Our last day had arrived, how did that happen so quickly?? A week is a relatively short time to spend in the US, but alas, working life prohibits fun. So we woke determined to have a great last day exploring Natchez, and started it all with the standard breakfast of waffles, juice and coffee, in some way this felt like the healthier option in comparison to the Denny’s fried breakfast items. We packed up our room and headed into Downtown Natchez, first stop, the Tourist Information Centre. Our main reason for coming here was to pick up some information leaflets on the cemetery, however, it turned out to be an attraction in itself with a really interesting exhibit on the history of the town as well as a short video detailing how Natchez is the oldest city on the Mississippi – even older than New Orleans (remember, that used to be a swamp) and how all the rich settlers came here for the excellent shipping links to ship out all the cotton they grew in their plantations. It became a town to ‘be seen’ in and all the rich Southern families had lavish homes here while the plantations were located nearby.
After our informative overview it was time to drive a couple of miles to our first official stop of the day – Rosalie. We had basically picked a few of the most famous antebellum homes to visit by their ratings on trip advisor and since this one had scored pretty highly, it won out. We timed our arrival pretty perfectly (or at least fate did) and we purchased tickets for the tour which would be taking place just 10 minutes later. This gave us enough time to explore the grounds of the property (as well as walk round from where we had parked, not using gps had resulted in us not being able to find the actual car park and so we ended up in a small area just off the verge of the Mississippi. The house, which was the oldest that we visited, was built between 1820 and 1823 for Peter and Eliza Little who, you guessed it, made their fortune from cotton. The house has a very interesting history and has all of the original furniture from the Wilson era, who bought the house from the Little’s. It was originally named after the French Fort of Rosalie which was on the hill opposite and shows its connection back to the first French settlers in the area. It was then used as a base for the Union army who stayed there during the civil war. Natchez has managed to retain much of its original architecture due to the fact that when the Union army came by it immediately surrendered and therefore, unlike many Southern cities was not under attack. It was fascinating to see the house set up as it once would have been and to hear the history of the rooms including where the owners of the house, slept while General Walter Gresham occupied the house and the army camped on their lawn! The house was lived in including after the occupation by the Wilson family until the 2 remaining sisters died in the 50’s, 20 years after selling the house to Mississippi State Society to ensure it would be kept intake for generations to come. There were some gorgeous views of the Mississippi from the balcony of the first floor of the house which our great guide (probably the best and most enthusiastic of the day) pointed out to us while relaying the family history.
After the highlights of this house we had high expectations for the remaining ones and zipped off down the street for a stop at St Mary’s Basilica. There are a lot of different churches in Natchez, but this is probably the most grand and from the outside was a beautiful red brick building with a sunny memorial garden for one of the Bishops who had been based here. However, when we arrived there was a funeral taking place inside and not wanting to disturb anyone headed along the street a little to Stanton Hall.
In looks, this old house was very similar to Rosalie, but this is where the similarities ended. We had just missed the tour by 10 minutes, but luckily the tours here were every 30 minutes rather than on the hour so we killed 20 minutes in the gift shop and chatting to our guide and a lovely older lady who were both hugely enthusiastic about Natchez, this year marks the 300 Birthday of the city, as well as Mississippi in general. It was great to chat to them and get ideas for other places to visit and to learn about the Pilgrimage festival which takes place in March/April time whereby a lot of the old houses that are not normally open to the public are opened for viewing and everyone in the town dresses in the old traditional costumes. We wandered round to the front of the house and were welcomed by our guide (the man we had just been talking to) into Stanton Hall. The house was a similar size and layout to Rosalie, the difference being that you couldn’t enter the rooms at all, just peer in from the side which was a bit disappointing. Many of the original furnishings have not been recovered from family members as yet, however the Pilgrimage Garden Club is in the process of trying to reacquire all of the original pieces. The difference I would say with this house was the stark difference between the ground floor entertainment rooms which were lavishly decorated with the living quarters on the first floor which were much plainer. It was interesting to see certain ‘in style’ pieces such as the French porcelain and gilded huge mirrors to maximise space in the rooms. Unfortunately, the 2nd floor and top floor viewing deck have not been renovated for public access so our tour finished in the dining room which was particularly bare, with some silverware on show that had been donated by a rich aristocratic English lady which bore no real connection to the house. We left feeling glad we had seen the house, but questioning the rather large $15 entry fee. This was pretty standard for the houses and since we visited 3 in all this amounted to a pretty large fee of $45 for a day, which is quite a large sum considering each of the houses had similar backgrounds.
