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Home Sweet Home

Travelers return to two Mississippi cities for the annual autumn Southern ritual known as Fall Pilgrimage.
By Lynn Grisard Fullman

A rainbow of muted colors will frame two Mississippi towns this fall as homeowners shine their silver and fling wide their doors to welcome visitors. With enough stately houses and buildings to make them the envy of any Hollywood set designer, Natchez and Columbus annually allow visitors into a collection of their finest homes.

Home

Above: An autumn tableau of pumpkins and mums greet visitors approaching the Tennessee Williams’ home, Columbus’ charming welcome center. ©Milton Freeman photo

Below: Visitors on a horse-drawn carriage tour take in beautiful Stanton Hall, one of three public houses in Natchez that are included in Fall Pilgrimage home tours. Plantation dinners are served next door at the Carriage House Restaurant. © Milton Freeman photo

Carriage

The collection of columned homes is, perhaps, the ideal backdrop for the towns that have managed to retain their quaintness and slowed pace. These are towns where visitors can slow in the midst of traffic to read a map or stop a passerby to ask directions. Hospitality is part of the allure of the towns’ annual fall home tours that allow visitors a look inside homes with histories often stretching beyond the Civil War.

History is beautiful in Natchez

Luck mingled with misfortune caused Natchez to have retained its antebellum structures. Because of its strategic riverfront location atop a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, Natchez became an affluent port in the 1800s. With more than half of the nation’s millionaires living in Natchez prior to the Civil War, homes were elaborate, filled with fine china imported from France, marble from Italy and intricate European fabrics and laces.

Prosperity ebbed, however, when railroads replaced river travel and more prosperous cities began replacing their old homes. Crippled by the economic downturn, Natchez settled for fixing up what already was there. As a result, today more than 500 historical homes, churches and public buildings remain. Despite losing its foothold as a river city, Natchez survived to become a time capsule that continues to draw visitors enchanted by tall columns, wide porches, high ceilings and tales of the town’s earlier days.

Begun in 1932 as a way for homeowners to raise money to maintain their mansions, pilgrimages in Natchez annually draw thousands of visitors. The 23 homes on tour this fall will be showcased in groups. A typical time slot will include three homes. Tour routes are marked throughout the town that is laced with sidewalks and canopied under the shade of towering trees. During the tours, homes will be open only as scheduled, and no tickets will be sold for individual houses, except for Longwood, Rosalie and Stanton Hall, which are not private residences and are open throughout the year.

On Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday evenings during Natchez Pilgrimage, the Amos Polk’s Voices of Hope Spiritual Singers will entertain guests at the Carriage House Restaurant with an event that includes a traditional plantation dinner and gospel music. Tickets are $31 and include dinner and performance. On Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., the Natchez Little Theatre will present “Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” Tickets are $15.

Natchez Pilgrimage Tours will be Oct. 1–15. Tours are offered daily from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and from 1:30 to 5 p.m. Tickets are $24 for adults and $18 for children ages 6 to 13 for a three-house tour. Four-house tour tickets are $32 for adults and $24 for children.

When visiting Natchez, consider an overnight at Monmouth Plantation, a AAA four Diamond historic country inn, (800-828-4531, www.monmouthplantation.com). This 1818 Greek Revival estate sits on 26 landscaped acres and began as a gift to a bride. Overnight guests are served a hearty, Southern breakfast. An on-site restaurant, specializing in contemporary Southern cuisine, is not to be missed for dinner. Monmouth Plantation, which offers tours daily at 10 a.m., has 30 rooms and suites with five of those in the main house.

Write your adventure in Columbus

Hordes of people also turn out during home tours in Columbus, birthplace of famed American playwright Tennessee Williams, whose 1875 yellow-and-gray Victorian-style childhood home has become the town’s official Welcome Center.

Filled with antebellum and Victorian-style homes, Columbus has retained a charming allure which merited its being named a 2008 Dozen Distinctive Destination by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. For seven decades, Columbus has hosted a spring showcase of antebellum homes. Last fall, sponsors decided to host a fall tour that would include antebellum and Victorian-style homes, all privately owned and some rarely, if ever, open to the public.

“Fall is a beautiful time of the year to visit Columbus and tour our antebellum and Victorian homes,” said Nancy Carpenter, program director with the Columbus Cultural Heritage Foundation, referring to the tour homes as “some of the South’s finest architectural gems.”

Natchez hosts its home tours during a two-week span, while Columbus’ 11-home fall tour will take place thrice daily over three days. The Fall Tour of Homes, Oct. 1–3, offers tours daily from 10 a.m. to noon, 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 9 p.m., with candlelight tours on Friday and Saturday evenings. Tickets are $15 for adults ($1 discount for members of military and seniors 60 and older) and $10 for students. Children younger than 6 are admitted for free.

The town has more than a dozen hotels and several bed-and-breakfast inns, five of which are on this year’s fall home tours. In the town’s historical downtown, the Victorian-style Painted Lady of Columbus Bed & Breakfast (http://paintedladyof columbus.com or 662-241-5553), built in 1890, stood empty for years before being rescued in 2001 by Jennifer Upchurch Miller, who remains its owner and proprietor.

The people who live in Columbus and Natchez love their towns and invest themselves in reviving, preserving, rejuvenating and sharing their homes. Looking inside those capsules of early America is a rare opportunity wrapped in the crisp, cool days of fall when red, orange and yellow leaves flutter from trees.

Lynn Grisard Fullman is a contributor from Birmingham, Ala.

Sep/Oct 2010 Issue

BEFORE YOU GO

For more information, contact
Natchez Pilgrimage Tours at www.natchezpilgrimage.com or Natchez Convention and Visitors Bureau at www.VisitNatchez.org, (800) 647-6742;

Columbus Cultural Heritage Foundation at (800) 920-3533 or Columbus Mississippi Convention & Visitors Bureau at (800) 327-2686 or www.columbus-ms.org.

To visit Natchez or Columbus, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides.

Order free information about Mississippi through the Reader Service Card, found online at http://southern.ai-dsg.com.


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