Saturday, March 10, 2018

Louisiana - Vidalia


On the morning of February 13, 2018 we headed out earlier than normal as we needed to stop at Quick Lane in Collins, MS to get the oil changed in the RV. This is the first time Les has had to drive the RV into the stall for them. Guess it can be a bit intimidating pulling this thing into a narrow space.

Our route to Texas has taken us back into Louisana with Vidalia being our first stop. We stayed at the Riverview RV Resort which is right on the Mississippi River just across from Natchez, MS.
It is a beautiful park, with mostly pull through sites, all cement and very level. Our site looked out over a large grassy area and the river and was nice and wide. The laundry and bathrooms were very clean. The WiFi was good and Verizon signal strong. We paid $41.00 a night with our Good Sam Club discount. There are two cabins to rent and a large tent area.

The tent field was empty and far enough away from the RV sites that it made the perfect place for some off lead play with Mielikki.

There is a walkway that runs a mile and a half along the river that was perfect for dog walking and watching the barges pass by.

Natchez is steeped in history. From Indian Settlements to the Civil War.
The Natchez Trace Parkway starts here and heads north for 444 miles ending in Nashville, TN. You travel through three states and 10,000 years of history. It was established as a National Park in 1938 and completed in 2005. Driving on it reminds us of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Road less traveled
The entire parkway is paved but we followed a sign to a historical sight, which we never found, but the road was interesting.

The Mississippi Mound Trail starts just south of here and stretches 350 miles along Highway 61. There are 33 mound sites, most of them are on private property, with four being open to the public. Many were destroyed during the development of the land. In February 2017 we explored the Winterville Indian Mounds in Greenville, MS.

The  Emerald Mounds are just north of the city. There is no museum here but there are plenty of information boards.
It is 35-feet tall and 770-feet long and 435-feet wide at its base, making it one of the largest mounds in North America. It was built and used during the Mississippian period between AD 1250 and 1650. It was strictly a ceremonial grounds, with the Natchez Indians who built it, living in surrounding villages. They abandoned this site to move to the Grand Village, 12 miles south.
A spiral walkway takes you to the lower platform ~ the picture on the right is from the top of the mound

The Grand Village of Natchez is right in town.
The complex consists of not only three mounds, but also a museum with numerous displays and a film that explains the mounds and villages that once sat here. The three mounds include The Great Sun and The Temple which were excavated and explored by archaeologists and then rebuilt to their original size and shape, and one other mound that was partially dug up by archaeologists and then abandoned.
Drawings and excerpts from the diary of Du Pratz
L: Hot weather clothing  C: Cold weather clothing R: Women's cothing
It was the main ceremonial center for the Natchez Indians. Only those of the highest ranking lived here, the rest lived in surrounding villages. The Natchez were the largest and strongest native population in this area when the French settled here. A French colony was established among the Natchez in 1716. Frenchmen lived among the Natchez for decades and wrote about their way of life before the relationship deteriorated. Due to this it is one of the better documented tribes.
The Natchez Indian society was divided into rank by lineages. Inheritance was through the female line and that determined which lineage or rank you were. The highest-ranked lineage was known as the Sun family, led by a hereditary chief called the Great Sun.
Great Sun and Temple Mounds

The Chief lived on the Great Sun Mound. When he died, his wives and retainers were killed in a ceremony so they could accompany him into the next life. His house was burned and additional layers of dirt were laid and then the house of his successor was erected.

Great Sun Mound
The temple on the Temple Mound was 60-feet long and 42-feet wide. A sacred fire was kept burning inside, symbolic of the sun.
Temple Mound ~ Left picture shows the ramp

The abandoned mound 
Building the mounds was a massive undertaking. A process called "basket loading" was used. Dirt was dug and loaded into baskets, then carried and dumped out and stamped down. This process, as you can imagine was repeated many times until the desired size and shape was obtained. The sides were usually very steep so a ramp was built for easier access.

It was an interesting few hours wandering the site and reading all of the informational boards. The site is still used for ceremonies and a large Powwow each Spring.

Natchez also has its share of Roadside Oddities. Some quirky, like Tripods Gravesite on the front lawn of City Hall. He was a three legged cat that adopted the town folk.

Mammy's Cupboard is a very unique building. It is shaped like a Southern Belle's skirt and serves up southern fare for lunch.
It is not without some controversy as the owner had the women painted as an African American and added a head scarf. He figured the controversy would help to
bring in customers.
While at the Visitor Center, Les tried his hand at steering the boat.

One Roadside is much more serious, it is a memorial to one of the saddest parts of our history. Natchez was the largest hub for slave trade in the state, with a number of markets in the city. In 1833 a ban was put in place barring traders from bringing slaves inside the city limits, due to fear of disease.

The Fork in the Road, which is just outside the city became one of the biggest markets. The triangular piece of land looks rather unimposing today, but the historic sign boards tell of the pain and suffering that took place here.

The city is filled with historic homes and plantations, many of them offer tours. We got a driving tour map from the Visitor Center and we were able to see all of them except Longwood as you need tour tickets to get past the gate.
Auburn 1812  front and back
They range from your basic colonial to large mansions.

Top row is Lansdowne 1853, front and back. The backyards of many of the houses were similar, having two buildings built facing each other across a courtyard. These were kitchens, laundry areas and housing for the house slaves. Bottom right is Monmouth 1818 and left is Choctaw Hall which like many is now a bed and breakfast.

Dunleith 1856 front and side

Two of them are National Monuments.

William Johnson, know as the "Barber of Natchez" was born a slave and freed at the age of eleven by his owner, also named William Johnson, who was his father and raised William like a son, teaching him to read and write. Both his mother, Amy and sister Adelia were freed a few years prior. Johnson became an apprentice at his brother-in-laws barber shop. In 1830 he purchased his first shop for $300. He eventually owned three barbershops and a bath house in the city.
Model display of house - the building
in back were the slave quarters.  

He married Ann Battles, another freed slave in 1835 and they had eleven children. The last was born in 1851, the same year Johnson died. He was killed by his neighbor Baylor Winn over a boundry dispute.
He was a very prominent business man and he also was a slave owner. He kept detailed diaries of his life and life in the city from 1835-1851. They have been an important resource for the study of free blacks, African American history and American history in general.
His house is in downtown Natchez and was kept in the family until 1976 when it was sold to the Ellicott Hill Preservation Society. They donated it to the city and then it was donated to the National Parks Service. After repairs and renovations were made it was opened as a museum in 2005.
The top left picture is of the entry hall, yes it is a startlingly pink color. It was confirmed to be paint from the 1800's by two separate paint analyses in 1970 and 1990. Bright colors were associated with wealth. Top right is the bedroom of Harriet Battles, Johnson's mother-in-law. She retained the title to the home until her death in 1873, when it was then bequeathed to her five granddaughters.
Bottom left is the upstairs parlor. Bottom right is William and Ann's bedroom. The majority of the furniture in the house are original pieces.

Melrose, was home to John McMurran who relocated to Natchez from Pennsylvania in the mid 1820's. He started his law practice here and was elected to the state legislature. In 1841 he purchased the 132 acres that the Melrose plantation sits on. The Greek Revival-styled home was considered to be one of the finest in the area. The now 80 acres are maintained by the National Park Service. You can tour the home, but once again we had the dog with us so we just wandered the grounds.
This beautiful tree is at the edge of the outbuildings 
Behind the house are two identical buildings facing each other across the courtyard. They housed the kitchen, laundry, dairy and the upstairs were the living quarters for the house slaves.

The grounds consist of the carriage house, which is home to a number of old carriages.

Plus, there are two of the original slave quarters left, one is being used as an office for the park rangers.

Cotton, sugarcane and fruit trees made up the crops of the plantation.
There is a small sample garden with cotton and sugarcane. It is called Laura's Garden, after a young slave that lived here.

The growing process of Cotton 

The Historic Natchez Cemetery is quite beautiful. At first we didn't think we could get into it as a movie is being filmed at the main entrance.
As it turned out we were able to use a different entrance and explore to our hearts content. It did add a layer of intrigue having a helicopter hovering over us.

We found the usual markers and a few new ones.

Angels of course but a few that were a little different than usual.
The center headstone has an angel carved on it 

There were quite a few headstones and fences with the Mason's logo on them. More than we normally see. Some of the fences are beautifully ornate.

There was a very well preserved Willow Tree and this one had the addition of columns.

One tomb was rather interesting as people have left a number of items on the grave and stairway. We usually find this on graves of gypsies.
This is the grave of Florence Irene Ford, who died in 1871 of yellow fever at the age of 10.

During her short life she was extremely frightened of storms and would seek comfort from her mother. When she passed her mother was so grief stricken that she had the gravesite designed with a stairwell as deep as the grave, a glass window was placed at the end of it so she could see the coffin.

During storms she would climb down the stairs to comfort her daughter. To provide shelter for her a hinged metal door was installed. In the mid 1950's a concrete wall was erected at the bottom of the stairway to prevent vandalism.

Crosses galore, including one section with a number of Celtic crosses.

We found crosses on tombs and fences. A different take on the cross and wreath and even a cross anchor!

There is a large Jewish section and we found the most interesting headstones. Pretty sure these hand carvings are not the greeting from Star Trek. Anyone know what they mean?

There was an Asheville, NC connection here, the owners of the Natchez Brewery are from Asheville, so of course we had to stop in and say hello.

Port Gibson is about an hour north of Natchez and we headed there to get pictures of Roadside Oddities.
The first was a Submarine that was used to smuggle moonshine during Prohibition. Little did we know that the sub was on the property of the Grand Gulf Military Park. It is a State Park and has a number of old buildings from the Civil War.

There are a couple of old houses used by the officers and a church that was moved here from Rodney when the town went under. The water wheel was originally built on the property of Mr and Mrs. J Peacock of Mendenhall in 1948. It was donated to the park in 1971. It was used to generate electricity that operated a generator.

The large hole in the ground is what is left of the Confederate Ammunition Magazine. On May 3, 1863 the ammunition was set on fire as the Federal Army approached.

Just down the road from the park is access to the the Mississippi River, Nancy got to stick her feet in it. There was a large barge making the turn in the river and creating quite the whirlpool.

On the road leading to the river is a tall sign with the markings of floods dating back to 1922. The latest and most devastating was in 2011 at 57-feet. Yes, all the buildings are on stilts.

We also got a picture of the church spire with a Golden Hand pointing to the heavens, a Glass Bottle Tree, a Mural and the Courthouse.
Port Gibson was the site of several clashes during the Civil War. Ulysses S Grant stayed here and many of the buildings survived due to his love for the town. He was quoted stating that the town was "too beautiful to burn."

The Windsor Ruins are in the abandoned town of  Rodney,  just south of Port Gibson.
The 23 columns and iron work are all that is left of the mansion that once stood here. It was built in 1861 by Smith Daniell, who died just weeks after it was finished.

It has a colorful history. Mark Twain was a frequent visitor and loved watching the river from the roof top observatory. A Yankee soldier was shot in the front doorway.

Ulysses S Grant took over the home when he came ashore during the war and it was used as headquarters and a hospital.

After the war during a house party on February 17, 1890 a guest left a lighted cigar on the upper balcony and the house burned to the ground.  In the 1800's the river was just a short distance from the home. It is now miles to the west. The top left picture shows a field that was once the river.

If you read our blog post from New Orleans you know that we received 100's of beads from the Mardi Gras parades we attended. Katrina and Steve took a bunch home with them, but that still left us with what we guesstimated to be close to 500 strands. We kept a few of our favorites and bagged up the rest with plans to donate them once we were out of Mardi Gras territory.
Well, while we were shopping in a local craft store here in Natchez we walked down an aisle with beads for sale and jokingly commented that maybe we should buy more to add to our collection we didn't know what to do with. There was a lady standing there that asked if we had some we wanted to get rid of and we of course said Yes! She told us about Pleasant Acre Day School, where her daughter attends. It is a school for intellectually and developmentally disabled adults.
We gladly took them there and the director, Mary Ann Foggo-Eidt gave us a tour of their bead room.

The students sort the beads by color and length. They then sell the beads to help pay for the schools utilities and fund a special field trip to Biloxi. The school is a non-profit and is funded strictly from community support. They also have a small thrift store, which of course we found a few things we couldn't live without.
A couple of years ago they got the idea to have a "throw back" float at the end of the Natchez parades. The people watching the parade can throw back any beads they don't want to keep. They had no idea how popular it would be and now have added a second float.
If you are looking for someplace to make a donation - they would appreciate any support you could offer.

Next up is Simsboro, LA

Till we meet again...

Happy Trails to You!

Tips and things we have learned along the way.
~ Windows and rain don't always work well together
On a previous tip we talked about the vise we bought and Les put it to good use while cutting down a wooden dowel. Four of our windows slide up and down and can only be opened to one level. This doesn't always work when it's raining. Closing all the windows can make it very hot and stuffy, hence the dowel.
Cut into four different lengths allows us to prop the windows open at varying heights. From open a few inches to just barely to let in a little air.

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