The first goal of our recent trip was Natchez Mississippi… This is the first of my posts about the general historic sites and overall views of this old city on the Mississippi River. I’ll intersperse these overviews with specific attractions and dining experiences.
This is a view down Main Street in downtown Natchez. As you can see the only ‘high rise” building in sight is a church steeple.
Natchez is the county seat of Adams County Mississippi. The city has a population of about 15,100, significantly down from its peak which was recorded in 1960 when there were 23,791 people living here. Natchez was a prominent city in the antebellum years, (prior to the Civil War), a center of cotton planters and Mississippi River trade. The city was named for the Natchez tribe of Native Americans, who with their ancestors inhabited much of the area from the 8th century AD through the French colonial period.
This is another view of this pretty and very laid back city. Laurie and I felt that Natchez has the combined feel of New Orleans, Charleston and Savannah…only on a much smaller and more manageable scale.
Natchez was established by French colonists in 1716. It is one of the oldest and historically most important European settlements in the lower Mississippi River Valley. After the French lost the French and Indian War they ceded Natchez and nearby territory to Spain in the Treaty of Paris of 1763. After the Revolutionary War, the United States acquired this area from the British. Natchez then served as the capital of America’s Mississippi Territory and, until 1822, the capital of the state of Mississippi.
This is a view along South Broadway Street in Natchez looking north from Bluff Park which faces the Mississippi River. The large brick structure at the center left of the photo is the Natchez Grand Hotel and Suites which opened in 2008.
Natchez is historically important for its role in the development of the ‘Old Southwest’ during the first half of the 1800s. It was the southern terminus of the historic Natchez Trace, a 440 mile long trail, with its northern terminus being at Nashville Tennessee. After unloading their cargoes in Natchez or New Orleans, many pilots and crew of flatboats and keelboats then traveled north over the Natchez Trace to their homes in the Ohio River Valley.
The Mississippi River was the other critical element to the early importance of Natchez. As you can see, the river is really expansive as it flows south past the city. That tiny dot in the river is a tow boat headed south with its flotilla of barges… You may need to enlarge this photo to see it!
Natchez is situated on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. Its location ensured that it would be a pivotal center of trade, commerce, and the interchange for 2 centuries after its founding. During the twentieth century the city's economy declined. Initially this was because of the replacement of steamboat traffic on the Mississippi River by railroads in the early 1900s. The railroad bypassed the city in the early days and in doing so, Natchez’s commerce slowly ebbed away.
Now onto a few historic properties around town…
This is the Bontura House on South Broadway. This private residence facing Bluff Park and the Mississippi River was built ca. 1851 by Robert D. Smith. He was a free African-American who operated a carriage service in historic Natchez. This home also served as an inn that was owned by a Portuguese merchant.
Nearly half of Mississippi's pre-Civil War free black population lived in Natchez, and Smith's historic home is one of two surviving Greek revival houses built for successful free black citizens. A two-story rear section of the house has arched openings provided wide entrances for Smith's carriage business.
The Bontura House and the Swiss Chalet Style Edelweiss House shown above are both located in the Natchez On-Top-of-the-Hill Historic District as listed in the National Register of Historic Places. This Victorian era home across from Bluff Park with its raised basement is considered to be the finest example of its style in Mississippi. It was built in 1883. It certainly grabbed our attention!
We drove around Natchez quite a bit, seeking out homes and buildings listed on the National Register. The Greek Revival style home above is the William Ailes House. It was built in the 1850s and it is typical of the type of residence built for the working middle class citizens of antebellum Natchez. Apparently it is now being used as a gallery for the display and sale of decorative and fine arts.
This Greek revival residence is called The Banker's House on South Canal Street. I didn’t realize it at the time that I took this photo, but this home is very unusual in that it is a single structure…actually the rear residential portion of the Commercial Bank which is located at 206 South Main Street. The bank and home were constructed ca. 1837 with the security of the banker in mind...
The home was for sale when I checked. It encompasses 6,200 square feet and includes 6 bedrooms and 3.5 bathrooms. It was listed at $749,000, down significantly from an original listing price of $989,000!
This is the William Johnson House. It was constructed in 1841 and it’s is one of 3 sites in Natchez that are part of the Natchez National Historical Park, which is operated by the United States National Park Service. See https://www.nps.gov/natc/index.htm.
William Johnson was born the son of a mulatto slave woman in 1809. At the age of 11, William was emancipated by his white slave owner, also named William Johnson and who is presumed to be his father. Johnson purchased his first barbershop in Natchez in 1830. He would eventually own and operate 3 barbershops and a bath house in the city.
State laws concerning property ownership didn’t prohibit a free person from owning slaves, even if that person had formerly been a slave. In Johnson's world, slave ownership was a signal of economic and social status. After achieving financial success, Johnson was able to purchase slaves and profit from slave labor in his business, on his farm lands, and in his family's home.
Johnson was murdered in 1851 by a mixed-race neighbor named Baylor Winn, in front of Johnson’s son, a free black apprentice, and a slave. Winn was held in prison for 2 years and brought to trial twice. Johnson was a well-respected businessman and outrage over his murder caused the trial to be held in a neighboring town. In that town no one knew Winn, so they didn't know that he was half-black. Since Mississippi law forbade blacks from testifying against whites in criminal cases, Winn's defense was that he was half-white and half-Native American, making him white by law. The defense worked, none of the (black) witnesses could testify, and Winn escaped conviction.
For our final historic stop in this post, we stopped in front of the First Presbyterian Church at 117 South Pearl Street. This massive and impressive church was completed in 1830 and added to the National Register in 1978. The congregation was first formed back in 1817. The church itself was built in the Federal Style while the ‘new’ attached Stratton Chapel (added in 1901) is in the Romanesque Revival-style. This is considered to be the finest Federal Style church building in the state of Mississippi.
That’s about it for now. Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…
Thanks for stopping by for a tour!
Take Care, Big Daddy Dave