Monday, April 18, 2016

Westward Ho! #2 Natchez MS

Mar 24-28 2016 Natchez State Park, Natchez, MS

Natchez.  It’s in Mississippi and named after the Natchez Indians and that was about all that I remembered about Natchez until I read the crime novels (guilty pleasure) by Greg Iles that take place there and decided I wanted to see it. Of course, we know about the Natchez Trace and keep saying we are going to drive up or down it but have yet to do so. So, it was next on our itinerary and it did not disappoint.

We reached our destination, Natchez State Park, after another 8 hour drive (something we’d said we would not do often and had now done thrice in 2 weeks) but with a silver lining.  You see, Don has “come to his senses” and realizes that relinquishing the wheel to me allows him a respite during which he can catch up on Facebook and take a break from the monotony (or terror) of maneuvering our rig along potted, rippled, broken and not very wide roads.  So, now we take turns and we arrive less stressed and/or bored.  Luckily, because when we got to our site, late, with no camp personnel in sight, we found it flooded with 4"/10 cm of mud and water.  The huge rainstorms of the past 2 days had dumped rain enough to wash the slope down onto our pad...but there we parked.  Cadbury did NOT appreciate it- although after I laid out some mats he found it possible to escape the wet and actually keep an eye on things from under the rig. Phoenix was still acting "sickly" and seemed not to even be able to come down the stairs but why would be revealed later.

So, since our intent was to visit Natchez, we headed into town the following afternoon, leaving the animals behind.  First stop, unbelievably for us, was the Visitor’s Center which was quite beautiful with good displays but was only OK as far as information.  It felt more like a Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center, focused on shopping and eating, although the antebellum mansion tours were also high on the list. The woman at the desk told me she thought walking would take an awfully long time but we decided to do it anyway and it was fine. Of course, I had missed the fact that this was Easter weekend so we were going to town on Good Friday when there was not a lot going on and the weekend would be dedicated mainly to religious happenings. Oh well, we had Saturday and we wanted to drive along the Trace so we planned that for Sunday.

Setting off with out Visitors Center map we first walked along until we could descend the hill to Under the Hill the area that was the original site of the settlement, right on the banks of the river. When the moneyed class moved in they built their houses on the bluff above and Under the Hill became the place of ill repute.


 

Back up on the top of the bluff we strolled along the riverside park watching barges push along down the Mississippi and under the bridge to Vidalia, LA and then toward our first destination the house of the Barber of Natchez, Mr. William Johnson.  Born into slavery, Mr Johnson went on to become an entrepreneur, own slaves himself and be murdered in a case that showed that so often scratching the surface reveals ugly truths.  

But, first we had to find the house and our map was not so great.  Finally, Don spied it and while he looked around the house I talked history with the National Park volunteer in the office.  
The Johnson and McCallum Houses (model)

We walked around town some more looking at the various historic houses and peeking into courtyards








And then I, in my never ending quest to experience local cuisine, decided we "needed" to try the homemade ice cream at the Pig Out Inn.  It was delicious, they have a great mascot and a wonderful poster on the wall which listed many things that we have come to love about the South as well.


Our batteries recharged, we continued walking around and then back along the river to the visitor's center where we picked up the car. 


One of the buildings was an interesting type of architecture considering that it had originally been the county jail.  Built in the Queen Anne style, to resemble a house it was ironic to see the modern rendition (next door) making it very plain what was housed within.


 Original Adams County Jail
on the wall of the new jail









During our research we'd seen that the Historic Natchez Tableaux and that was fortuitously taking place on Saturday night.  We took a drive on the Natchez Trace to see what it was like and loved not only the road but the scenery so are resolved that we WILL travel it at some point from end to end.  When we got into town it was still too early for the show so we sat down in the riverfront park and watched the sunset.  No spectacular colors just a mellow and calming pastel sky.  



A scene from the Showboat Under the Hill tableau
The Tableaux, held every year since 1932, an all volunteer production put on by the Garden Clubs of two districts, would be, we assumed, a glimpse into a view of history that would reflect all of these aspects.  We were pleasantly surprised.  First of all, the script turned out to be written by Greg Iles so it was well written.  Through the years the producers have made an attempt to incorporate the history of all the town's residents and while they have a ways to go it was evident that progress has been made.  As tableaux, a series of scenes where the actors pose while music is played or scripts are read this held a little more live action and some of the actors spoke. There were performances acting out some scenes by dancers and singers, and though everyone was an amateur and volunteer the production was well done.  It was interesting, as a "Nuhthener" to see the South's rendition of the Civil War era but it was done with historical accuracy.  It gave us a great flavor of the place and we were happy to have found something that was not to be found in every other town.
On Sunday we came into town to eat at the Bandsaw Buffet  at the Magnolia Bluffs Casino down on the river.  The restaurant is completely enclosed and though our meal was $14.95 (each) did not compare to the one we had in Biloxi for half the price.  They did have all you can eat crab legs which was a good deal but we were only mildly impressed by everything except the service, which was excellent.

We left Natchez sorry we hadn't scheduled more time and beginning to feel that the 3-4 day stays, while getting us out west faster, were not long enough and getting a bit If-It's-Tuesday-It-Must-Be-Belgium-y (that's a 60s movie reference for those who don't know.)  The drive, at least, would not be long and would go straight down Rte 61 (yea! No major highways) to Baton Rouge.



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