Intriguing…eccentric…fascinating…these are the words that spring to my mind when I think of Natchez MS! There are so many things to do in Natchez MS from touring antebellum homes to eating great food to watching the sun set over the Mississippi River.
Quick History of Natchez MS through the Civil War
Natchez sits on bluffs that rise sharply above the Mississippi River. The first inhabitants were the Natchez Indians. These were mound building Indians possibly related to the Indians we learned about at the Hampson Archeological Museum State Park which was located just up the river in the Mississippi Delta town of Wilson, Arkansas. You can still see some of the great mounds built by the Natchez Indians.
French settlers joined the Indians and built Fort Rosalie in 1716. This makes Natchez a few years older than New Orleans – a fact of which the locals are very proud and quick to mention.
By 1763 the French ceded Natchez to Great Britain and during the Revolutionary War it was a haven for loyalists. In 1779 it was captured by the Spanish and remained under Spanish dominion until 1798 when the United States took possession and made it the first capital of the Mississippi Territory.
It was in the years after this that Natchez became one of the most important farming areas in the country. The plantation owners, most of whom were from either the northern United States or the British Isles, used slave labor to grow cotton on huge tracts of fertile river land and amass their fortunes.
Before the Civil War Natchez had the highest concentration of millionaires per capita of anywhere in the United States outside of New York. The wealthy plantation owners built grand homes throughout the city and countryside in the years leading up to the Civil War.
The area was known for its wealth. Incredible wealth built on the backs of slaves.
Natchez was spared during the War because they surrendered to the Northern troops without a fight in 1862. Most of the mansions in the town were then occupied by northern officers and thus they survive today.
I’m struggling to find the words to describe this town. Natchez is…interesting…fascinating. The town and the people draw you in with stories and hauntings and gossip and eccentricities.
As you tour Natchez I would suggest that you take the time to listen, take the time to dig a little deeper into both its past and present.
Things to do in Natchez MS
(Due to Covid things may have changed. As you plan your trip to Natchez MS I suggest that you check the dates and times and regulations for anything that you might want to do in Natchez.)
Stop in at the Natchez Visitor Center
Although most of Natchez seems to want to skim over the fact of slavery I was impressed with the exhibit in the Natchez Visitor Center. It was a presentation all about the history of slavery in the area and the Forks in the Road slave market.
Forks in the road was the site of the second largest slave market in the United States. When the slaves talked about being sold “down river” this was the market and the area to which they were referring.
Besides interesting and well done displays the Natchez Visitor Center provides information on the historic homes. Everyone we spoke with there was very helpful and friendly. It is here that you can find out the opening hours of the homes and buy tickets to view them.
You will also find information about tours, museums, sites of interest, Natchez attractions, and Natchez events as well as a souvenir shop.
In addition to all of the above the Visitor Center has a great view of the Mississippi River!
Take a Tour through Natchez
You can find out about tours and purchase tour tickets at the Natchez Visitor Center. Some of the tours offered are:
Open Air Tours
Open Air Tours provides a 45-60 minute narrated tour of the historic district of Natchez. The tour covers over 25 historic locations. You ride in a covered buggy similar to a large golf cart. The company is owned and operated by a native of Natchez, whose family has been here for 7 generations. Tours begin from the Natchez Visitor Center.
Downtown Karla Brown
Downtown Karla Brown offers a variety of tours of Natchez. She has some Natchez history tours, ghost tours, bike tours of the Natchez Trace and food tours. There is also a book tour which visits some of the places mentioned in the books written by Greg Iles such Natchez Burning and Mississippi Blood.
Southern Carriage Tours
Southern Carriage Tours take you in a horse drawn carriages for a narrated tour around the historic district of Natchez. They depart from the corner of Canal and State streets and provide a little history, a little humor, and a good time.
Visit Antebellum homes in Natchez
They call these houses homes, but honestly? They are mansions. We were told by one tour guide that the original owners never called them mansions because that was considered too pretentious.
Here are some of the “homes” that you must see that are open year round.
NOTE: Some of these are open daily and some are only open on certain days or by appointment so you will want to check with the Visitor Center to get a schedule.
Stanton Hall is done in the Greek revival style and is impeccably maintained by the Pilgrimage Garden Club. It takes up an entire city block and was originally named Belfast because its first owner, Frederick Stanton, was an Irish immigrant. It occupies an entire city block.
Rosalie was one of my favorites! It has a beautiful location on the bluffs. You can see the Mississippi River from the second floor balcony. This house is owned, operated and maintained by the Mississippi State Society Daughters of the American Revolution. Rosalie has many of the original furnishings including some of the items from the children’s rooms. Although huge and lovely it still feels like a comfortable family home.
Longwood is perhaps the most fascinating of all the homes. It is a grandiose octagonal structure with an exotic dome. Construction was halted by the Civil War. Had it been completed the octagonal home would have had six levels, 10 bedrooms, entertainment areas and grand porches for a total of 32,000 square feet of living space!
The family lived for many years in the unfinished home on the ground floor which was 10,000 square feet. Longwood remained in the same family until the mid 1900’s. It was eventually purchased and then donated with the caveat that it could never be completed.
