Saturday, April 11, 2009

Natchez, Mississippi

"Can anyone tell me what the large wooden device is that is hanging over the table?", the Ranger asked? "Speak up, and if you are right I will make you an official junior ranger",
Of course I knew the answer,(Brackins know everything), but just as I was going to say it, Renita spoke up! Now shes a junior ranger in the family, duly sworn and badged. I am so jealous!
From Grand Isle we drove 250 ,miles north to Natchez, Mississippi. The drive was pretty uneventful, except for some wind gusts at Lake Ponchetrain, that caused the canoe to shift a bit. Our destination for the evening was Natchez State Park, It turned out to be an absolutely beautiful place. The trees towered over us and we couldn't see the lake for the forest, even though it was only a couple of hundred feet away.
The next day we drove to Natchez and headed to the visitor center, where there were lots of people trying to sell tickets to attractions around town, mostly the private mansion tours, but we declined as we wanted to see the National Park Service mansion called Melrose House.
The Mansion was built in the 1840's. It was one of five plantations owned by the family, and like all the places here was built on the backs of slaves,(People here call the Civil War, The War of Northern Aggression), In fact the grounds, about 110 acres contain two slave quarters, a laundry and bakery building,(that both also housed slaves on its upper floor), and a livery or stable. Cotton was grown across the river in Louisiana. The slave owners lived on the bluffs of Natchez, to avoid the malaria.
From the front the mansion was everything you expected to see from the movie "Gone with The Wind". Inside it was almost as ornate as the finest palaces in Europe, with gold leaf covered decorations and flower covered painted wallpaper. The original floors were intact, but covered with a protective carpet that was patterned like the original.
Entering, we walked into the waiting room, On the right was the drawing room and on the left a huge dining room. The furniture was the finest money could buy,(we were told by another that one of the large plantations in the area grossed about 220000 dollars a year from cotton alone). A huge wooden punkah hung over the table. A slave would pull ropes and it would fan the table shooing away the flies. I suggested we put one in our fifth wheel and Renita could work it as needed. That drew the usual glare from the newest Junior Ranger.
The ballroom was bordered by a smoking room/library where the men would retire for a cigar and the usual drinks. I was somewhat surprised at the number of books in the library. While there were quite a few, I expected more.
The upstairs was separated into four bedrooms and a commode area. Three were family rooms and one a nursery. All were built bordering a inner large passageway. The commode was between the two main front bedrooms. Each room was for a family as there were three families living in the mansion, the husband and wife, her parents, and their son and his wife.
The slave quarters were plain. I was bothered by the riches we had just seen and how it contrasted with the descriptions and pictures of hanging slaves and scarred backs, welted from whippings. Each building had three rooms and housed a family in each room. We walked the grounds before continuing our tour of Natchez.
Natchez's downtown was refreshing, compared to all the other tourist towns we have been to. It was unmarred by all the tourist shops one sees elsewhere. Saint Mary's Basilica was beautiful, built in the 1850's?, with ornate stained glass windows and statues of the saints. The Presbyterian Church was built in 1841 and looked elegant!
We strolled the rest of the downtown before eating at a cafe named Soul Heaven, and of course I had the fried chicken.
We did drive through the part of the city under the hill. It contained a few shops, but was mostly devoted to the riverboat casinos. As casinos are boring, we didn't stop. Returning home we both agreed that Natchez is a beautiful city and definitely a place to come back to. Clear skies.

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