Having read some reviews of the tow and spoken to a few local friends of Carolyn we were told the place to eat was the Carriage House restaurant which is on the ground of Stanton Hall. While the other 2 houses are situated in more rural locations Stanton Hall is actually in the centre of town almost surrounded on all sides by other property. The restaurant is set out as it would have been in the 1800’s and was a fun experience to be served by the waiters in their traditional attire. The menu though was not the most innovative and so we both opted for the fried catfish which while tasty enough was a bit like a fancy fish finger served with potato salad and these sort of fishy peppers. I was a bit surprised that this place had had such good reviews for the food, but Carolyn said it is mainly known for the lunch buffet which was not on when we were there so it might be worth enquiring about this before dining.
Our first after lunch stop was the cemetery. As in New Orleans the cemetery in Natchez has been designated a sight of significant historical importance. Due to this we decided to check it out, especially having missed the one in New Orleans. There was an option for a guided tour but considering the already high prices for visiting the antebellum homes we opted to just use the information leaflet and map available from the Tourist Information Centre. This was an error on our part which we realised as soon as we arrived and saw the humungous size of the cemetery which obviously doesn’t contain any signs so that you know where you are. We drove around for a little bit trying to work out which of the parts of each section were the ‘famous’ ones noted on our map but after finally locating the Turning Angel after about 20 minutes of driving (this being number 1 on the list) gave up and just marvelled at the ornate carvings of the stones and statues. Definitely worth a visit but pay for a guide!
Our final stop in Natchez was Longwood. This house has the highest tripadvisor rating (at no.1) and yet is the only one of the houses that have not been completed. The house was built for Haller and Julia Nutt and began construction in 1860. The house, if finished, would have been one of the grandest we had seen with an octagonal structure and around 5 floors. However, the tensions of the civil war which came to a head in 1861 resulted in all of the house builders heading back to Philadelphia and leaving the house unfinished, as it still remains today. Haller died a few years later and so Julia Nutt was left to run the house, which she could never afford to finish due to the depletion of the cotton stores, by selling off the furniture and grounds of the property until her death. Another interesting point about Longwood is it’s out of town location, quite different from the other properties which are all located in town as a way of ‘being seen’. The structure of the property, particularly the view up into the roof was pretty spectacular from an architectural standpoint but otherwise I missed all of the family belongings and stories of visitors which the other houses had had. There were some outbuildings with old carts and luggage but none of these had been particularly well preserved or were included as part of the tour.
We said goodbye to Natchez and headed south back to New Orleans. We stopped for dinner en-route in Baton Rouge at Louisiana Lagniappe and luckily our timing for this was spectacular. Unbeknownst to us the restaurant opens at 5p.m. and due to its popularity is full by 5.15p.m. We arrived at 4.50p.m. to a crowd of people hanging out in the bar an outside and asked how long we would need to wait. The hostess explained everyone was waiting to be seated, which started at 5p.m. and so if we waited just 10 minutes she could get us a table. This was by far the best meal I ate on the entire trip! I had a chardonnay and then a Black Drum fish fillet served with a twice baked potato (baked potato with cheese), rice and Cajun mushroom sauce topped with shrimps and an oyster side salad. It was absolutely sublime and I enjoyed every single bite, although not the remaining one hour journey back to New Orleans where I felt sick from being so full! We stopped by John and Maurya’s to pick up Carolyn’s forgotten sunglasses and say bye. Again, thank you so much to both of them, they posted our postcards and were so welcoming to us, even though we had interrupted a dinner they were having with guests. Plus we got to say hello to their super cute Scottie dog! We headed to the Econo Lodge, Kenner, right next to the airport to do a final pack of our luggage (or so I thought, beads are heavy!!) and chill out before flying home in the morning. Over and out!