Pilgrimage in Natchez, Mississippi – A Visit to the Grand Old South
Have you ever watched Gone with the Wind and wished you could go back in time for just a few days to live among the oaks at Tara Plantation? Well the closest you will ever come is an annual event in Natchez, Mississippi known as Spring Pilgrimage. The Pilgrimage, an annual open-house of around 25 antebellum mansions, began in 1932 as a way of generating income to keep the property taxes paid and the homes maintained. These are not just any old homes, however; these homes are the cream of the crop of pre-Civil War grandeur.
After returning recently from my seventh trip to the “Gone with the Wind” holy land of Natchez, I decided I really should take time to encourage you to make plans to visit the charming town. The town actually hosts two annual pilgrimages, one in spring and one in fall. The spring pilgrimage is a larger event, but both offer the chance to see different mansions than are not open year round.
I love visiting Natchez any time of year, but pilgrimage does offer some events that are only available during that time. There are ten incredible mansions in Natchez that are open all the time. However, an additional 18 or so homes open only during pilgrimage. These homes are very special as most of them are private residences. There is something very special about meeting a lovely lady, dressed in full southern belle attire, and having her show you around a home that has been in her family for six or seven generations. You will feel as if you are time traveling as you walk through grand arched doorways into the rarefied world of the old, genteel south.
Here are some tip for making the most of Pilgrimage in Natchez:
*Pay special attention to the tour schedule. Realize that the houses are grouped together into 3-house groups labeled by color. For example, the “Pink Tour” will include three particular houses that are on tour in the morning on one day, then off three days, then on again. Then another tour, the orange tour, will operate in the afternoon. There are a total of 8 tours, so it takes 4 days to take all the tours. So if you would like to see all of the homes, or if there is a certain home you feel you must see, be sure to check out the pilgrimage website to find out which day the home is on tour. If you do have time, plan on spending a full four days; you will find plenty to do! A 3-home tour costs $24 per person or $18 for children (6-13).
*Take advantage of the add-on house tours for Rosalie and Longwood. These homes are open year round. However, instead of the usual $12 per person for entry, you can add them to any color tour for $10 each. Both of these houses are “can’t miss” houses in Natchez. Rosalie is notable for its pure beauty overlooking the Mississippi River. Longwood, however, is often cited as visitors’ favorite home….despite the fact that it was never finished! Dr. Haller Nutt was in the process of building Longwood, set to be the nation’s largest octagonal home, when the Civil War broke out. Most of the craftsmen working on the home were from the north. As soon as they learned that the war had started, they laid down their tools and paint brushes where they were and fled north. The family lived on in the home’s basement (the only floor out of six that was ever completed) during and after the war. Dr. Nutt died after the war of illness, though legend has it that he never overcame the disappointment in being unable to finish his fabulous mansion, a mansion which became known as Nutt’s Folly.
*Try an evening show! Four different shows are offered on various evenings during Pilgrimage. The Historic Natchez Pageant is a time-honored tradition presented by over 200 local performers wearing antebellum costumes and presenting little vignettes of Natchez history. It is small town tradition at its finest. You can also see Southern Road to Freedom; Southern Exposure; and Songs of the South on alternating evenings.
*Enjoy fine dining. The Carriage House Restaurant is a fabulous lunch restaurant behind the exquisite Stanton Hall mansion in the heart of town. Carriage House is known for its tiny buttered biscuits and reasonably priced southern fare. The Castle is a world class restaurant on the grounds of Dunleith, yet another columned mansion (which also serves as a bed & breakfast) in Natchez. The food and ambience are both amazing. Finally, don’t miss the opportunity to have a prix fixe evening meal at the chef’s table at Monmouth (another world class bed and breakfast.)
*Take a carriage ride. A modest fare around $15 per person will land you a half-hour tour on a horse-drawn surrey with a knowledgeable guide. I like to start my visit off with this type of tour to get an overview of the town’s history.
*Frogmore Plantation. If time permits, consider a short 10-mile trip across the river into Louisiana to Frogmore Plantation. Frogmore Plantation has been selected by Rand McNally as a “Must See Site.” Frogmore contrasts the 1800′s working cotton plantation to today’s mechanized plantation and gin. At Frogmore, guests have the opportunity to pick their own cotton, a big hit with my daughter!