Natchez, Mississippi – Part 2

The American Queen, largest river boat ever built docks at Natchez on Thursdays.  Passengers can then tour the city at their leisure for the day.  The boat travels the Mississippi River frequently cruising from Memphis to New Orleans for a week or more.  I love paddlewheelers and think it would be great fun to cruise on this one.  Some years ago I was with a group tour along the upper Mississippi River and we got to spend a day on a smaller paddle wheeler.  It was a memorable trip and so relaxing to be on the river.

The main attractions in Natchez are the many mansions.  It was really interesting finding so many in one city.   I decided to tour inside five of them.  It is difficult to see them all due to scheduling as they are only open certain days and times and of course there are other places to visit in this fine city.  One of the mansions I spent time in was Rosalie, built in 1823 by Peter Little, a sawmill owner.   He  named the home for Fort Rosalie that once stood on a hill behind the house.  He and his wife never had children of their own but his wife helped found the Natchez Children’s Home and many of those children found a home at Rosalie.

The Union Army used Rosalie as their headquarters after they occupied Natchez in July 1863.  The general protected the house and belongings and after occupation it was returned intact. The house is now operated by the Daughters of the American Revolution and contains original furnishings.   It is sad as the interior is really beautiful but photographs are not allowed, I wish I could have shared some.

“Our Lady on the Bluff” as Rosalie is known has a commanding view of the Mississippi river.  From here I could also see the American Queen at the dock.

Auburn was another home I toured and it is located away from the downtown area.  It was built in 1812 for the first Attorney General of Mississippi, Mr. Lyman Harding.  The home’s architect wrote at the time that it was “designed to be the most magnificent building in the territory.”

The home was built of brick fired in local kilns and is known for its architectural grandeur.  There are twelve rooms.  This is one of the few houses where photographs were allowed.

When I knocked on the door I was the only one there for a tour. Three volunteers from the group that manages the home greeted me and took turns showing me around.   I thought I would note that touring mansions in Natchez is not cheap.  Most of the homes are at least a $15.00 admission with a few costing even more. It is understandable though that maintaining these historic homes can be expensive with local clubs managing their care.

Perhaps the most noteworthy feature in the home is the spiral staircase that rises unsupported to the second story.

The house features many intricate moldings like the doorway above.  Below is a picture from the dining room.

A unique and interesting sight in the town is the William Johnson house, a National Park Site.    Johnson was born a slave in 1809 and emancipated by his owner at the age of eleven.  Mr. Johnson trained as a barber and purchased his first barbershop in Natchez in 1830.  He would eventually own and operate three barbershops and a bath house in the city.  By the 1840’s he had also established himself as a farmer with substantial land holdings.

The most interesting thing about Mr. Johnson was that he kept diaries of his life for 16 years.   In his journals he talked about business affairs, raising his family and free time enjoying hunting and fishing trips.  He also wrote about the citizens of Natchez, sharing gossip and reporting events.  He even wrote about fights in the town like in the entry below:

Fourteen journals dating from 1835 to 1851 were kept in a trunk in the attic of Mr. Johnson’s home for more than 75 years unknown to anyone except his descendants.  In 1938, Louisiana State University purchased the journals from the family and published them in 1951.  Mr. Johnson’s works are considered a rare look into the life of a free person of color through his own words prior to the Civil War.  Although he was free, there were a number of limitations facing him as he did not have the same privileges as a white person.  As a free person of color his status could be taken away if he broke the law or even showed disrespect to a white person.

Mr. Johnson owned 16 slaves, perhaps the most curious aspect of his life given his freed status.   He wrote about his slaves including one that caused him so much trouble he had to sell him to another plantation.  Mr. Johnson’s diaries never mention his thoughts about slavery.   It is believed that he desired to elevate himself in society which at the time measured success by the ownership of land and slaves.

