While on a Delta Queen, paddle-wheeler Steamboatin' cruise, we visited Vicksburg and Natchez (Mississippi), and fell in love with the historic south. In the aftermath of 9-11, many tourists are opting for the security of driving vacations, and a return to the country's roots. A visit to the towns of Vicksburg and Natchez on the Mississippi River, by either steamboat or auto, is a sojourn to a serene, more gracious, pre-Civil War South. Residents of these lovely old towns revel in the memories and traditions of their history. Tourism is the major industry, and they truly cater to tourists, even posting, "Tourists Only" parking signs. Hospitality is not just a word in the South. It's a way of life.
Southerners take pride in the stately antebellum homes, built before the Civil War, historic buildings, and the Vicksburg National Military Park. More than 100,000 soldiers fought in the siege of Vicksburg, a major turning point of the Civil War. The Confederate army had to hold Vicksburg to control the flow of supplies on the Mississippi River. The Union army surrounded and shelled the town for months, while starving the residents, and forcing many to evacuate and hide in caves. Vicksburg embodied the soul of the Old South. The locals are justly proud of their surviving antebellum homes and buildings.
Our journey began in Vicksburg at the Corners Bed & Breakfast Inn. This mansion, dating back to 1873, and overlooking the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers, was a wedding gift to a young bride. The furnishings and accessories date to this era; only the plumbing and electrical have been modernized. We arrived late and had to drag heavy luggage up a narrow staircase to an attic-style room and private bath; do yourself a favor and request the inviting library room on the main floor when making reservations.
All was forgiven the next morning. Breakfast served in the charming dining room was, simply put, perfect. The owners, Cliff and Bettye Whitney, kindly shared the following delicious, spicy, sausage, eggs and cheese casserole recipe:
14-16 slices white bread (crusts removed)
1. Spray cooking spray in the bottom of a 9"x13" Pyrex dish
We visited historic downtown and explored the noteworthy Old Court House. This imposing structure, now a museum, was constructed in 1858 by slaves, trained in all the building trades. We checked out the Biedenharn Coca-Cola Museum, where Coke was first bottled in 1894. Nearby is the enchanting, Yesterday Doll Museum, housing over 1000 dolls, some a century old, in historic costumes. Owner, Caroline Balrich, likes to tell visitors that she's selling nostalgia.
Led by attractive owner, Joy Brabston, we took a walk on the "Wild Side." She has spent ten years restoring eight acres of formal and informal gardens of the Linden Plantation. The plantation is worth a visit just to see the exquisite, much photographed, formal dining room. Bouquets of posies hang from the backs of dining room chairs. Martha Stewart would love this room.
National Military Park
A short drive took us to Vicksburg's major tourist attractions, the National Military Park and the adjacent USS Cairo Museum. Dotting the park are monuments, built by the states, to honor their soldiers lost in battle. The Missouri monument is unique because it is dedicated to both sides, with the spirit of our republic stepping from a broken ship of state. We were amazed to learn that more than 600 women fought as men. In 1917, 10,000 Civil War veterans returned for a reunion. Conversation became so heated that these elderly men began the Civil War anew. This skirmish is now called the Walking Stick War. For obvious reasons, this was the last reunion of Civil War veterans. The USS Cairo Museum is an ironclad ship recovered from the riverbed and restored in minute detail and open to tourists.
Spirits abound in the South. We heard of ghosts haunting Pemberton Headquarters (circa 1835), where Vicksburg was surrendered, and the fate of the Confederacy decided. Next door, at the Baldwin House Restaurant, we saw photos of the spirits that still remain; one of the unexplained ectoplasm and another of a woman's head. The owner spoke of an attractive young woman, dressed in a black dress and hat of another era, who entered, requested tea, and suddenly vanished. We listened intently to tales of loud footsteps, servants' bells ringing, and flickering lights. Rather than exhibiting fear, the homeowners seem to treasure their southern spirits.
Monmouth Plantation, Natchez
With an all-too-brief stop at picturesque Port Gibson, we enjoyed driving on the scenic Natchez Trace Parkway to Natchez. At the Natchez Convention & Visitors Bureau, we learned that plantation owners, to preserve their stately mansions, and way of life, agreed to not resist the Union army occupation if their city was spared shelling and fighting. Imagine how the gallant citizens of Vicksburg reacted to that news! As a result, Natchez has many more stately antebellum houses than Vicksburg.
Restoration and preservation are Natchez watchwords. Gracious Jeanette Feltus, the owner of The Linden Bed & Breakfast, says, "Poverty created preservation in the South." We were told, and believe, that southern belles hold sway in Mississippi. Natchez ladies don't like "vulgar displays" and will reject anything that is "just not Natchez." These ladies conduct the popular Pilgrimage tours of antebellum homes and gardens in the spring and fall, and greet visitors in hoopskirts or Empire gowns. In the winter, visitors view mansions magnificently festooned for Christmas. The totality of the city makes for great walking tours, and offers a fascinating glimpse into the living history of architecture.
Stanton Hall (circa 1857), the most ostentatious house in Natchez, is THE place for Sunday lunch, specializing in $6.95 dinners of fried chicken with all the trimmings. Surrounded by well-dressed ladies of a certain age, we "pigged out" on homemade pie. Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy, was married at the Briars Inn. Rosalie, owned by the DAR, is a Georgian house where Grant slept during the occupation.
Dunleith (1856), provides competition for romantic Monmouth Inn (1818), named one of the ten most romantic inns in the country by Town and Country magazine. Ron and Lani Riches bought a deteriorating, vandalized antebellum estate, twenty-four years ago. They performed an extensive, costly restoration and created luxurious accommodations. It's a treat to dine in the elegant dining room, always set for fourteen with Sevre goblets and china.
Dunleith Bed & Breakfast, Natchez
Tourists feast on wonderful food and southern hospitality, try their luck gaming in local casinos, picnic overlooking the Mississippi, bicycle, hike, fish, play golf and tennis, antique shop, and attend the renowned Confederate Pageant, which takes place during Spring Pilgrimage. To turn back the clock, drive directly to the area, or fly to Baton Rouge or Jackson, rent a car, book a tour bus or a Steamboatin' cruise.
For more information:
Delta Queen Steamboat Company: (800) 543-7637
Photos courtesy of Jack White.
Jack and Toni White of Rancho Mirage, California have, for many years, been freelance travel writers specializing in cruise travel. Their articles have appeared in newspapers throughout the United States and Canada, including the Chicago Tribune, Dallas Morning News, and Vancouver Sun. Prestigious Palm Springs Life magazine published their article on filming the movie "Out to Sea" on the Holland America Line Westerdam. They also write regularly for Mature Living and Plus, formerly Senior Life.
Jack graduated from USC as an architect. His background in architecture allows him to review, write, and produce photographs from a unique perspective. Toni attended UCLA after graduating from Hollywood High School where she had been the Feature Editor of the Hollywood High School News, where one of the writers was comedienne Carole Burnett. Toni lived abroad for many years in South America and in the UK and has a familiarity with different cultures that influences her writing. The Whites love to travel and especially want to share their passion for cruising with you.
Toni & Jack White may be reached at: JACNTONI@aol.com.
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