European settlement on these bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River began with the French in 1716. They called their settlement Fort Rosalie but the French never found peace with the Natchez Indians who had built a civilization in the area around ceremonial mounds. The Natchez descended on the French in 1729 and wiped out the French colony, killing 229 men women and children. The French, supported by Indian enemies of the Natchez, systematically destroyed the tribe over the next two years. The Natchez were gone but the French named the town after the vanquished Native Americans.
Great Britain won Natchez after defeating the French in the 1760s and rule passed through Spanish and American hands until all Spanish claims to the land were surrendered to the United States in 1795. The county was named for President John Adams and Natchez was made the first capital of the new Mississippi Territory. The government would soon move to Washington six miles to the east but was back in Natchez in 1817 when Mississippi became the 20th state in the Union. In 1822 the legislature departed for good, to the more centrally located Jackson and after that the townsfolk got down to doing what they did best - making money.
Natchez was a key shipping post on the Mississippi River. Boatmen would float down the river from Kentucky and Ohio and sell their goods and their boats for lumber. Then they would pack up and head back north 500 or so miles on an old buffalo trail that came to be known as the Natchez Trace.
The first planters to the region tried the great Colonial cash crop, tobacco, but it didn’t take. Then they tried cotton. So much cotton was grown and shipped out of Natchez that the town could lay claim to being the wealthiest planters in America. Natchez was hurt by the Civil War but one thing the conflict did not take away was its housing stock. The town surrendered in 1862 and remained in Union hands for the rest of the rebellion. It emerged with more antebellum homes than just about anywhere.
Those mansions remain the backbone of Natchez’s identity. Beginning in 1932 many of the historic homes were opened to visitors in the Spring Pilgrimage. The event has expanded to four weeks when residents and friends connected to the antebellum homes don costumes and greet pilgrims. The doors to natchez don’t have to open for its rich heritage to be on view, as we will discover on our walking tour which will kick off where the town began, on the bluffs atop the Mississippi River...
Bluff Park, Mississippi River between Main and Market streets
The Spanish laid out ground along the bluff for a public park in 1790 and in 1804 the United States Congress declared that the Natchez Bluff “shall be preserved forever as a public ground.” By the 1990s that ground found itself on lists of the “Most Endangered Places in America.” There were plans to construct a ten-story casino-hotel that would ruin the view of the Mississippi River declared “second to none” and erosion was threatening the bluff itself. The building project was scaled back and a $30 million stabilization effort saved the bluff. Today the views are intact and road-paths lead down to the Under The Hill Historic District for shopping and dining.
WITH YOUR BACK TO THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER TURN RIGHT AND WALK SOUTH ON BROADWAY. IF YOU WISH TO MAKE A DETOUR TO NATCHEZ UNDER-THE-HILL FOLLOW THE ROAD DOWN TO THE RIVER (THE WALKING PATH TO THE RIGHT LEADS TO THE CASINO). IF YOU GO DOWN, RETURN HERE TO RESUME THE TOUR.
107 South Broadway Street
Natchez was home to half of antebellum Mississippi’s free black population and one of the leaders of the black business community was Robert D. Smith who had this handsome Greek Revival brick home erected in the 1850s. The building is formed in an “L-shape” as the rear wing was used for Smith’s taxi business in town.
209 South Broadway at northeast corner of Washington Street
Joseph O’Brien, who operated a coal business at Natchez Under-the-Hill, flipped through an architectural pattern book in 1883 and came up with this eye-catching Swiss Chalet-influenced house. Historians have since identified his inspiration as E.C. Gardner’s Illustrated Homes, published in 1875 in Boston.
The Parsonage/James Metcalfe House
305 South Broadway at southeast corner of Washington Street
The story goes that Peter Little of neighboring Rosalie got sick of his wife entertaining visiting preachers in their home so he gave this land to the Methodist Church for a parsonage to be constructed in 1852. The brick structure with a raised portico was sold by the church after the Civil War and has been a private home since then.
100 Orleans Street at southwest corner of Canal Street
Peter Little took his cotton and lumbering money and constructed this Greek Revival-flavored mansion in 1823 on the high bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. When the Union Army made Natchez its headquarters in the southern Mississippi campaign during the Civil War soldiers camped on the lawn at Rosalie. Ulysses S. Grant spent several days here with his family in 1863. Mrs. Andrew Wilson, mistress of Rosalie at the time, and her children remained in residence while Union General Walter Q. Gresham and his family also occupied the house. The two families got on well enough, although Mrs. Wilson proved to be a member of the Confederate secret brigade and was later banished from her house. She became a Confederate nurse when the Greshams moved on. After the war the Greshams returned as house guests of the Wilsons at Rosalie.
WHEN YOU REACH CANAL STREET, TURN LEFT.
Canal Street Depot
southeast corner of State and Canal streets
This Victorian brick train station and attached shed were constructed in 1900. It has been refurbished to provide visitor services and the rides today are horse-drawn carriages, not iron horses.
TURN RIGHT ON STATE STREET.
William Johnson House210 State Street
William T. Johnson was born into slavery in 1809 but was emancipated when he was eleven years old. Johnson trained to be a barber in Port Gibson and became a prosperous entrepreneur in Natchez and a slaveholder himself. In addition to a barbershop Johnson owned a bookstore and property around town. The “Barber of Natchez” constructed this two-story brick building in 1841 with living space upstairs for his ten children and commercial space below. Johnson was killed in a land dispute with a neighbor in 1851 as his eleventh child was being born; his family lived here until 1976. His killer, Baylor Winn, was freed after two years because of a quirk in Mississippi law. Winn claimed to be white and not a free black man and the only witness to the crime, a black man, was not allowed to testify in the case since blacks could testify against whites only in civil cases, not in criminal cases.
TURN RIGHT ON WALL STREET.
Governor Holmes House
207 South Wall Street
This brick house has its toes in the 18th century with the original block having been constructed in 1794 with enlargements coming a decade later. David Holmes, the last territorial governor and the first governor of the new state of Mississippi in 1817, lived here.
222 South Wall Street at northwest corner of Washington Street
Sources from 1856 claim this was the first brick building erected in town, probably between 1798 and 1805 by Manuel Garcia de Texada. The large brick structure was also the most valuable building in early 1800s Natchez. Texada arrived in the region in 1782 to attend to a Spanish land grant along Coles Creek and became a successful planter. He also was in charge of the Natchez Royal Hospital. One of his early tenants in this building ran the American Eagle Tavern, hence the name it carries two centuries later. Texada died in 1817, only weeks before Mississippi entered the Union as the 20th state.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO STATE STREET.
118 South Wall Street at northeast corner of State Street
This spacious five-bay brick home covered in stucco, somewhat altered, is a souvenir from 1818. Andrew Jackson is said to have stayed in this house in 1840 after his presidency was over and he was traveling to New Orleans for the unveiling of his now-famous statue in Jackson Square.
Adams County Courthouse
northeast corner of Wall and State streets
Courthouse Square was the exact center of Natchez as laid out by the Spanish. Dating to 1821 this is the oldest of five antebellum courthouses still in use in Mississippi.The core of the building before expansions was constructed of brick and covered in cream-colored stucco.
Adams County Jail
314 State Street
This Victorian brick jail was put into use in 1891 and served Natchez until 1975. These days it holds office workers. Five men were hanged inside its walls and the old jail is understandably considered the most haunted building in town.
TURN RIGHT ON PEARL STREET.
215 South Pearl Street at northeast corner of Washington Street
The year was 1858. Thomas Henderson was 60 years old and his wife had died. Henderson hailed from a pioneering merchant family. His father John had arrived from Scotland in 1770 and started plantations along the Mississippi River. He had even written the first book published in Natchez Territory and was in on the founding of the Presbyterian church in town. Thomas had made his money planting and selling cotton. He decided to roll his current house on logs to the next block (where it operates as the Pleasant Hill Bed and Breakfast today) and replace it with a grand Greek Revival home. He called it Magnolia Hall for the plaster leaves and blossoms incorporated into its ceilings; it would be the last great Natchez residence completed before the Civil War. The mansion would take a shell during a Union bombardment during the war but it survived with little damage. Thomas Henderson, however, did not live to see the end of the conflict. The Henderson family sold the property to the Britton family and the deed came to the Natchez Garden Club in 1976.
TURN LEFT ON WASHINGTON STREET.
300 South Commerce Street at southwest corner of Washington Street
The Civil War and the hardships that followed brought an end to most of the grand residential building projects in Natchez. But not all. The Schwartz family sailed from Bavaria and settled in Natchez in the early 1800s. John Conrad Schwartz became one of the town’s leading merchants and Christian Schwartz was a successful planter and businessman. Christian built the town’s finest mansion in the aftermath of the Civil War, which he called Glen Auburn, in 1875. It is one of the few French Second Empire confections ever constructed in Mississippi. Marvelously preserved, details such as iron cresting on the mansard roof and stone quoins wrapping the five-bay house are still evident.