Magnolia Hall is operated by the Natchez Garden Club and has been renovated by the club to be as close to the original as possible. This includes the color of the house and columns which have been restored to their original brown shade. Magnolia Hall was the last grand house to be built in town before the Civil War. On the second floor there is a historic clothing museum.
The Towers was built over three distinct time periods beginning in 1798. A fire destroyed part of the home and changed the appearance in the 1920’s. The current owners, Ginger and James Hyland, have undertaken a renovation to repair the home and bring it back to its 1850’s appearance with the distinctive towers. When you tour the home you will be able to see old photos of all the stages of the house.
Ginger has extensive collections! From beaded purses to costume jewelry to museum quality glass of various colors. You will be dazzled by the bling and the sparkle at the Towers. If you are in Natchez around Christmas you must see the spectacle that is this home and a multitude of Christmas trees decorated with jewelry.
Visit the Natchez City Cemetery
This is a beautiful, peaceful, and very special old cemetery. The City Cemetery was established in 1822 on the bluffs high above the Mississippi River. People from all walks of life and religions are buried here. You can pick up a brochure at the Visitor Center which will tell you points of interest as well as where certain people are buried.
You enter through lovely gates and down a road shadowed by majestic live oaks. There are some gorgeous views throughout the cemetery.
The Natchez City cemetery is particularly known for its art. The iron fences, benches, tombstones, and monuments were created by talented marble workers and craftsmen. Inscriptions on the monuments are often moving, thought-provoking, and insightful. Plan to spend some time wandering the grounds and observing this cemetery.
There is also a nearby national cemetery that you might want to see.
Eat Great Food!
You know that the south is known for their food and Natchez has a good food scene. You will find Delta tamales, soul food, old fashioned southern home cooking, barbecue, and even a bit of fine dining! You will definitely want to have some oysters while you are in the area. Check out my post about the best restaurants in Natchez for some suggestions.
First Presbyterian Church
The church itself is gorgeous and something you will want to see but even more important are the photographs in the attached Stanton Hall. This is a museum containing Civil War era black and white photographs of Natchez. Be sure and read the newspaper article on the wall to see how the photos came to be found.
I think that It is really an incredible thing for the city of Natchez to have these photos that represent the history of the town and its people. These photos give you a detailed glimpse of Natchez culture and society. You will see portraits of local citizens, architecture, street and river scenes. Truly fascinating and not to be missed.
St. Mary Basilica in Natchez Mississippi
St. Mary Basilica is an architectural masterpiece that is open for the public to walk through and enjoy. When you step inside you might feel for a minute as if you are in a church in Europe rather than a small southern town. Construction began on the cathedral in 1842 and in 1998 it was given the status of a minor basilica. It is a lovely building with gorgeous stained glass.
Learn About the History of Slavery in Natchez
It is harder to learn about the history of slavery in Natchez than you might imagine. So much of this part of the history is skimmed over…and yet, is that what we really want to do in this day and age? I think it is important to know the whole history of a place.
The history of Natchez and the history of slavery are inextricably tied together and in my opinion should be presented as a whole.
However, there are a few places in Natchez that provide the opportunity to learn the history of slavery and the African American people in the area.
Natchez Museum of African American History and Culture
The Natchez Museum of African American History and Culture is a small, but important museum. It contains exhibits from a number of Natchez related African American historic sites, important citizens and events.
Some of the exhibits include: The Rhythm Nightclub fire, where over 200 African American Natchez citizens were either burned or trampled to death; Forks of the Road, which was the second largest slave market in the South; and some of the literary works of critically acclaimed author Richard Nathaniel Wright, a Natchez native.
I would highly suggest taking the tour if it is available. You will learn even more!
Forks of the Road
Natchez played a significant role in the southward movement of the existing slave population to the waiting cotton plantations of the deep south. Most slave sales in Natchez were held at a market known as “The Forks of the Road,” about one mile east of downtown Natchez. This was the second largest slave market in the US.
You would think that this would be a super well known and important Natchez historical site, right?
Unfortunately it is not.
It is a small monument on a bit of land with a square of concrete into which shackles and chains are embedded and a few plaques with information about the slave market. It is a somber spot that should take much higher precedence in the history of Natchez.
Visit the William Johnson House Museum
William Johnson was a slave who became free at age 11. He was a free man of color in the pre-Civil war days who made his living as a barber. He became a successful businessman who owned several buildings in Natchez, as well as approximately 2,000 acres of land south of town. Mr. Johnson also owned about 16 slaves.
We know a lot about him because he kept a meticulous diary for almost 16 years, from 1835 until his untimely death in 1851.
His diary is the lengthiest and most detailed personal narrative authored by an African American during the pre-Civil War era, an extraordinary record of social, political, and cultural life in his hometown of Natchez. His home has become a museum which is owned by the National Park Service.
Under the Hill and the Under the Hill Saloon
Nineteenth century Natchez was basically two cities in one. You had the rich and middle class on top of the bluffs with the rough and tumble river boat crowd below the bluffs in an area known as Natchez Under the Hill.
