Natchez Trace Parkway

Trip Start Mar 14, 2006
Trip End Mar 15, 2007

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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The morning dawned cloudy, grey and rainy. I continued my drive around Historic Vicksburg focusing on the Civil War homes and sites. For a time there was one humdinger of a thunderstorm and I had to dodge not only raindrops but also lightning. One of the places I visited was the McRaven House. It is known as the "Time Capsule of the South" National Geographic magazine. We are invited to "step back into a time in Vicksburg's finest and totally Authentic pre-Civil War tour home with the most complete way of life tour. ... every Room is lavishly furnished with Museum Quality Antiques, including the 18th Century Kitchen." It was built in 3 different time periods (1797, 1836 and 1849), all authenticated by U.N.O. Archeological Department. We are told that it is "Unchanged since the Civil War Damage with Battle Scars both Inside and Out". Apparently the Original Pre-War Gardens Date From 1849 and Were The Scene Of A Brutal Murder" (Capital Letters per original sign outside the house). They were also a Confederate campsite.

When I went through the house a huge thunderstorm was going on outside and it was a bit of a refuge from the storm. The docent and her husband were just waiting for a larger tour group to come along; however, she willingly and lovingly showed me round the home (living room, dining room, kitchen, hall, stairs counterbalanced on a circular centre post, upstairs in a bedroom and the gentleman's smoking room. The house was truly amazing. I believe everything was original and in superb order. All the dishes, clothes, furniture, carpets, pictures, utensils. Some things I had never seen before. And the items were all (I believe) "touchable" rather than being behind glass or bars. The house was right beside the railway and was badly hit during the siege. There was cannon damage both inside the house and outside. In fact, the docent showed me a place In the front hallway where a shell had lodged for about 70 years under the stairs before being discovered and eventually disarmed by the local fire department. One of the small marvels is that with a large family of children living there all that time, that all the running up and down the stairs did not cause the shell to detonate.

At the time I as there, there were people working in the house. I asked the docent what that was about and she explained that during hurricane Katrina last year the house, walls, carpets and one of the pictures sustained damage from two trees falling on it. One of the, I think she said, 300 year old magnolia trees fell on the back of the house and the 250 year old tree lost one of its major branches. They had to have the roof entirely re-done.

I found the historical presentations, my tours of the city, the homes, National Military Park (6 miles of roadway), battlefield sites and cemetery, to be a very moving event. It has coloured my experience in and memory of this part of the country.

By this time the rain had stopped and I headed out on my way down towards Natchez again along highway 61. As I drove further south, the trees and grasses became, if it is possible, even broader and greener with all kinds and manner of vines and undergrowth making the sides of the roads so thick you could not see through them.

As I moved further south, I passed through some lovely old Victorian towns. Just south of Port Gibson I turned off highway 61 and onto the Natchez Trace Parkway. The map of Mississippi points out that "The Natchez Trace Parkway, which runs 444 miles from Natchez to Nashville, is more than 8,000 years old. Originally "traced out" by buffalo, the road was then traveled by traders, missionaries, early settlers, and Indians. By the late 1700s Ohio River Valley farmers searching for markets had begun floating their crops and products down the rivers to Natchez or New Orleans. Because they sole their flatboats for lumber, returning home meant either riding or walking. The trail from Natchez was the most direct. Growing numbers of travelers tramped the crude trail into a clearly marked path and by 1810 many years of improvements had made the trace an important wilderness road the most heavily traveled in the Old Southwest. As the road was being improved, other comforts, relatively speaking, were coming to the trace. Many inns - called locally, stands - were built. By 1820 more than 20 stands were in operation though most provided no more than basic food and shelter." (Among them was Mount Locust, which I took a picture of). By 1812 also, a new chapter in transportation dawned as the steamer, New Orleans arrived in Natchez and within a few years steamboats were calling regularly all up and down the Mississippi (St. Louis, Nashville, Louisville). Travelers liked the sped and comparative safety of steamboat travel more than the slow pace of going overland and soon the bustle of the trace had quieted to the peacefulness of a forest land."

Nonetheless, by the late 1930's the modern Natchez Trace Parkway parallels the old trace. In 1995 in recognition of its historic significance and scenic qualities, the National Scenic Byways Program designated the parkway an "All American Road" and 95% of the parkway is complete giving present day travelers an unhurried route from Natchez to Nashville.

Shortly after I turned off, the rain started to absolutely pour down. While it was a truly lovely drive it was also a very wet one with rain bouncing up off the pavement and the hood of my car. It was not a drive conducive to getting out a lot to take pictures although I did take some. The green-ness of the trees, grass and bushes in the rain was almost painful it was so beautiful. Photos I took included those of Mount Locust stand, one of the earliest and most well-known inns on the trace and of an area called "Loess Bluff which shows where deposits of topsoil (loess) were blown here during the Ice Age. A lot of the area in this part of the state shoes loess deposits and in the place where the trace goes over top of this deposit, the trace may be sunken 20 feet deep.

After I left this lovely "road less taken" I came into Natchez. As I had not yet had lunch, I located a very nice little coffee shop (The Natchez Coffee Co) and had a cheese and tomato Panini. Much to my surprise and enjoyment, this establishment was also wireless so I couldn't up on my email a bit as well. While there I spoke to two women patrons discussing their relocation from New Orleans after Katrina. They and their husbands had run businesses there. While they had received, I assume, payouts for their losses, they were, like the last folk I ran into at Winterville, not going back. They had purchased businesses in Natchez and were starting over again. I must say that they appeared to be very dressed and well off but you could see in their eyes that they had lost much which was of great value to them and that they could not recover.

In my short time in Natchez I learned that "following acquisition of the Natchez District in 1779, the Spanish founded the City of Natchez ca. 1790 to serve as the capital. Under Governor Manuel Gayoso, the city was planned and surveyed by John Girault in a typical Spanish grid plan around a central plaza and church with a common, on the bluff of the Mississippi river.". I did a bit of a drive around the town from Natchex Under the Hill up Silver Street, viewed the river (wetly) from the bluff. At the south end is a lovely home (Rosalie - named after a fort built at that site by the French in about 1716) built in the 1820s.

Following this I headed off for McComb Mississipi, which was where I was going to stay for the night.
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