Trinity Episcopal Church
305 South Commerce Street at southeast corner of Washington Street
Dating from the early days of Mississippi statehood this rectangular brick building boasts an impressive portico of fluted Doric columns. It stands as the oldest church building in Natchez and the oldest Episcopal house of worship in the state. Trinity Church was formed in 1822 and work was immediately begun on a domed sanctuary designed by John Munce that was ready by 1823. The dome was pulled down in 1838 in favor of the portico seen today.
Temple B’nai Israel
213 South Commerce Street at northeast corner of Washington Street
French and German Jews began arriving in Natchez in the 1840s, spawning the oldest Jewish congregation in Mississippi. There were 145 members in Temple B’nai Israel when this splendid Neoclassical temple was dedicated on March 25, 1905. The price tag was $27,000 with funds coming not just from the Jewish community but Christians as well. Architect H.A. Overbeck of Dallas, Texas drew up the plans. There was seating in the sanctuary for 450 around a centerpiece ark of Italian marble. Yet almost as soon as its crowning moment was achieved the congregation went into decline. The coming of the boll weevil and Mississippi floods sent Jewish businessmen elsewhere. By the 1970s there were fewer than 30 families in the synagogue and in 1991 the temple was deeded to the Museum of Southern Jewish Experience that preserves the Jewish tradition in Natchez while the congregation trundles on with only a handful of members.
Judge George W. Armstrong Library
220 South Commerce Street at northwest corner of Washington Street
A reading room opened in Natchez in 1883 and when the 20th century dawned there were only three public libraries in Mississippi, the others being in Holly Springs and Biloxi. The current Colonial Revival building opened in the 1960s and carries the name of George Washington Armstrong. Armstrong was a Texan born in 1866 and trained in law. He abandoned his life as an attorney when the first oil gushers from the great reserves in the salt domes around the Gulf Coast came in during 1901. His career as a judge had lasted two terms in Tarrant County in Texas. Armstrong was a key player in developing oil fields in Adams County and eventually purchased 40,000 acres here to farm and run cattle. He died in Natchez in his 88th year in 1954 after a stroke.
TURN LEFT ON STATE STREET. TURN RIGHT ON PEARL STREET.
124 South Pearl Street at northwest corner of State Street
Harry North Austin was born in Massachusetts in 1861. He married and became an architect but after his wife died he took a second bride, Mary Buie, who was a niece of Confederate Major Reuben Webster Millsaps. Millsaps was founding a college in Jackson so Austin migrated to Mississippi where he maintained a busy practice for over thirty years before his death at age 73. In 1924 he came down to Natchez to create this Neoclassical government home, rendered in light brick. The pedimented wings are braced by Doric columns and the building is surrounded by a heavy modillion block cornice.
First Presbyterian Church
400 State Street at northeast corner of South Pearl Street
Presbyterian services sprouted around Natchez Territory with circuit-riding missionaries as early as 1799 and churches organized beginning in 1804. Reverend Daniel Smith led the Natchez Presbyterian Church into existence in 1817 on this ground that was a high hill at the time. The slopes were graded and the beginnings of this Federal-style meetinghouse erected in 1829. Regular additions came along, including a Romanesque-style chapel to the east side that was named for Joseph B. Stratton who served as pastor from 1843 until 1904. Since 1995 Stratton Chapel has been home to Natchez in Historic Photographs, an exhibit of historic images of the town dating to the late 1800s.
Institute Hall/United States Courthouse
109 South Pearl Street
In many towns old courthouses have been re-purposed for other uses after their trial days are through; in Natchez it works the other way around. This building began life in 1853 as a public school auditorium and classrooms and 150 years later it was rehabilitated into a courthouse. English-born Thomas Lewinski, one of the nation’s leading cheerleaders for the Greek Revival style while working out of Kentucky, designed the building for the Natchez Institute School. The space rapidly evolved into the town’s leading performance hall, hosting acting troupes and lectures - the leading entertainment of the 1800s. The Natchez Library began lending books from the basement in 1883 and stayed over 80 years. After World War I Institute Hall morphed into a memorial for Adams County veterans and bronze plaques were bolted to the pilasters of the facade. The federal government acquired the property in 2004 and held its first trials in 2007.
TURN RIGHT ON MAIN STREET.
Agriculture Bank/Britton and Koontz First National Bank
422 Main Street at southwest corner of Commerce Street
When this Greek Revival banking temple was constructed in 1833 admirers were moved to proclaim it the “finest banking building south of the Potomac River.” The first deposits were taken by the Agriculture Bank but most famously by the Britton and Koontz First National Bank that operated here. William A Britton, his brother Audley C. Britton, and George M. Koontz established their private banking firm in Natchez in 1836 and became a commercial bank thirty years later. Britton & Koontz Bank is still going strong and still headquartered in Natchez, although across the street.
