Longwood: The Untimely Octagon


In 1873 Julia Nutt received from the U.S. government the sum of $56,368.25 in compensation for her wartime losses. She took it under protest to pay her debts. Over the next twenty-five years she kept up an unrelenting effort to recover more, pursuing Union commanders from Grant to Gen. Alfred Eilet, who had commanded in Natchez. In 1882 an action by Congress awarded her $256,884.05 more, but the next year she was back again with another accounting for $3,073,357.99 and “For the Life of Haller Nutt, HOW MUCH ?” Prentiss Nutt, her son and attorney, continued the suit until the 1930s. Though he changed his name to S. Prentiss Knutt, his character retained a good share of her steely purpose and her unrelenting and bitter anger.

Julia continued to live in the only finished portion of Longwood, an apartment in the basement, for thirty-three years after Haller Nutt’s death. By the early 1890s she must have been somewhat restored in fortune, for she got estimates on finishing the place. No work was actually performed. It was left the way Haller Nutt last saw it; the upstairs floors were gaunt brick shells. Longwood is best this way, with its geometry exposed, its great spaces left to speak clearly for the rationalist premises that commended the octagon form to the experimental mind of its builder.