Backus-Harriss Plantation in "Knight's Gambit" (Location)

Display Label: 
Harriss Plantation
Type: 
Mansion
Authority : 
Text (when unambiguous)
Other Texts Location Appears In: 
X: 
1330
Y: 
365
Description: 

The "old plantation" on the "good land" north of Jefferson where the Harrisses live was probably built before the Civil War as a slave plantation.  Its more recent history is a major focus of the story, as it evolves (or, the narrative suggests, devolves) from a cotton farm worked by sharecroppers to one worked by wage laborers under the control of a non-local manager to a thoroughbred stable and show place owned by Mr. Harriss, who lives there only for a fraction of the year. The narrative describes in detail how Harriss "transmogrifies" a "once-simple country house" into a "county (or for that matter, a north Mississippi) landmark: a mile square of white panel and rail paddock- and pasture-fences and electric-lit stables" (141). The story gives a lot of historical background, referred to as "legend," about the plantation. For example, Charles remembers it this way: "the old plantation six miles from town which had been an old place even in his grandmother's time, not so big in acreage but of good land properly cared for and worked, with the house on it which was not large either but was just a house, a domicile, more spartan even than comfortable" (150). Interestingly, the plantation is described as a gentleman-scholar-farmer's residence: "and the widower-owner who stayed at home and farmed his heritage and, with a constant tumbler of thin whiskey-and-water at his elbow and the aged setter bitch dozing at his feet, sat through the long summer afternoons in a home-made chair on the front gallery, reading in Latin the Roman poets" (150). Beyond the gallery was a "garden which was just a garden, overgrown, shabby too, of old permanent perennial things: nameless roses and lilac bushes and daisies and phlox and the hard durable dusty bloom of fall" (242). Gavin Stevens remembers the garden in detail: "It was a good deal bigger than even five or six rugs, spread side by side, with old bushes of roses and callicanthus and paintless collapsing arbors and trellises and beds of perennials re-seeding themselves without outside meddling help" (246). All this is before it becomes the property of a rich bootlegger from New Orleans: "Harriss took command of the plantation," dramatically modernizing it, with "electric lights and running water in the house, and the day-long, night-long thump and hum of the pump and dynamo were the mechanical sounds where there used to be the creak of the hand-turned well-pulley and of the ice-cream freezer on Sunday mornings" (159). Eventually Harriss rents the farmland out to a man who commutes to it from Memphis to work the land with heavy machinery, and people from the country drive to watch as it is surrounded by white-painted fences, long stables built with better material than most of their homes, "with electric lights and illuminated clocks and running water and screened windows" (161). Harriss also rebuilds the house into a "monstrosity" (170) where he entertains his friends from New Orleans: "It had been just a house, of one storey [sic], with the gallery across the front where the old master would sit in his home-made chair with his toddy and his Catullus; when Harriss got through with it, it looked like the Southern mansion in the moving picture, only about five times as big and ten times as Southern" (162). Charles Mallison notes the opulence of the grounds when he walks them: "the house that was too big, across the lawn where the bushes and shrubs were too many, past the garages that would have held more cars than just four people could ever have used and the conservatoires and hothouses of too many flowers and grapes for just four people to ever have eaten or smelled" (226). The grounds include a polo field and steeplechase course (226), and a small stable built by Captain Gualdres away from the estate's main stables - these last two sites have their own entries in the database.

Role: 
Site of Event
Status: 
Rebuilt

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