Sometimes deciding where to stay is similar to throwing a dart against a map. Although we usually know the general direction, and radius (usually a three-hour drive time), we rarely know anything about the area other than what people say on the internet. But reviews can be somewhat deceiving. When someone says "Tranquil", we have found that it can mean the total lack of anything interesting to do in the area; "Historic" can mean old and dated, and "Quaint" well that is used when people can't find anything nice to say about a place. Reviewers online used all these adjectives to describe the historic town of Natchez and this time they were 100% accurate.
Since we have a wedding to attend near Atlanta over the upcoming Memorial Day weekend, we decided to change course. While we were going to visit Texas next, we decided to head north and visit some of the country's interior states. Our current plan is to visit Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Alabama. After the wedding, our tentative plan is to continue a northern trek into Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan.
Now, back to how we stumbled upon Natchez. One of the places I wanted to visit in Louisiana was the historic town of Vicksburg. The town played a vital role during the Civil War period. So we began looking for a place in that general direction. After looking at dozens of city and campground reviews, we zeroed in the quaint, historic city of Natchez.
Unable to find something on the Mississippi side of the river, we chose to stay at River View RV Park in Vadalia, LA.
We had a lovely stay at River View. Loved the location, the people and accommodations. Although... when they told us we would have "a good view of the Mississippi", we didn't realize it meant that the Mississippi was coming to meet us! Because of the snow you northerners received this winter, and the ensuing run-off, the river had overflowed its banks and swallowed up half the camp ground! Fortunately, we arrived after it crested.
One of the nicest thing about this camp ground, was that it was a short drive to the city of Natchez (the bridge on the left was getting a facelift).
We had SO much fun in Natchez! It is a picturesque city with a rich history as well.
Natchez is one of the oldest continuous settlements on the Mississippi River, besting New Orleans, its bigger, flashier neighbor to the south, by two years. It was originally settled by the Natchez Indians who inhabited most of southwest Mississippi from AD 700-1730. The culture reached its zenith in the mid-1500s. One of their unique features was building their settlements upon massive mounds, like the one below. Not only did this protect them from the flood waters of the Mississippi, it provided a natural barrier to invaders:
The French arrived in 1716. Then later came the Spanish, then the English etc.. The city is like a time capsule offering a glimpse of life (good and bad) in pre-Civil War America. There are nearly 700 antebellum homes, buildings and mansions, many of which are open to the public to tour.
During pre-Civil War days, Natchez boasted more millionaires per capita than any other city in the U.S.! Most of the wealth flowed from the booming cotton and sugar trade.
Unfortunately, Natchez was home to another highly profitable enterprise during this time. The town played a significant role in the southward movement of the existing slave population from the north to the waiting cotton plantations of the Deep South. Slave sales were held in a number of locations, but one market place soon eclipsed the others in the number of sales. This was the market known as “The Forks of the Road.”
It is said that the country's most active slave trading team of Isaac Franklin and John Armfield (who's main office was in Alexandria, VA, which now houses the Freedom House Museum) shipped over 1,000 slaves annually from northern parts of the country through this location. Here is the historic marker you will see if you visit their office location just outside of Old Town Alexandria:
Here are some pictures from downtown Natchez and its suburbs:
We also enjoyed strolling along Natchez-Under-The-Hill. A place where you can eat good tavern food as you watch tugs and steam boats (river cruises) ply the Mississippi. Back in the day, this is where the poor people lived while the wealthy lived above.
Here are some historic pictures I found online of the same area about 150 years ago:
Apparently, this area was so crime ridden during this period that it became known as the most dangerous stop on the Mississippi!
I feel one could easily become addicted to this tranquil city. Its tree-lined neighborhood streets, its layers of history, its antebellum mansions, its southern charm and friendly people.
Lorraine and I spent three days just strolling its streets, its neighborhoods, talking to "folks", touring its mansions, exploring its fascinating city graveyard (more about this later), and --of course-- eating at its many trendy restaurants. One of the most enjoyable thing we did was watch the sun set over the Mississippi from the park on the cliffs of Natchez.
But sadly, Natchez has begun to slip into an economic decline. Signs of it are everywhere. Since its three largest employers have moved away, stores are boarded up and many of the mansions are now up for sale. As locals tell it, "old folks is dying off and young folk ain't got no reason to move in, anyway." Hopefully they will find a way to dig themselves out of this hole because to diminish such a beautiful treasure as this is truly heart-breaking.
Stay tuned for more Natchez explorations.....