514 Main Street
This is the fanciest commercial building constructed n Natchez in the years following the Civil War. Robert Smith Dixon constructed the two-story brick block sometime between 1866 and 1872; it boasts a cast iron parapet and double-tiered porch. The firm of Dixon and Houghton were “House, Sign, and Ornamental Painters, Imitators of Woods and Marbles, Gilders, Glaziers, Paper Hangers, Wall Colorers.” A “Dixon’s” ghost sign can still be seen on the exposed alleyway elevation.
St. Mary Basilica
107 South Union Street at northeast corner of Main Street
Catholic services were held in Natchez as early as 1700, first by the French and then by Spanish missionaries. As part of the Diocese of Louisiana Natchez Catholics made do without a resident priest until the 1830s. The Diocese of Natchez, with responsibility for the entire state of Mississippi, was established in 1837 and soon construction was underway on a proper sanctuary. Dedication of the Gothic Revival church, executed in red brick, took place on Christmas Day 1843 but construction continued for another 40 years. Stained glass windows were imported from Austria and ecclesiastical appointments were done in Carrara marble from Italy. In 1998 St. Mary was designated as a Minor Basilica.
TURN LEFT ON RANKIN STREET. WALK TWO BLOCKS AND TURN LEFT ON JEFFERSON STREET.
611 Jefferson Street
This is the oldest building standing in Natchez, possibly dating back to 1769. The British erected the structure as a block house for its nearby Fort Panmure; the wood was salvaged from scrapped vessels and hauled to the site by mules - sawmills in Natchez were many years away. Richard King arrived from New York in 1789 and bought the structure for use as a tavern and inn; it also became the mail drop at the end of the Natchez Trace. King sold his business in 1817 and the property reverted to a private residence for 150 years. Most recently the hospitality trade was revived here until the tavern closed in 2012.
Jefferson Street United Methodist Church
511 Jefferson Street at northwest corner of Union Street
The congregation dates back over 200 years with Methodist services being held in 1807. This is the third house of worship to stand here, constructed in 1872.
Wilkins Town House
300 North Commerce Street at northwest corner of Jefferson Street
This was Lot 3 in Square 19 when the Spanish granted it to Donna Sarah Lewis in 1796. She would later marry Isaac Guion who captained the American troops that took possession of the town in 1797, precipitating the incorporation of the Mississippi Territory into United States hands. The Guions sold their Natchez property in 1810 and it was acquired by J.C. Wilkins in 1825 who raised this house shortly afterwards. Master builders Joseph Neibert and Peter Gemmell who did much to shape the early streetscape of natchez are assumed to have built this house as well.
TURN RIGHT ON COMMERCE STREET. TURN LEFT ON HIGH STREET.
401 High Street at northeast corner of Pearl Street
Frederick Stanton and two brothers sailed from Ireland to America in 1815. Frederick made his way to the Mississippi River where he would make a fortune growing and brokering cotton. In 1849 he hired Natchez architect-builder Thomas Rose to design a home in Natchez on a rise set amidst live oak trees. Stanton called his new Greek Revival home Belfast for his native Ireland and outfitted it with mirrors from France, Carrara marble from Italy and the finest furnishings wherever he could find them. His house was complete by 1857 but Stanton had only two years to enjoy one of the South’s finest antebellum mansions before he died in 1859. The Stanton family remained here until 1893 after which the building did time as the Stanton College for Young Ladies for several years. Since 1938 the property has been owned by the Pilgrimage Garden Club.
TURN RIGHT ON PEARL STREET.
408 North Pearl Street
This cottage over a raised basement dates to the days of Spanish colonial rule. George Overaker built the first portions of the house prior to 1817 on a high ridge that gives the property its name. Its current appearance dates to the 1835 acquisition by Alfred and Eliza Cochran for $3,000.
TURN AND RETRACE YOUR STEPS ON PEARL STREET, HEADING SOUTH, AND CROSS HIGH STREET.
