Updated: Nov 27, 2019
November 26, 2019
I have heard about Natchez, Mississippi for most of my adult life. Antebellum homes, the mighty Rivah, live oak trees, Southern charm.
I arrived in Natchez yesterday, and I am disappointed - disappointed with myself for not understanding that few places can live up to such hype (Pinehurst and Charleston perhaps being exceptions).
It might have been the drive from Baton Rouge. Eighty miles on US 61, a classic American highway built before the Eisenhower Interstate System. Through Louisiana, the drive is as straight and flat as you might expect in Kansas. And through nothing - maybe several convenience stations and a fast food place here and there. The road gets exciting once you enter Mississippi - there are a few hills and curves to break the monotony. The speed limit is 65 mph - most seem to think it is closer to 85 mph. I’m in it for the journey.
As I got close to Natchez there was a billboard (yay!) for the local Toyota dealership. And then I was greeted at the city border with a sign "Welcome to Natchez, a certified retirement city." Whoa! How in the heck does a city get certified in that category?
Still expecting a charming Southern town, I was hit with what I've termed "small Southern town sprawl." Fast food restaurants; new, larger then they need to be convenience stores; trashy strip shopping centers; a Dollar General; a Supercenter Walmart (of course); check cashing businesses, all types of car repair businesses that clearly don't try to attract customers with their attractiveness; a old gas station selling “crawfish;” Natchez High School - home of Bulldog Nation; and a store with a sign out front saying “we buy pecans.” I’m guessing that’s “pea-CANS” down here.
To be fair, while US 61 is within the city limits, "old Natchez" is a mile or so closer to the Rivah. There I found an area with some amazing homes that date back to the 1800s (The town itself was founded by the French in 1716.). They are regal - many are open for tours, some are private residences. The walkaway above the Rivah is new and done with much class. But the town itself has definitely seen better days. It looks tired in many places and other places just looks nearly abandoned. The life in the town seems to come from the busloads of tourists that arrive to stay at the Natchez Grand Hotel and then take a short walk to the casino in the river. These tourists are not like those I saw in Biloxi - gambling their child support. These are older couples on their bus tour of Natchez, probably taking in the Natchez Trace that starts here and ends some 400 miles east of here in Nashville. I overheard several couples speaking in French overlooking the Rivah. My French is too rusty to understand what they were saying, but I'd bet a Euro that it was something along the lines of "this is it?"
There are several beautiful live oaks (where's the Spanish moss?), but I was expecting hundreds of magnolia trees. Shouldn't they be here?
I guess I was expecting a wealthy community; Natchez is not that.
There are some positive aspects. The Rivah here is definitely majestic. It boggles my mind that settlers came down the Rivah and settled Natchez in 1716. Those folks had more courage than I can imagine. The people here are kind and laid back. It has been easy to get a response to a wave, a smile or a howdy. I love this sign from the Pig Out Inn (notice the correction to the spelling of bell.🤪)
There were several historical markers that I found interesting.
Theodis Ealey has a few songs that are modern Carolina beach standards.
And it’s not like there aren’t some wonderful views.
Being in Mississippi gives me the opportunity to post these three music videos: the Doobies “Black Water,” Theodis Ealey “Don’t You Want To Party,” and another recent Carolina beach time by Jaye Hammer “I Ain’t Leaving Mississippi.”
Jaye Hammer may not be, but I’m on my way to Memphis tomorrow. I have no expectations for what I’ll find there. 🤙