Established in 1716, Natchez has long been considered a treasure trove for history lovers, thanks to its rich 300-year history. First inhabited by the Natchez Indians, the community was later home to African, French, British and Spanish descendants. Celebrated for its stunning architecture, profitable cotton industry and beautiful location 200 feet above the scenic Mississippi River, Natchez served as the first capital of Mississippi in 1817. Since then, it has grown into a vibrant, diverse community that welcomes around 700,000 visitors every year. Spring is the ideal season for a quaint Natchez getaway, when the weather is mild and flowers are blooming.
While many communities were destroyed during the Civil War, Natchez was spared the devastating damage suffered by other cities. Thanks to this good fortune, local residents are proud to share upward of 600 examples of antebellum architecture with visitors to Natchez, including historic homes, churches and other sites.
“Visitors truly get a sense of wonder in Natchez. You can tour homes here year round – they are the grand dames of the majestic South,” says Stratton W. Hall, director of community and public relations for Visit Natchez.
“Longwood takes your breath away – it’s an octagonal mansion,” Hall says. “Dunleith is a bed-and-breakfast, so guests can stay overnight there. They have a beautiful restaurant and swimming pool.”
During Natchez’s annual Spring Pilgrimage, 24 mansions open their doors to visitors, and guides wear costumes from the time period each home was built. Many guides are family friends and descendants of the property’s original owners. Homes feature 18th- and 19th-century furniture, porcelain, silver, tools, clothing and documents.
“The collection of porcelain, sterling silver and china at Choctaw Hall is amazing,” Hall says.
Interestingly, Natchez had more millionaires per capita than anywhere else in the country during the pre-Civil War era.
“People made their fortune in cotton and a lot of people showcased their wealth here,” Hall says. “It was a party place, and a lot of Northerners came here, so there were a lot of Union sympathizers in Natchez.”
Make yourself at home at Concord Quarters Bed-and-Breakfast, one of Natchez’s historic inns. Located in 1820s slave housing on the grounds of the former Concord mansion, Concord Quarters tells the lesser-known story of enslaved African-Americans who produced the cotton wealth of Natchez.
“Owner Debbie Cosey is the first African-American homeowner to be in the Pilgrimage tour of homes, which is a huge milestone we’re proud of,” Hall says. “She sings and shows guests her favorite things. You don’t want to miss it. It pulls at your heartstrings.”
Monmouth Historic Inn and Gardens also offers overnight accommodations in a historic setting. A National Historic Landmark built in 1818, Monmouth is tucked into 26 acres of lovely, manicured gardens.
Satisfy your hunger and thirst at Rolling River Bistro, known for charbroiled oysters and live music. Magnolia Bar & Grill is another hot spot for dining, specializing in Gulf seafood, steaks and farm-raised catfish.
“At Magnolia, you can see the Mississippi River as you’re dining on a filet, shrimp and grits, and other Southern cuisine with a Louisiana influence,” Hall says.
The Natchez Coffee Co. downtown is a happening spot for breakfast and lunch.
“It’s the pulse of downtown Natchez, because it’s always packed,” Hall says. “It has a homey feeling with antique tables and mismatched chairs. They have homemade muffins, sandwiches on homemade breads, and a breakfast buffet on weekends.”
Try authentic Mexican fare and delicious Mississippi tamales at Fat Mama’s Tamales, which also offers a fun atmosphere. For live music, stop at Smoot’s, a former grocery store that’s been transformed into a popular blues lounge and juke joint. King’s Tavern is housed in an old (and supposedly haunted) 1789 building and serves wood-fired flatbreads, potpies and handcrafted cocktails.
Natchez is known for being the culmination of the 444-mile Natchez Trace, considered by many to be Mississippi’s cycling and recreational jewel.
“We get a lot of motorcyclists. People love to travel the Natchez Trace,” Hall says. “It’s so beautiful with abundant wildlife and leaves changing colors.”
You might say Natchez is a sportsman’s paradise. Local outfitters provide canoeing, kayaking and pontoon boat excursions, and if the water is high, alligators can often be seen. Nearby Natchez State Park gives visitors the opportunity to fish, hike, camp or rent cabins. You can also take a hike at the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians, a 128-acre site with three prehistoric Native American mounds, a reconstructed Natchez Indian house, museum and gift shop.
After learning about the Natchez Indians, spend some time at the Natchez Museum of African-American History and Culture, which chronicles the history and culture of African- Americans in the South through displays and artifacts.
“We really embrace our history in Natchez because we are who we are today because of it,” Hall says. “One of the greatest things about Natchez is you are surrounded by interesting people who are warm and accepting. It’s like a gumbo of personality types – every piece of spice makes the dish delicious.”