Biloxi, Beauvoir and Bay St. Louis

Located in Biloxi is the home, museum and presidential library of perhaps the city’s most famous past resident, Jefferson Davis.  Jefferson was the only president of the Confederacy and Beauvoir was his last home.  We had visited presidential libraries and museums of two other presidents on this trip, but I had not expected to come across the home and museum of the Confederate president.  Since I knew so little about him, it was an interesting and informative visit.

Beauvoir was built in 1848.  Our tour guide told us the home was named by Sarah Dorsey who came to see it as a potential buyer.  She first walked into the house from the back and when she came onto the front porch and saw the view of the Mississippi Sound and Gulf before her, gave it the name Beauvoir, which comes from the french term, “beautiful view.”  In 1877, Davis came to Biloxi and his friend Sarah offered him the use of one of the cottages next to the house.  He agreed and said he would pay her $50.00 per month.  In 1879, he offered to buy the property for $5, 500, paying her in three installments to which she agreed.  She passed away before he could finish paying and willed the property to him.  Even though Davis had the right to live in the home, he refused until he had paid the last installment, continuing to live in the cottage.  Davis lived at Beauvoir with his wife Varina and two of his children.

When Hurricane Katrina hit, it greatly damaged the house, destroying the porch, much of the roof and flooding after a nine foot wall of water hit.  Although the home’s foundation was raised on pillars, the interior was still flooded with about a foot of water.  In spite of the damage much of the furnishings and personal effects could be saved.  Our guide explained that the original roofing company (still in business) was able to replace the same slate.  In addition the original glass company was also able to replace the panes for the doors.  The restoration cost around $4,000,000.  Today the house is a real beauty and a source of pride to Biloxi.  I find it amazing that the home still stands after surviving two major hurricanes and other storms.  Many other historic homes and buildings in the area are no longer standing.

One of the most beautiful parts of the house to me, was the hand painted ceiling in the entry way (above).  The entry way was designed with doors on opposite sides so that breezes could circulate through the house and cool down the rooms.

The home has eight furnished rooms to view including the parlor (above).  Below is a statue of Jefferson with his two sons, one that was adopted named Jim Limber, a child of mixed race.   Jim was rescued by Jefferson’s wife when she saw him being mistreated by his father.  After the Davis family began caring for him, it was arranged for him to be freed from slavery.  A year later in 1865 when the Davis family was captured by the Union army, Jim was taken from them and they never saw him again.

The small cottage where Davis lived before he moved into Beauvoir can be seen behind the statue.  It was destroyed during Katrina and a replica built in its place.  It was here that Davis began writing his two volume set, “The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government.”

The museum and library were built in 1998 and are located in a large and impressive looking building (above).  There were some interesting artifacts inside from the Civil War era but overall, I was a little disappointed with the museum.  One of the main rooms was so poorly lit, that Mark and I had a hard time reading the descriptions and seeing the exhibits well.  Here are a few of my favorite items from the museum:

This piano belonging to Winnie Davis, Jefferson’s youngest child could not be restored after damage from Katrina.

Above is the hearse that carried the body of Mr. Davis during his funeral procession in New Orleans after he died there on December 6, 1889.

After Hurricane Katrina, the bronze bust of Davis was found undamaged except for the broken wooden pedestal.  It was buried in the mud in a bayou on the property.  The mystery is how the heavy bust traveled 100 yards across the the bayou and fell on the other side.

The museum did help me learn about Jefferson Davis’ political career.  He once served as a senator and U.S. Secretary of War and was instrumental in getting repairs done to the U.S. capitol building.   He arranged for the Gadsden Purchase which included parts of Arizona and New Mexico and advocated for the federal government to build a transcontinental railroad.  He was also on the committee that founded the Smithsonian Institution in 1846.  Above is a painting of Mr. Davis and his beloved dog Traveler, a constant companion.

Jefferson was never officially pardoned by the U.S. government for his role as the Confederate President.  In 1876, Congress passed a universal amnesty law which restored citizenship to all former confederates except one, Jefferson Davis.  He died a citizen of no country.  One hundred years later in October 1978, his citizenship was restored when President Jimmy Carter signed into law a resolution from Congress restoring citizenship to the last confederate, Jefferson Davis.

