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!