Johnson and his wife Ann had eleven children who they raised in this home and home schooled, since the children could not attend the schools in Natchez.  The family lived in the upstairs of the house while Johnson rented out the first floor for commercial space.  The residence was home to the Johnson family and their descendants for over one hundred and thirty years.  Sadly, Mr. Johnson was shot and killed over a property dispute in 1851.  Today, the downstairs has museum exhibits while the upstairs shows several rooms with furnishings used by the family.  Who would have thought that “hot pink” in the hallway would be an acceptable color during the mid 1800’s, but paint analyses completed in the 1970’s confirms this to be the color that was originally used.

The First Presbyterian Church built in 1830 is a handsome building with an amazing collection in an upstairs chapel – “Natchez in Historic Photographs.”

How these photographs came to be is a remarkable story.  Representing the work of three photographers, the pictures show the daily life of Natchez from the Civil War era to World War II.   It began with Henry Norman, a photographer with a studio who captured life around the town and on the river for 43 years.  When he died in 1913, his son Earl continued to operate the studio and photograph Natchez in the 1920’s and 30’s, passing away in 1951.  In 1960, Dr. Thomas Gandy purchased the Norman negatives from Earl’s widow.  Thousands of the negatives were still in good condition and for the next 10 years, he spent most of his spare time learning to make prints and sharing them with people for identification purposes as well as to provide families with photographs of their relatives.

The collection has been exhibited throughout the country and even internationally.   I think this is the best historic photographic group in one place I have seen.  The pictures are in great condition and the detail in the photos is amazing.  Here is one of my favorites – looks like a group hanging out at the general store.

There are so many (500) hanging in several rooms that it takes awhile to see them all.  Mark and I probably spent an hour and a half.   Here is another one I liked – the sign below the picture notes that perhaps this was the occasion of the weighing of the season’s first bale of cotton.

The collection includes many scenes of riverboats and river life which I really enjoyed.  Below is a picture of a steamboat full of cotton bales.  They really packed them on!

In the picture below, the steamboat Chalmette sank in 1904.

The City Cemetary in Natchez established in 1822 is on 100 acres and is now a popular attraction.   It is one of the largest and most interesting cemeteries I have visited.  Located in a park like setting with huge oaks, there are paved roads throughout the grounds and because it is so large we decided to drive.   It was a bit challenging for us though, because the roads are so narrow that it was difficult manuevering our big truck through the tight passages and turns.

I especially liked the ornamental iron fences around some of the grave sites.

The cemetary is a work of art with marble statuary, fancy monuments, mausoleums and decoratively carved tombstones.  For almost two centuries people of all nations and walks of life have been buried here.

We found one portion of the cemetary dedicated to confederate soldiers.

I will close with a sunset picture from Bluff Park in Natchez, a popular place for capturing evening photos.

Thanks for checking in!  I have one more post to write about Natchez before moving on to the Mississippi coast.

4 thoughts on “Natchez, Mississippi – Part 2”

  1. How long did you stay in Natchez ? That is one place I have never been and would like to plan a trip there, especially after reading your interesting blog.

    1. Anette, we stayed across the river from Natchez in Louisiana for 10 nights. We spent about five full days in Natchez looking around at the different sights. I think you would need about a week there, but it would depend on what places you want to see. Did you know that Road Scholar has a Natchez program? It is for five nights and they do some interesting things. Reading about that program is what got me first interested in Natchez. They have a number of programs there each year, but they are often held around the time of the spring and fall pilgrimages, which is when more of the houses are open and there are celebrations where the towns people dress up in period costume, etc. I would definitely recommend a visit there, it is a unique city. It appears the city is really dependent on tourism as there didn’t seem to be much else going on in Natchez as far as industry, agriculture, etc.

  2. Would love to do the boat cruise. Makes me think about the movie Maverick with Mel Gibson. Aside from the historic houses, was Natchez able to hang on to its wealth? Does it have other industries now?

    1. Yes, I remember that Maverick movie, that film was years ago! No, it does not appear that Natchez has any industries. Dad and I talked about how the city did not look like it was vibrant or thriving. The city works hard at tourism though. They have two pilgrimages, spring and fall each year where homes not normally open have open houses and there are social occasions and people dressed in period costume, etc. These were started to bring more people to Natchez. The clubs in town are very active in maintaining the homes and traditions, especially the garden club which maintains at least several of the mansions and seems to have a big voice in the town.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *