Natchez, Mississippi is known for it’s antebellum home tours. We chose to go to Melrose which is operated by the National park service. There is some remodeling being done to the exterior but we enjoyed our tour with a volunteer guide. The McMurran family moved into this home right after it was built in 1841 and it has been restored to that era. We entered through the massive front door and stepped in the wide hall that runs the length of the house. The furniture and fixtures throughout are elegant and remind us that this was a family of means. The main hall floor is made of painted oilcloth that feels like linoleum. In the dining room is a large elegant table and there’s a large mahogany fan that has a pull rope to be used to keep the air moving around the diners at all times. Wood venetian blinds and silk curtains cover all the windows. There are bell pulls in each room running to a set of bells with different tones in the back of the house to summon a slave to that particular room when something was needed. There is also a room where the women could entertain, sew, and chat as well a separate room for the men to go to smoke and talk. The bed rooms upstairs are nicely furnished with four poster beds, day beds, desks for writing for the adults, and toys in the children’s room. Behind the big house is a two story building housing a kitchen, a cooling room for milk and other perishables. There are two other buildings for slaves that are open for viewing as well as buildings for the animals and carriages. Most of the flowers are gone this time of the year but gardens are still a nice place to visit. There are many different types of trees. The two that caught my attention are the very old and large Magnolia beside the house on one side and a sweet olive tree that has fragrant blooms on the other. We thought this was a very interesting and enjoyable tour.
From Melrose we drove downtown to visit the William Johnson house. He was a freed slave turned barber. William Johnson was freed by his white slave owner of the same name. As a boy he was trained to be a barber by his brother-in-law who was a free black man. William became a prosperous business man and land owner. He owned and operated three barbershops and a bathhouse in Natchez as well as property outside of town. We were surprised to learn that he, himself, was a slave owner. The family lived in town in the upper level of the house on State street over the commercial space. Johnson was a prolific writer who journaled daily. His journals not provide invaluable information about the day to day life of a free, and successful black man in Natchez. Sad to say, he was murdered in 1851 over a disputed land boundary.
Mount Locust Inn and Plantation is just a short drive north of Natchez on Natchez Trace Parkway. it is one of the oldest structures in the area. It was purchased by William Ferguson in 1784 as a farm. Since it was a day’s walk from Natchez this place became a stopping spot for the the “Kaintucks” who had floated their goods down the Mississippi and sold them in Natchez or New Orleans. They then walked the many miles back up the Natchez Trace. Mount Locust Inn provided a place to sleep and a meal of corn mush and milk. It started as a simple inn and later a four room, two story annex was added for the travelers. We enjoyed seeing the old house and taking a quiet walk around the grounds. We walked just a short distance along the Old Trace to see what the early travelers walked through on a beautiful sunny day.
Overall, we’ve thoroughly enjoyed exploring the areas along Natchez Trace Parkway; both the beauty of nature and the rich history of the area. In spite of our spending nearly a month along the Trace and spending time in three different area campgrounds we know we’ve barely scratched the surface of all there is to see and do along Natchez Trace Parkway. We hope to return in future journeys to continue enjoying the area.