Bay St. Louis is a delightful little coastal town about 30 miles west of Biloxi.  We drove there twice and the second time stayed a little longer to have lunch in a cafe, look at a few of the shops and enjoy the ambience.   As expected, the town was hit very hard by Katrina with half the homes destroyed.  The shoreline was subsequently rebuilt including a new marina, sea wall, pier, restaurants and shops.

The Bay St. Louis bridge to the town of Pass Christian was also destroyed and had to be rebuilt with a higher bridge.   The bridge is pictured above in the background of the marina.

Here is a view of the town taken from the pier:

Below is a view is of the Bay St. Louis pier with Our Lady of the Gulf Catholic Church which survived Katrina.

I loved seeing this tree sculpture called the “Angel Tree.”  It was carved from an oak killed by Katrina.  The tree is very intricate with not only angels but also numerous heron like birds carved on the branches.

There is a story associated with this tree.  The owner of a local Inn, her dog and two friends had to flee from the building when it was destroyed by Katrina.  They ran to the oak tree in the yard and clung to it for several hours waiting out the storm.  They consider it their lifesaver.  After the tree was carved, it was moved to a new spot above the marina and shore for all to view.

This is not the only tree sculpture on the Mississippi Coast.  In 2007, Biloxi began a project to sculpt marine related figures from the dozens of standing dead trees in the median of Beach Boulevard in Biloxi.  The trees had all been killed by Katrina.  There are now 20 sculptures that can be found in Biloxi and other towns along the coast.   They include dolphins, pelicans, marlin, seahorse, eagle and heron to name some of them.

The beautiful, historic L & N Train Depot in Bay St. Louis was built in 1928.  It survived Katrina and underwent some restoration.  It houses a visitor center and two separate museums.  Downstairs are historical and cultural displays of the area, but the best exhibit are the lavish Mardi Gras costumes that take up one big room.  There are over a dozen of them and they were such fun to look at.


Upstairs is another museum of the folk art of Alice Moseley, known as “Miss Alice.”  Alice was a self taught artist who began painting at the age of 60 while caring for her mother who had Alzheimer’s.  After visiting Bay St. Louis and falling in love with the town she moved here at the age of 79 even though she didn’t know anyone.   Her whimsical and colorful paintings show scenes of every day life in Mississippi including cotton plantations, farms and villages.  Many of her original paintings are showcased here and I really enjoyed seeing them.  She had a great deal of talent!   (Sorry but photographs were not allowed).

Miss Alice reminded me of the artist Grandma Moses whose museum we visited on a trip to Vermont.   Alice lived in a little blue house across from the depot until she died at 94.  Tourists used to come to her home and studio to visit with her.   I was told that another artist now lives in the home, carrying on her tradition.

And now for something completely different.  Horseshoe crabs are said to be one of the oldest species on earth.   We found this one washed up on the beach.  Scientists say they have been around for “millions of years.”  Horseshoe crabs are actually not related to the crab family but closely related to the arachnids (spiders).  Who remembers Arachnophobia?   They have a long tail that they use to flip themselves if they are overturned.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for the next post where we move on to Mobile, Alabama – a new state and city for us!

Biloxi on the Mississippi Sound


Our original plans after visiting Natchez were to travel north to stay awhile in Vicksburg, tour the Civil War sites and make a few day trips to the Capitol, Jackson.  After Vicksburg, I was also wanting to go a little further north and check out the town of Clarksdale, the birth place of the blues.   We then planned to head to South Alabama.  Unfortunately, the weather forecast was showing freezing temps coming up in Vicksburg and we decided instead we should head down south to the Gulf of Mexico and the city of Biloxi where hopefully it would be warmer.  I was sad though to leave our site on the Mississippi River, one of my favorites so far.

The weather drove us to Biloxi but we were glad after we got there that we changed our plans.  Our time in Biloxi was quite nice – not as warm as we imagined the Gulf to be as the cold spell hit there too, but we donned our warmer clothes and enjoyed the area.  We arrived a few days before Christmas with our Christmas Day celebration uneventful.   We spent the day defrosting our iced up refrigerator and freezer (below), although it actually took only a few hours.  Instead of a traditional holiday feast we ate beans and cornbread which we enjoy eating from time to time and is much easier to fix in a trailer than a turkey, hah, hah.  We could have eaten out for Christmas at one of the casinos in Biloxi since they had Christmas buffets, but we had done a buffet the day before and thought stuffing ourselves was enough.