Natchez Under the Hill was said to be one of the rowdiest and most dangerous ports on the Mississippi River. It was a bustling area with streets which were lined with brothels, bars, and saloons. There was even a racetracks where people from all socio-economic levels would gamble. The keelboats, flatboats, and eventually the steamboats all docked here during a time when the Mississippi River was the main source of transportation and much busier than it is today. There was also a ferry to shuttle the locals across the river.
Eventually the railroad began to take over the steamboat traffic, the ferry was replaced by a bridge, and the land Under the Hill began to be undermined by the ever flowing river and erode away.
Today there is just one street in the under the hill district. It has been revitalized with restaurants and a few shops. It is a wonderful place to watch the sunset over the Mississippi river.
A visit Under the Hill wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the Under the Hill Saloon. This is one of the oldest buildings in town and used to be a place for boatmen, prostitutes and unsavory characters. It still feels like a locals type of place and has live music on certain nights.
Stay in a Bed and Breakfast
Natchez is known for having tons of bed and breakfast accommodation. You can stay in one of the old houses and enjoy all the history as well as a great breakfast. You can also elect to stay in an airbnb and there are plenty of hotels to choose from. You can read more about places to stay in Natchez here.
Attend a Musical Concert at the Stone House Musical Bed and Breakfast
Mr. Stone was a professional musician for many years in New York, but has returned to his family home in Natchez. I confess that I don’t know much about classical music so I enjoyed that before he played each piece of music Mr. Stone explained what we were going to be hearing and why it was important for the particular time in which it was created.
It makes for a pleasant evening with champagne, music, and a tour of the Stone House.
Learn to make biscuits
Regina Charboneau was once called the “Queen of Biscuits” by Gourmet magazine. The restaurant owner and cookbook author now resides in her hometown of Natchez Mississippi. You can eat at her restaurant Regina’s Kitchen and she also offers a biscuit cooking class. Check out the Regina’s Kitchen website for the times of the classes.
Watch the Sun Set over the Mississippi River
Watching the sun go down over the Mississippi River is a big deal in Natchez. For GOOD reason. Sunset over the river is glorious. You can watch from the bluffs above the river or from Natchez under the hill.
Magnolia Bluffs Casino
There is a casino right on the river with over 480 slot machines as well as table games.
Natchez MS Annual Events
The Spring Pilgrimage of Natchez and The Fall Pilgrimage of Natchez
So just what are the pilgrimages of Natchez MS? Only the most important events in Natchez!
The Pilgrimage dates back to the 1930’s and is a month long series of house tours and activities that take place from mid-March to mid-April in the spring and late September to late October in the fall.
The Pilgrimage is the event that makes the expensive maintenance of many of the old homes in Natchez possible.
During the Natchez Pilgrimage you can buy tickets to see many of the homes that aren’t open at other time of the year. Often when you arrive you will be greeted and taken through the home by the owners themselves. You will learn not only about the history of the home but also the history of the furnishings, possessions, collections, and in many cases…you will get the personal history of the owners themselves.
Touring these homes is a fascinating experience.
NOTE: Many of the homes on tour during the pilgrimage are only open on certain days and at certain times so you will definitely want to get a schedule at the Visitor Center!
Natchez Balloon Festival
Imagine a flock of hot air balloons floating across the mighty Mississippi River! Held the third weekend in October, which also happens to be during the Fall Pilgrimage, the Natchez Balloon Festival is a family friendly event with live music, a carnival, an arts and crafts market, and balloons floating overhead. It is held on the grounds of the Rosalie mansion situated on the Bluffs above the river.
Angels on the Bluff
These are tours of the Natchez City Cemetery held during the month of November. The dates can change so be sure to check the schedule. It might seem strange to tour a cemetery, but this one is special. You will visit selected gravesites and learn about the history, scandal, tragedy, and mystery of Natchez.
Things to do Near Natchez MS
Visit the Delta Music Museum
The Delta Music Museum is just across the river from Natchez in Ferriday, Louisiana.
Grand Village of the Natchez Indians
The Grand Village of the Natchez Indians is the place to go to learn about the original inhabitants of Natchez. It is a museum and 128-acre park featuring three prehistoric Native American mounds, a reconstructed Natchez Indian house, and a nature trail.
Frogmore Cotton Plantation and Gins
The origins of Frogmore Cotton Plantation go back to the 1815s. This is both an historical and agricultural experience. The fact that Frogmore is still an active farm makes it unique. You can learn about the past of the plantation as well as the history of cotton and how it is grown and harvested today.
Drive the Natchez Trace Parkway
The Natchez Trace Parkway is a scenic drive which follows a historic trail used originally by the American Indians, then by the European settlers and slave traders. It begins near Nashville, Tennesse and ends in Natchez Mississippi. It is a beautiful drive with hiking, biking, scenic and historical sites along the way.
Thanks for learning about all the things to do in Natchez MS
As you can see there a many attractions in Natchez. It is a wonderful place to visit.
Laurel is another lovely town that you might want to visit in Mississippi.
Thanks for stopping by!