stayed in Louisiana with a few house servants. Before the end of the war, he was offered to sell his slaves and remove them to Cuba where slavery was still legal. He declined, made a contract to hire his slaves to continue working his plantation in Louisiana. Many of them signed on. Some went elsewhere to seek their new future.

The family cemetery is on the grounds. Nottoway was personal to me because Admiral Walter and Marian Whipple, descendants of the Randolphs, were personal friends of mine, (both deceased). As a former feature writer, I did a story on the family and Nottoway many years ago and was delighted to finally have seen the place for myself. I took many pictures and uploaded them if you'd like to view them:


Anonymous said...

Can you give me any information on the Dimery's? I don't know if I spelled it correctly.

Marcia Ponder said...

Can you give me any information on whether John Randolph had siblings? And/or about the man with last name Liddel who married into this family? (Sorry, I'm not sure of the correct spelling of this man's name.)