Biloxi was a city that left a tender place in my heart.  When Hurricane Katrina hit in August 2005 much of the news coverage focused on the devastation in New Orleans.   However, the city of Biloxi and the Mississippi coast was also ravaged by the storm.  The storm flattened much of the city, destroying many buildings and homes, especially those closer to the coast.  I have to admit that I never gave much thought prior to my visit about Katrina damaging Mississippi.   Visiting today, the destruction is at first not that obvious as much has been rebuilt and in many ways the city looks good.  The casino buildings are new and attractive and the homes across from the waterfront appear to be in great shape.  But in between these homes are pockets of empty land with perhaps a few foundations left as reminders.

While driving around we noticed a number of historic markers on lots with no buildings or homes.  It is very sad to think about all that was lost.  So much hardship here – homes, businesses and even lives lost to the storm.   So, I was impressed to see how the city continued on – rebuilding businesses, homes and improving the waterfront and beach areas.   Living in the shadow of another possible hurricane and destructive storm must be difficult and something I cannot imagine dealing with.

The Biloxi Lighthouse is the city’s symbol of resilience.  It has withstood many storms over the years including Hurricanes Camille and Katrina.   The storm surge from Katrina covered a third of the 64 foot lighthouse toppling many bricks that lined the interior.   Winds from the storm broke many of the windows in the light cupola, destroyed the structure’s electrical system and blew out the door.   The lighthouse was completed in 1848 and was one of the first cast iron lighthouses in the South.  It was manned until 1939 and had several female light keepers, including one that tended the light for 53 years!  In 1939, the Coast Guard took over operation.  It is the only lighthouse in the nation that sits between four lanes of highway traffic.  The lighthouse is open for guided tours.  When we visited, holiday lights adorned the outside.

The lighthouse is located across from the Biloxi Visitors Center.  I have already mentioned in previous posts about my delight in finding welcome centers with this one the best yet and a popular attraction in Biloxi.   Besides offering information, the Center is a museum of sorts with some informative exhibits about Biloxi history and culture.  It was really pretty inside with plenty of holiday decorations and a few fireplaces warming the downstairs.  It was modeled after another home that used to stand on the property and was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

From the second floor porch of the Center you have a view of the lighthouse and Gulf of Mexico.

The visitor center had a variety of sculptures and other art displayed and my favorite exhibit was “Burning Man.”  When I think of Burning Man I always think of the festival in the deserts of Nevada, but in this case the artist created the set of three sculptures in 2014 from driftwood recovered after Katrina.  The wood was set on fire and then textured and shaped by high pressure air and water as it burned.  It symbolizes extreme mental and physical challenges one endures during times of crisis.   I really enjoy sculptures and have never seen one that used burned wood – fascinating!

Casinos are a major draw here for tourists with tourism the major economy.   We have little interest in gambling, but did stop in to the Hard Rock Casino and Hotel to take a look around at the building, see some of the rock and roll memorabilia and eat at the Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream shop.   This casino was first constructed in 2005 and scheduled to open on September 1 when a couple of days before the grand opening, Hurricane Katrina hit destroying the building.  After reconstruction it opened in June 2007.  My favorite feature at the hotel is the huge lighted guitar out front.

Although Biloxi is considered to be on the Gulf of Mexico, the city actually sits right next to the Mississippi Sound.  I had to look up what a sound is and saw this definition:  “A narrow sea or ocean channel between two bodies of land.”   The Mississippi Sound separates the Gulf of Mexico from the mainland.  When I first saw the beach I thought, “Where are the waves or ocean current?”  We never saw any waves coming in, the water just quietly lapped the shore.  The reason for this is waves are blocked by a string of barrier islands (Gulf Islands National Seashore) 10 to 12 miles from shore.  These islands which can be reached by boat get the waves.

The beaches here have beautiful white sand and are man-made!  In fact, for 26 miles from Biloxi to the east along the Mississippi Coast is the longest man-made beach in the world!  You could tell that the sand had been smoothed or manicured and in many places it appeared  pretty fresh.  Looked like a lot of work to keep up!

Highway 90, a scenic byway from Biloxi to the small town of Bay St. Louis is a beautiful 29 mile drive all along the coast with continual views of the water on one side and on the other gorgeous old oak trees and lovely homes.   I read that antebellum homes used to line the route but it appears that most have been destroyed by hurricanes and storms.  This drive takes you through several towns and areas to stop and enjoy the coast.  Besides the sandy beach there are a number of small piers or walk ways jutting out onto the water.  The towns along this coast have made an effort to provide an attractive beach scene for visitors.

Below is a picture I really like of an old lighthouse.  It used to belong to a fancy resort hotel with a marina that was destroyed by Katrina, leaving only this structure and a few foundations.  The property is now a stopping point for people to be out near the water.

We enjoyed birding on the beaches as many shorebirds, herons, gulls and other water birds congregate here.   In the picture below I am checking out my bird book, trying to make an identification.  (Mark says “sacred, ever present bird book”).

My favorite was seeing the skimmers.  I had only seen black skimmers once before during a birding trip on the Texas coast and that was years ago.  I think they are so interesting with their remarkable long red and black bills and red feet.  I was hoping to see them again here and at one stop we hit the jackpot – a large flock of skimmers sitting on the shore.

They didn’t like to stay put for long and flew back and forth across the water and over my head several times in a large group going to a spot across the beach and then returning.   It was a magical birding experience – the kind that makes me glad I took up birding as a hobby!  I think I took about a hundred pictures, LOL.


When the weather was good we came out late afternoons to the beach to catch the sunsets.  It was nice to be staying in a park right across the street from the shore.

Thanks for following us on this journey!  In my next post I will write a bit more about some places while staying in Biloxi before we ventured on to Alabama.

Natchez, Mississippi – Part 3

Our visit to Longwood was intriguing – the largest octagonal house in the United States at 30,000 square feet and the grandest of the mansions we toured.  To begin with, the house sits outside the city down a long dirt road, so has a more remote, country setting.   On the large property is a carriage house, servants quarters and detached kitchen.

The first time I learned about this mansion was watching the TV show Aerial America.  If you have never heard of the series, Aerial America is on the Smithsonian Channel and they did episodes flying over different states filming some of the highlights.  It is a great way to get some travel ideas or learn more about our country.   Longwood looked pretty dramatic from the air and I hoped some day to visit there.

Building of the house began in 1860 but stopped in 1861 due to Civil War tensions.  The builders were from Philadelphia and when they heard that war had begun, they stopped work and left, leaving their tools.  The owner of the home, Mr. Haller Nutt was a wealthy cotton planter and Union sympathizer but lost his fortune due to the war.   As a result, the mansion was never finished and the family continued to live only on the basement level, the only floor completed out of six stories.  The home became known as “Nutt’s Folly.”  Mr. Nutt and his wife Julia are buried on their property in the Longwood cemetery.

We were not able to take pictures of the furnished basement but the furnishings are original and elaborate as to the time period.   We checked out a few of the home’s porches that feature a number of dramatic columns due to the octagonal building shape.   I think the many columns are one of the home’s best features.  Above is a picture I like that looks out from the front porch.   It is hard to imagine from the outside that the inside would look like this:

The home has an eerie feel to it which we liked.  It was certainly a different experience than the other homes we toured in Natchez.  We were unable to go further than the first floor.  Here is a picture of the upstairs stairway which looks a little precarious.

The next picture is looking up at the unfinished dome from inside. The home was built as an oriental villa and I think the onion shaped dome from the outside is one of the more beautiful aspects of this building.

The first floor still has old tools and equipment laying around from when construction ceased.  It was interesting to see some of the things left behind such as an original piano case (we saw the piano on the basement level), old suitcases, cans, buckets and barrels like the ones pictured below.   This part of the house has been left in an “arrested state of decay” which adds to the unfinished mood of the home.

After visiting Longwood, we had lunch at a historic eatery called “Mammy’s Cupboard.”  This building has been around since 1940 and owned by the same family.  I read that the owner of the property, Mr. Gaude had a gas station here and wanted a roadhouse that would take advantage of the Gone With the Wind film craze at the time.  It has been a popular attraction on the highway south of Natchez for many years.

