Tours, tastings and taking in the sites round out a long, fun weekend in Natchez
Before the Civil War, Natchez had more millionaires per capita than any other American city, much of it due to landowners and traders hailing from around the country. It’s one reason why the city refused to vote for secession when war reared its ugly head. When Union General Ulysses Grant arrived in southern Mississippi, he spared the bluff town resting high above the Mississippi River, boasting of Natchez’s gorgeous antebellum homes.
Today, visitors may enjoy the hundreds of structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the dozen designated as National Historic Landmarks. Many of the homes are open as bed and breakfasts, others for tours. Great restaurants, nightlife, outdoors adventures and more round out the experience, making Natchez one of the best getaways in the South.
Where to Stay
Natchez is known as the bed and breakfast capital of the South, and considering there are hundreds of historic buildings located in this Mississippi River town, there’s something for everyone, including chain motels and the Natchez Grand Hotel. Kaiser and Ashley Harriss have recently purchased the exquisite Brandon Hall Plantation located on the Natchez Trace Parkway. The 1856 mansion is about 15 minutes from town, but it includes acres of woods, a pond, an historic private cemetery and a full Southern breakfast, candied bacon included.
Back to Nature
The National Park Service owns the route of the historic 444-mile Natchez Trace Parkway running northeast from Natchez all the way to Nashville. Drivers must follow a 50-mph speed limit so hikers and bikers find the Trace a delightful escapade. Along the Trace are numerous historic sites such as Native American mounds and the ghost town of Rocky Springs, just outside of Natchez. Because it’s a national park, the road is practically hidden beneath woods so it’s a wonderful nature outing as well.
Each year in spring and fall the city’s numerous historic homes , many of which are not normally available for tours, open to the public for the “Pilgrimage.” Visitors purchase tickets for the tour of their choice and visit three homes for guided exploration. In addition, there are special events such as the Historic Natchez Tableaux in period costume, an annual ball, plays, concerts and the Southern Road to Freedom, a tribute to the city’s African American experience. The Spring Pilgrimage will be March 17-April 17, 2018.
The 29th Annual Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration, sponsored by Copiah-Lincoln Community College, Natchez National Historical Park, Mississippi Department of Archives and History and Mississippi Public Broadcasting, will be held Feb. 22-24, 2018, with the theme “Southern Gothic.” Films, exhibits, book signings, concerts and more are planned.
Most Louisianans view the Mississippi River after a long climb up the levee.
In Natchez, which sits on a bluff high above the water line, there’s a gorgeous view, especially at sunset. There are two trails along the Mississippi, the Bluff Trail with its panoramic view and the Nature Trail close to the water’s edge. Begin at the Trails Pavilion near the corner of Broadway and Franklin streets where a kiosk provides maps of both as well as trails running through town.
Natchez Brewing Company opened its business in a small space downtown, but quickly outgrew the shop. They now operate in a former coffee warehouse with lots of space for visitors to play games, relax inside or out and enjoy their wide selection of beers. Try the Bluff City for a smooth blonde brew or Uncle Neville the Devil red IPA.
Douglas and Regina Charboneau restored King’s Tavern, arguably the oldest building in Natchez, but looked to the building next door for a rum distillery. Douglas and his son, Jean-Luc, renovated that historic building as well and now produce award-winning rum. They’re happy to tell their story and offer a sample on weekend tours.
It’s a bit on the sweet side, but if you enjoy American muscadine wine then Natchez’s Old South Winery is for you. The winery offers a wide selection of red, white and rosé wines and opens its doors for free tours and tastings weekdays.
There are several ways to receive an overview of historic Natchez. Southern Carriage provides guided tours for up to 10 passengers aboard a romantic horse-drawn carriage. Visitors can purchase a ticket and hop on and off the double-decker bus in the tour’s loop of the city on the Hop-On Hop-Off City Sightseeing Tour.
Numerous historic homes are open for tours, almost too many to see in one visit. One of the largest is Dunleith, an 1856 home resting on 44 acres. Dunleith is open for tours, operates as a B&B with 22 rooms and contains other noteworthy buildings, such as the elegant Castle Restaurant. The Melrose estate is part of the Natchez National Historical Park and offers a great education on how plantations operated.
Longwood remains the most unusual, with its unfinished octagon architecture due to the Civil War breaking out during construction.
Natchez owns a rich African American history. It’s home to the William Johnson House, a free person of color, and the Natchez Museum of African American History and Culture. The Forks of the Road marks the old slave auction site and the Rhythm Night Club Memorial Museum honors the tragic fire of 1940 that killed 209 people. Look for both Blues Trail Markers and black history markers throughout town.
Natchez Little Theatre
Original theatrical performances, as well as established plays, are on the bill at the Natchez Little Theatre, Mississippi’s oldest community theater. During the annual Spring Pilgrimage, the Little Theatre performs “Southern Exposure,” a 1950s romantic comedy poking fun at the city and its annual pilgrimage of homes.