310 North Pearl Street at southwest corner of High Street
Nathaniel Loomis Carpenter was born in Vermont and raised and educated in New York. He showed up in Natchez in 1833 when he was 27 years old and carved out a career as a builder and steamboat line owner. Carpenter built this home in 1844, blending the Federal and Greek Revival styles. The crepe myrtle trees on the property suggest the name. In 1851 Carpenter sold the house to legendary riverboat captain, Thomas P. Leathers. Leathers owned and captained eight different steamboats, each named Natchez. On June 30, 1870 Leathers engaged Natchez number 6 in the most famous steamboat race of all time with the Robert E. Lee from New Orleans to St. Louis. The Natchez lost by six hours but while the Lee had run stripped to the hull Leathers, ever conscious of turning a buck, not only raced with crew and passengers but made every scheduled stop. Taking that into account, the Natchez had been the fastest on the Mississippi River but winning bets were paid off on the Robert E. Lee. Leathers would die in 1896 on the streets of New Orleans at the age of 80 after being run over by a nascent bicyclist.
311 North Pearl Street at southeast corner of High Street
Charles H. Dubs was a dentist who hailed from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, setting up practice in Natchez around 1840. When he constructed this brick townhouse in 1852 he made it look like the ones he knew from his native city and placed it right on the sidewalk, unusual for Natchez. Dubs was also an inventor and patented the “Compound Union Screw Forceps” to extract infected teeth. Today the house retains its original bricks and mortar.
201 North Pearl Street at northeast corner of Franklin Street
William Stietenroth was born and raised in Natchez and learned his architecture in St. Louis. He provided the Neoclassical makeover in 1902 for an 1840s brick cottage that Samuel and Jane Newman once lived in here. The building was enlarged and given a swimming pool for the Elks. The Benevolent Protective Order of Elks were founded in New York City in 1868 in the theater district. At first they referred to themselves as the Jolly Corks. The Natchez Lodge was BPOE #553. In 1932 the Natchez Garden Club orchestrated the first Spring Pilgrimage tours from here. Since the 1980s it has operated as a boutique inn.
211 North Pearl Street at southeast corner of Jefferson Street
Architects Francis J. MacDonnell and R. Spencer Soule of New Orleans gave Natchez its finest Renaissance Revival building in 1904, executed in yellow brick and stone trim. The client was the Prentiss Club, a private men’s club that provided a venue for the social whirl of town. In the lavish interior was included a swimming pool, card rooms and a grand ballroom. The club carries the name of Sergeant S. Prentiss, a prominent lawyer in town.
The Eola Hotel
110 Pearl Street at northwest corner of Main Street
The traditional headquarters for the annual Natchez Spring Pilgrimage, the seven-story Eola, named for the developer’s daughter, opened in 1927. It reigns as the tallest building in downtown Natchez and carries a celebrated architectural pedigree - designed by the prolific New Orleans firm of Weiss, Dreyfus & Seiferth whose projects included the Louisiana State Capitol. Isidore Levy of the Natchez Investment Corporation put up $750,000 to construct the hotel that caused local papers to gush that it was a “great symbol of civic progress” for Natchez. The development group defaulted on its mortgage in 1931 during the Great Depression and the hotel was operated mostly as a community benefit, remaining the center of social activity in town, into the 1970s when it closed. A $6.5 million facelift in 1978 brought back the splendor of yore at the Eola.
Natchez Savings Bank
northeast corner of Main and Pearl streets
The Natchez Savings Bank moved to this prominent intersection in 1889 and dressed up the existing commercial building with an ornate metal facade. By 1918 the space was occupied by Tillman’s Cigar Store and the corner was known around town as Tillman’s Corner. Its neighbors on the block are all souvenirs of the Reconstruction era of the 1860 and 1870s in the Old South.
TURN RIGHT ON MAIN STREET.
Post Office/Natchez Museum of African Art and Heritage
301 Main Street at northeast corner of Wall Street
The federal government made an appearance on Main Street in 1905 with this single-story, Neoclassical brick post office, trimmed in stone quoins. Since the 1990s it has been the showcase for the Natchez Association for the Preservation of African American Culture.
206 Main Street
Master builder Andrew Brown constructed this impressive Greek Revival vault in 1838 on plans provided by Commercial Bank president Thomas Henderson. Brown dressed the Ionic facade with grey marble and the bank is considered the only antebellum building in Mississippi boasting a finished stone front. Attached to the rear of the bank was the residence of the bank president, facing out onto Canal Street. The stucco of the house is scored to resemble blocks of stone.
100 Main Street at southeast corner of Broadway
Cast iron enjoyed a brief flurry of popularity as a building material in the 1870s and 1880s. It was easy to form into ornate shapes, it was quick to assemble and it was inexpensive. Here a metal facade was used for a cotton warehouse on the waterfront. It is now home to a tavern. Bowie’s boasts an 1880s-era mahogany bar that was touted as “the largest bar West of the Mississippi” and was signed by legendary scout Kit Carson.
YOU HAVE NOW RETURNED TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT AT THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER.