Our first stop this morning was at Longwood, the largest octagonal home in America. Longwood, constructed during the Antebellum time period, is located in Natchez, once the wealthiest city in the nation. Prior to the Civil War, 13 of the nation’s 30 millionaires called Natchez home. In fact, the homes built here were not for plantation work, but were simply showcases for many northerners’ wealth. All but one antebellum home survived the Civil War, as Natchez sided with the Union and many Union soldiers used the homes during the war.
Longwood is the most visited site in the State of Mississippi due to its unique shape, unfinished structure, and interesting story. Mr. Haller Nutt, a wealthy cotton planter, and his wife, Julia, commissioned famed Philadelphia architect, Samuel Sloan, to design and commence construction on “Nutt’s Folly” in 1859. The plans called for a six story mansion including a basement for private family matters and close friends, a first floor for guest reception, the next two floors for bedrooms, the fourth floor as a play area, and the final two floors for a sunroom and observation area, respectively.
Construction progressed smoothly until 1861. Fears of the War caused Sloan’s Philadelphia craftsmen to leave their tools and flee home to the North. Mr. Nutt employed local workers to finish the basement level in order for the family to move into the home. Essentially the family’s living and bedroom space was combined with the guest reception and dining in the basement level. From a neophyte’s point of view like mine, it seemed as though Mr. Nutt was a forward thinker.
Touring his home reminded me of touring Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater from certain perspectives. For example, the octagonal rotunda in the middle of the home on the basement level did not have windows and thus was shielded from direct outdoor light. To alleviate the potential darkness problem, Mr. Nutt had workers cut holes in the ceiling to allow light from upper levels to filter into the
room…some of the first skylights. In addition, the first level included screens that slid into the wall and shutters that glided upward behind the brick facade…pocket doors. In addition to creative architecture, Mr. Nutt grew his fortune by creating both a new strain of cotton and a different type of cotton gin. Mr. Nutt,crossed the Southern cotton seeds with seeds he smuggled to the states from Egypt to create a softer, finer strain than the current American cotton. Furthermore, the old cotton gins were extremely large and required a significant amount of labor. He designed a gin that could be cranked by one person, thus reducing the labor needs.
The furniture in the home was simply remarkable, and while it is almost all original pieces owned by the family, it was not the furniture designed for the
home as the British embargos kept the family from ever receiving the furniture they ordered. The feather beds included rolling pins on decorative headboards to be used to roll out the dents in the feather mattresses. Fancy chairs and handsome wooden trunks functioned as portable latrines with the swift removal of a cushion or the lifting of trunk’s lid, respectively. Dish warming stands placed in front of the fire place rotated toward the fire when the dishes needed to be warmed and toward the dining table when the dishes were going to be used. An etched glass flycatcher bottle sat on the window sill, while a giant fan hanging from the ceiling above the dining table swayed to the servants’ tug on a rope just enough to “shoo flies” away, but not enough to cool the food. Unfortunately, pictures were not allowed on the basement floor, but they were allowed on the unfinished floors.
The unfinished floors included old bathtubs, shipping crates, and paint cans from the 1800s. Even the crate used to ship a piano was stored in the above floors that were never completed. The mansion wasn’t completed for a variety
of reasons. Mr. Nutt passed away in 1864. Julia and her eight children continued living in the basement of the home until her death in 1897, though were unable to make improvements to the home. After the war, Julia was forced to sell the family’s cotton fields in order to remain in the home with a somewhat affluent lifestyle. The mansion and surrounding 95 acres was later sold to a Texas developer who donated the home to the Pilgrimage Garden Club in 1970 under the condition the manor would never be completed. The developer had planned to section the surrounding acres into home lots for a master planned community. Naturally, the Garden Club members opposed his plan, and eventually the developer conceded and sold the additional acres to the club. Longwood is now registered as a National Historic Landmark, and as such, may not be altered.
In some respects, it is fortunate that Longwood was not completed. Not only does it provide a perspective of the times, but also its unfinished state assisted in its physical survival. The original plans called for a plaster to coat the red brick. The brick, being more soft and porous than the plaster would have soaked in the humidity and the plaster would have inhibited the moisture to escape resulting in crumbling walls and columns. In addition, a water system was designed to collect and use the rainwater from the dome. The dome is made of lead, thus the Nutts were lucky the system was never constructed.
In addition to taking the tour, the dogs and I walked the grounds. We spent a few hours at Longwood before going to Mammy’s Cupboard for lunch. The shape of Mammy’s, a woman with a large skirt, lured me in for a local experience. The special of the day, homemade chicken pot pie, in my opinion was fair, especially for the $12 price tag (including bottled water since tap water wasn’t provided). Had it been a little earlier in the day, and I was a bit closer to Louisiana, I would have held out for a tasty meal in New Orleans. Oh well, it was fun to snap a photo of the building! The rest of the day followed suit with lunch. The last week of weather included cold, snow, ice, and intermittent rain. I spent the afternoon with VANilla’s wipers flipping back and forth across the windshield while sitting in bumper to bumper traffic much of the way. It seemed like people were beginning their Christmas travels Friday afternoon at 2. I finally made it West across a bridge past New Orleans when Gina my GPS kept trying to route me back toward New Orleans, which I knew was the wrong direction, to visit the Jean Fafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. With a migraine oncoming and somewhat exasperated, I just pulled off at a LaQuinta and IHOP parking lot to rest, blog, and wait out the traffic before detouring to the closest Walmart. On second thought, I decided not to move at all….hopefully I’m in a safe parking lot! ETB
Today I spent a leisurely morning at Mike and Deb’s house. The forecast called for rain, so I wasn’t in a hurry to jump into more crummy weather. I thought I would try to catch up my blog, but for some reason it seems like my posts take longer and longer with each new day; therefore, I’m still days behind. I thought by now, I’d be an expert writer, but having used all the words in the Thesaurus, I’m facing writer’s block! For the afternoon, I continued down the Trace, stopping at Rocky Springs, Windsor Ruins, Mount Locust, and Emerald Mound.
Rocky Springs, settled in 1790 grew to 2,600 people by 1860 before it was finally deserted. All that is left of Rocky Springs is a church, its cemetery, a few cisterns, and the remains of two postal safes. The Civil War, yellow fever, destructive crop insects, and poor land management led to the town’s demise. The town was originally established on the Trace (the main road between Natchez and Jackson until the Civil War) by a rocky spring which no longer flows. Its post office was constructed in 1821. A sign posted by one of the rusted safes states its postal receipts were listed as $82.52 in 1827, $57.06 in 1828, and $49.23 in 1828. By comparison, the second largest postal facility in the state located in nearby Port Gibson collected $1,400 per year for the same period. After looping around the ghost town, I stopped for two caches, one conveniently hidden in the trees near the church and the other that required either walking along a paved road that curved outside of the area or taking a short cut down a steep incline through some brush. I opted for the short cut; but frankly, I’d rather find caches closer to the beautiful sites rather than in a nearby poorly, groomed area. Regardless, I found them both!
The Windsor Ruins were located eleven miles off the parkway on Route 552, a two lane country road that wound through nothing but forest. In fact, the surrounding area felt so rural, it caused me to glance down at VANilla’s fuel gauge. After exiting the parkway, the only sign (a piece of brown painted plywood with white lettering hanging by chains from a metal post) pointing to the ruins was located at the dirt road entrance. As we rattled through the bumpy passageway encompassed by dense forest, we arrived at a clearing containing 23 massive columns capped in ornate ironwork. My jaw dropped in sheer astonishment. I felt like I was a character in Land of the Lost or Back to the Future…one minute I was rambling along the back roads of Mississippi and after passing through the magical forest I had arrived in Greece. The columns were once part of the largest, most impressive antebellum home in Mississippi. Smith Coffee Daniel II, a cotton planter, completed the construction of his mansion just weeks before his death in 1861 for a staggering cost of $175,000. Windsor served as an observation post for the Confederate troops and later as a Union hospital. Ironically, Windsor survived the Civil War only to succumb to a fire in 1890 caused by a careless smoker.
We reached Emerald Mound and Mount Locust only 5 miles apart around dusk. The gate to Mount Locust was closed, so I settled for a long distance photo. In the early 1800s, Mount Locust was one of fifty stands erected along the Trace. The stands or “inns” provided a bowl of cornmeal mush and a spot to sleep on a wooden floor to weary Kaintucks who had guided their boats down the Mississippi to Natchez or New Orleans to deliver goods, sold their boats for lumber, and trekked home on foot. The stands were separated by a day’s walk. Due to the significant traffic, the footpath was eventually widened to 12 feet by order of Thomas Jefferson to make it passable by wagon. Mount Locust is the only remaining stand on the Trace.
Indians also used the Trace as they tracked buffalo into the woodlands. The Indians’ heritage is evidenced by the second largest ceremonial mound in the United States, Emerald Mound. Emerald Mound was built in the 1300s by Mississippians, ancestors of the Natchez tribe. The 35-foot high mound supported temples and ceremonial structures. After walking around the 8 acres, the dogs and I rested for the night at the Natchez Walmart.
I awoke to freezing rain. Frozen trickles of water stuck to VANilla’s doors! Luckily the temperature was forecasted to warm to 40 degrees, so with a slightly delayed start, Scout, Petey, and I headed out. Yesterday, we sped through Tupelo without touring the town, so we returned north to visit the Tupelo National Battlefield and the Elvis Presley Park, but not before I went on a caching expedition around MSU. My ex-coworker Mary and I attempted to find a handful of caches in the rain while waiting for a meeting one time. Needless to say, we weren’t really dressed for the occasion, it was cold, and we had a limited amount of time, so we finally had to give up…SO ANNOYING when that happens. I’m pleased to announce, that while it was colder and again raining, I found the magnetic cache under the bleachers at the soccer field and the tube hanging off the bridge by our hotel…YEAH!
On my way to the Elvis Presley Park, I passed by the Tupelo Hardware Co. where Elvis purchased his first guitar. Having only heard of Graceland (though yet to visit), I was tentative to see what this park would offer. Much to my surprise, it was very nice. The park featured a museum, Elvis’ boyhood home built by his father, and the First Assembly of God church previously located a block away where the Presley family attended service. In addition, the park includes a bronze statue of Elvis at the age of 13, walls etched with quotes about him, fountains, and a stone marker for each year of his life placed in a semi-circle around his home. Adjacent to the yearly marker, visitors may find a blank place holder or a historic fact of his life similar to the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I suspect each year when funds become available, a new fact is filled in. Currently, the stones provide visitors with a tidbit of information from his birth on January 8, 1935 to his move to Memphis in 1948. In between years describe family hardships including his father’s imprisonment, music that influenced Elvis, as well as early performances before he was a teen. While I knew Elvis revolutionized music, I didn’t know much else about him, thus I found the park quite interesting.
After worshipping Elvis (not really, but I know some people do), we visited the Tupelo National Battlefield, the site of the last major Civil War battle in Mississippi. The battlefield, complete with a canon, some flags and monument, sat adjacent a busy highway. For some reason, I expected the area to be much larger…oh well, it was large enough to find another cache in the nearby trees, so it suited me! Though I suspect if there were any observers, they were probably wondering why I was circling around trees at the back of the park instead of looking at the monument.
After roving around the battlefield, we proceeded to the Natchez Trace where we stopped at several pullouts and attractions along the way. First, we inspected the ground at a place called Witch Dance. Local legend maintains that witches once danced here, and wherever their feet touched the ground the grass died never to grow again. We didn’t stay long…the trail was extremely muddy…maybe the legend is true – haha!
Our next quick visit was to Pigeon Roost an area where millions of migrating passenger pigeons used to rest. Thought to be an abundant species as flocks filled the skies, the birds were recklessly hunted for food and sport during colonial times which ultimately lead to the pigeons’ extinction in 1914.
The next stop on the Trace that we ambled through was the French Camp. A French Canadian, Louis LeFleur, married to a Choctaw woman, established a stand here to serve travelers along the Trace in 1812. The camp includes a log cabin, a sorghum mill, a carriage, farm tools, gravestones, a post office and a nano cache. Current travelers may also browse the gift shop and enjoy a hot lunch at the café.
We continued south to Cypress Swamp where a nature trail circles around tupelos and bald cypresses rising from the abandoned river channel. As dusk neared, we strolled along the path keeping an eye out for wildlife: alligators, turtles, bobcats and a variety of birds. They must have found a better place for the evening, as all was quiet in swampland.
It was time to join our next set of gracious hosts (a former client Mike and his wife Deb) in Madison, Mississippi. What a marvelous time we had! Mike and Deb treated me to a superb dinner at The Strawberry Café. The grouper topped with artichokes, mushrooms, and lump crab meat was out of this world. It didn’t even taste like fish. Maybe that’s why I liked it! It’s tough to eat fish when it tastes like it smells. The grouper, rich with flavor, flaked apart with every bite…simply succulent!
After dinner, we bee lined toward a street of homes known for their Christmas decorations. The first home could have passed for Clark Griswald’s home in Christmas Vacation. I’m surprised the entire City of Madison wasn’t blacked out with all the wattage used for this house. The roof, the bushes, the doors, the trees, and the yard ornaments illuminated the night sky. But then, we turned into the cul-de-sac, set the radio station on 96.7, and watched the lights on three different houses blink to the music in the car!!! What a riot! Actually, I don’t know what channel the station had to be set to, but different sets of lights on each house flashed in sync to the chimes, bells, symbols, horns, and the like heard in familiar Christmas tunes broadcasted over the car’s speakers. The block is well worth a visit in December! ETB
As I mentioned in the previous post, I never made it to a Walmart parking lot. I ended up camping out right next to the Loveless Café across from a Shell gas station. I entered the restaurant just after opening at 7 am. I wasn’t that hungry, but coffee and heat lured me to a table quickly. The Loveless Café, operating for over 50 years, is a local landmark and world renowned having been featured in Bon Appétit, People Magazine, U.S. News and World Report and more. The café is frequented by celebrities as evidenced by the walls covered with autographed pictures. In addition to serving meals, its smoke house next door sells Bar-B-Q and its Hams and Jams offers a variety of gifts including the café’s famous biscuit mix and preserves. For more history, see the following link: http://lovelesscafe.com/lovelesshistory.html
After an extremely filling breakfast, I headed for the Natchez Trace where I planned to spend the next four days. Unbeknownst to me, the northernmost entrance to the Trace was only a few hundred yards from the café, thus even a better place to camp for the night…until I found out the entrance was closed due to poor road conditions! I called the Natchez Trace visitor center in Tupelo, MS and was advised to avoid the Trace until I crossed the Tennessee River in Alabama. So much for driving south to escape the Kentucky weather! After consulting the map and the Reader’s Digest book, I decided to stop at David Crockett State Park, a suggested stop just east of the Trace, to see Crockett Falls.
Given David Crockett’s celebrated past, I expected some imposing falls. As I was operating my geocaching app on my iPhone, walking the dogs, and trying to stay warm, I walked right by them! Upon my return from dropping the geocoin in the Stairway to Heaven cache, I saw the two foot tumbler. I’d almost classify it as a rapid. With icicles formed on
the river’s rocky edge, it was picturesque none the less. Before leaving the park, I grabbed another cache hidden by a nearby pond. A new type of hide for me…not the typical ammo can, Tupperware, film canister, or bison tube. Thankfully the rocks weren’t covered in snow or I may not have noticed it!
In Lawrenceburg, north of the Tennessee River, the roads appeared clear, thus I chanced driving south via the Natchez Trace Parkway. A good choice…no danger to report. With countless pullouts, mile markers, historical signposts, nature trails, picnic areas, and a handful of entry/exit points, the Natchez Trace reminded me of the Blue Ridge Parkway only flat, swampy lands peppered with cypress trees replaced the mountainous valley overlooks. My first stop on the parkway, just north of the Tennessee border, was at Sunken Trace. Sunken Trace is a spot on the 8,000 year old pathway where early travelers cut additional paths due to boggy terrain. Three distinct routes can be seen at this location.
After crossing Pickwick Lake via the mile-long John Coffee Memorial Bridge, I briefly paused at Colbert’s Stand and ferry crossing. George Colbert operated a ferry, transporting mail, militia, settlers, Indians, and renegades over what many considered the worst natural obstacle of the Trace, the Tennessee River. It is said, that Colbert ferried Andrew Jackson and his troops across the river after the Battle of New Orleans in 1815 for $75,000. Knowing that, I think Chris De Burg’s Don’t Pay The Ferryman chorus makes a good point: “Don’t pay the ferryman, don’t even fix a price, don’t pay the ferryman, until he gets you to the other side”.
We continued further south to Freedom Hills Overlook, our last stop in Alabama before crossing into Mississippi. A steep path led us to the top of a small hill for an anticlimactic view of the Cumberland Plateau. At least the dogs got to go for a short walk!
Before making our way to Wayne and Debby’s for the evening, we made a visit to Tishomingo State Park. We strolled along a short trail that passed an old pioneer cabin and looped around a pond constructed by the CCC during the Great Depression. The path is also home to a cache. We crossed the street and took a longer walk along Bear Creek Trail through the forest. Before leaving the area, I carefully crossed a swinging bridge built of wood and cable in 1939. It was a little too creaky for me!
Knowing I was getting fed a home cooked meal, I hurried on, excited to see my evening hosts, a former client Wayne and his wife Debby. As I sped down the highway, I couldn’t take my eyes off one of the most magnificent sunsets I have seen on my travels. Only locating paved shoulders just before and after short bridges, my opportunities to snap a photo safely seemed fruitless. Not to mention, I found out I could accompany Wayne to a Mississippi State basketball game if I arrived in enough time. After what seemed like twenty minutes of admiring the sky, I just couldn’t stand it anymore. I spotted a cross street, hung a quick right, jumped out of VANilla and caught the tail end of the sunset on film or I guess on pixels. Simply glorious! And I was fortunate enough to enjoy tender, angel hair pasta topped with a savory, homemade meat sauce. I had two helpings and intend to add a meat sauce recipe to my catalog.
While Alabama State University put up a fight in the first half, as expected, Mississippi State University blew them away in the second half, even with their star player benched. Having said that, I think MSU fans would agree with me that it wasn’t the team’s best game. Regardless, it’s still a W in the win/loss column…better than the Cowboys!