The skirt serves as the entry and gift shop.  There is also an annex in the back of the skirt for dining.  When the building was repainted in the 1960’s, the skin tone was lightened to make it more “culturally appropriate.”  Only lunch is served here featuring home made daily specials and pies.  We thought the food was pretty good.

Melrose mansion is located outside of Natchez on a very large property.   The construction of the home began in 1841 and for the next eight years, a combination of free and slave labor built the mansion and outbuildings.  Melrose was built in the Greek Revival style which was popular in antebellum homes.

This style features huge columns, balconies, evenly spaced large windows and big center entrances at the front and rear of the home which create a box like style of the mansion.   Here is a closer picture with the columns and front appearing to be made of marble.  Actually, the house was made of brick, stuccoed and painted to look like marble with different shades of beige paint.  One of the later owners painted the columns and front white and the park service restored these areas back to their original tan appearance.

By 1861, there were 25 slaves living on the property.   The slaves here had different duties including cooking and serving the family’s meals, picking up supplies in town, tending gardens, orchards, livestock and keeping the estate in order.  While we waited for our tour to begin, we visited the slave and servant quarters.    There is more ground to cover here than the mansions I visited in town.  Below is a picture of the property with slave quarters in the back.

Other buildings located on the property are the kitchen, dairy, laundry, carriage house and stables.  There are also kitchen and formal gardens.   Melrose has been managed by the National Park Service since 1990 with inside tours given by a ranger.  I took a number of pictures of the many rooms we saw both down and upstairs and here are some rooms with features I found interesting.  In the dining room (below) is a mahogany “punkah” above the table.  It was operated by a slave pulling on a rope, causing the punkah to rock back and forth creating a breeze to keep flies away from the food.  The punkah originated in India.

The drawing room showed off the family’s wealth and the home’s splendor with gold leaf above the window treatments and around the mirror and side table.  I thought the green furnishings were a striking and elegant color.

Below is an example of the netting that was used on the beds to keep away insects such as flies and mosquitos.  This netting looked pretty elaborate.   Yellow fever was deadly in the Antebellum South and was carried by mosquitos.

Below of course is a picture of one of the beautiful bedrooms.  Although not in the picture, the bedrooms had day beds that were used for naps or resting during the day to keep the ornate bed coverings neat during the day.

Jefferson College, established in 1802 and named for Thomas Jefferson who was president at the time, was the first historic college we visited.  It was the first institution of higher learning in the Mississippi Territory and turned out to be interesting in several ways.   This was also the birth place of Mississippi’s statehood in 1817 when the state’s first constitutional convention was held here.   In 1815, a celebration occurred when General Andrew Jackson returned from the victory over the British at the Battle of New Orleans.

In 1863, the school temporarily closed due to the Civil War.  After the war when the school reopened, it dropped its collegiate program but kept the name Jefferson College.  It was operating as a military prep school until it closed in 1964.

There are five main buildings as well as a building housing the visitor center.  The visitor center has exhibits and one of the nicest docents we have met who seemed glad to visit with us, especially since we were the only visitors during the time we were there.   The two largest buildings (above) are the West and East Wings which contained classrooms, offices and living quarters.  Most of the buildings have not been restored except for the bottom floor of the West Wing.  There used to be a building between the West and East wings but it was torn down because it had been built later and was not considered an “original” property.

I love looking at old buildings so this was a great place to visit for me.  There are plans to restore more of the buildings but I am sure the cost which would be huge is a major factor.   Below is a picture of the inside of one of the kitchen buildings with its crumbling brick floor.

Several cisterns that collected rainwater from the buildings’ gutters and downspouts for drinking and bathing are still visible behind the main buildings.   Below is an old fashioned pump on top of one of the cisterns.

There is a nature trail on the property and although we only walked down it a short ways, I was amazed by all the vines covering the ground, bushes and trees next to the trail.   I had seen this other places in Natchez and found out here that it is called, “kudzu.”  It was introduced as a garden plant from Japan in the 1930’s to control erosion.  It thrives in the heat and humidity of Mississippi and is very invasive, even growing over houses, power lines and old cars.  Since it has spread to other parts of the South, it was given a nickname, “The Vine That Ate the South.”  In the picture below, the vines have died back for winter and are therefore not green and lush as usual.

When I suggested to Mark that we visit Jefferson College, he was fine with coming here but not overly enthused.  After looking around the campus a little he commented to the Visitor Center docent that it made him think of a movie he once saw called, “The Horse Soldiers.”  He was shocked when she told him that parts of it were in fact filmed here.  Then his interest in the place greatly increased as he showed me the scene filmed at the college president’s house (below) as well as on the parade grounds in front of the main brick buildings.

The Horse Soldiers was a Civil War Western from 1959 that starred John Wayne.  Other movies and television series have also been filmed here, for example the North and South television mini-series in 1985.  This is the third time in our travels over the years we have come across John Wayne movie locations.  The other two were in Monument Valley in Utah and Katie’s Meadow located in Colorado, a very remote location off a dirt road scenic byway.  Mark always reminds me that Wayne’s real last name was Morrison.

Forks of the Road is a very small park preserved as the location of several markets that bought and sold slaves from the 1830’s until 1863.  Natchez was one of the busiest slave trading towns in the nation.  No buildings or other remnants of the slave trade still remain here.   A small monument of slave irons in cement (below) can be seen and there are numerous sign boards to learn about the slavery trade.

At this spot slave traders who had been banned from the city set up buildings to house and display people for sale.  They were considered show rooms where buyers could view available slaves and purchase those that they wanted.  I was surprised to read that the slaves were dressed up to make them look more desirable with the men in suits and top hats and the women in nice dresses.

Ex-slaves fought for the union in the Civil War in their own regiments.  Mississippi had 18,000 colored troops and Louisiana 24,000.  In 1863, one of these regiments recruited from Natchez occupied the Forks site.  It is ironic that some of those soldiers might have once been slaves bought and sold here!

Did you know that tamales are a Mississippi speciality?  It is a little surprising to find what is thought of as a Mexican staple here in the Deep South.  We found the restaurant,  Fat Mamma’s Tamales while visiting Natchez and ate here twice since the food was tasty, reasonably priced and the restaurant had a great atmosphere.   Interestingly, my favorite item was not the good tamales but of all things, the delicious key lime pie.  In my opinion you can’t beat a great slice of that pie!

Thanks again for reading this post and next time follow us to Biloxi.

P.S. For John – thanks for the tip on Flora-Bama.  Mark and I drove over for a look and it turned out to be a delightful and quirky visit!

I think this may be the first picture of me standing outside of a bar and what a bar!

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.

Natchez, Mississippi – A Great City to Walk

Natchez, the oldest city on the Mississippi River was founded in 1716 as Fort Rosalie by the French.  The city was named for the Natchez tribe of Native Americans.  In later years Britain and Spain controlled the city.   It flourished in the 1850’s as a cotton and sugarcane growing region and a transportation center.  It became the principal port from which these crops were exported, both upriver to Northern cities and downriver to New Orleans where it was shipped to New England, New York and Europe.   Prior to the Civil War, Natchez had more millionaires than any other city in the United States.  Wealthy cotton planters built their homes in Natchez on a bluff and away from their plantations which were in the lowlands of Mississippi and Louisiana.  Today many antebellum homes remain because unlike other Southern cities, it was spared destruction during the Civil War.   These homes have been drawing visitors for years, especially during the Spring and Fall pilgrimage when many of the homes open their doors for tours.  Above is a picture of Veterans Park with a statue commemorating confederate soldiers from Natchez and Adams County who died in the Civil War.

There is a lot to see in Natchez and one of the best ways in my opinion is to walk it.  The city has devised the greatest walking trails I have seen.  You don’t even need a printed map or directions.  You just follow the color coded arrows embedded in the sidewalks.  Along the way on street corners are sign boards giving information about particular historic homes, neighborhoods or businesses.  It was a lot to read, but helpful!

We started our walk at Bluff Park with a great view of the Mississippi River below.  We walked past a number of antebellum homes on our “blue and green” trails.  For those that love seeing historic homes and mansions, this is the walk for you.  It was especially nice this time of year because so many homes and businesses were decorated for the holidays.  We saw many intriguing sights and in this article I will share some of the highlights.

One of the first mansions on our walk was Choctaw Hall (above) built in 1836 and now functioning as a bed and breakfast with special events and tours.

Myrtle Terrace was built around 1844 and the home of steamboat captain Thomas Leathers.  He was a famous riverboat pilot who worked for more than 50 years on seven different boats with the Natchez name.  He survived a fire on a burning boat as well as other river disasters but was not as fortunate on land when he was struck by a bicyclist in New Orleans and killed.

Stanton Hall is one of the more well known mansions in the city and popular for tours.  In addition, there is a restaurant on site in the carriage house.  We didn’t take the inside tour but did walk around the outside.  It is a very beautiful home with an appealing front porch.

The home was built in 1857 by Frederick Stanton, an Irish immigrant and cotton merchant taking up an entire city block with 11,000 square feet and costing over $83,000 before it was even furnished.  The house featured a Greek Revival style with large Corinthian columns.  During the Civil War it was occupied by Union troops.

The oldest building in Natchez still standing is the King’s Tavern built in 1789.  It has operated as a tavern, stage stop and mail station.  It was interesting to think that this tavern was frequented by slave traders over 200 years ago.  Pony Express riders who carried mail on the Natchez Trace (an important historic road that goes from Natchez up through the state of Mississippi and Tennessee) used the building as a mail station.  It continues to operate as a tavern today serving food and liquor.

This historic brick fire house from 1839 was Mark’s favorite building of our walking tour.  You can see the two big engine doors and pulley in the front.   I wonder what the pulley would have been used for?  I tried to research this old building on the internet but could not find anything about it.

Texada built in 1792 was the first brick house in Mississippi Territory and used as a family home, tavern, hotel and dancing academy.  From 1817 – 1821 Natchez was the capitol of the new state of Mississippi and Texada served as the first capitol building.  One interesting story from the house involves the family bible that was taken by occupying Union soldiers and contained 300 years of family births, marriages and deaths.  Miraculously the family ended up getting the Bible back, as the Union army had not destroyed it.

Magnolia Hall was built in 1858 and is considered the last grand mansion built in Natchez before the Civil War.  This was one of the homes that I toured inside.  It was built for a cotton broker and merchant.  The Natchez Garden Club currently manages the home.  When I was there the outside was being renovated.   It was beautifully decorated for the holidays.   Photos can be taken inside which was nice since in a number of homes no photos are allowed.

No docent tours were being given when I arrived, so I toured on my own.  I usually find it helpful to have someone knowledgeable explain the history and noteworthy furnishings, but it is also quite nice to be able to wander at leisure and take my time without being rushed off to the next room.

Magnolia is known for a costume museum in several upstairs rooms.  The gowns were worn by past pilgrimage queens and kings, reflecting the antebellum style.  In the righthand side of the picture below, you can see the long trains that were worn with the dresses.

In another room you can view gowns worn by children who danced around the maypole during the pilgrimage events.

The Temple B’nai Israel was built in 1904 and houses the oldest Jewish congregation in MIssissippi which began around 1843.  The first Jewish immigrants, mainly from France and Germany in the early 1840’s were drawn by economic opportunity and became successful merchants and businessmen.  One was elected mayor of Natchez in 1882.  Tours of the temple can be taken with prior arrangement but we were not able to see inside this beautiful building.

Glen Auburn was perhaps my favorite of the mansions that we saw.  It was built around 1875 and owned by a merchant.  The home is known for its distinctive mansard roof, a feature I love.

During our walk the streets were quiet and we saw few if anyone out and about.  But we had a special ambassador to welcome us to one of the neighborhoods.  This gorgeous cat came out of nowhere wanting to visit.  As I petted him he got in my lap and made himself comfortable.  So here I sat on a brick wall in a Natchez neighborhood with the most beautiful furry cat on my lap.  He was freshly groomed and had a collar so obviously well taken care of.   When we continued on our way, he followed us for a few blocks.  I felt bad if he was straying too far from home (wherever that was).  If I ever wanted to take a pet home it would maybe be this cat!

We came to St. Mary’s Cathedral built in 1837 and perhaps the most magnificent building in Natchez.  It is huge and a little hard to get a picture of the whole thing.  I read that due to being historically significant, it was elevated to the status of minor basilica.  The church also has a stunning interior with many stained glass windows.

We also walked by the Johnson House, Rosalie Mansion and the Presbyterian Church which I want to talk more about in my next post.   Some places we just had to come back and explore further on a non-walk day.

As always, thanks for stopping by and checking out this post.  If you have any favorite or interesting walks you have done would love to hear about them!