On the last day of our trip, we drove from Natchez, past Port Gibson, and then a short distance off the Parkway along a side road to the Windsor Ruins. The ruins are all that remains of what was Windsor, a beautiful and imposing antebellum home built between 1859 and 1861 by Smith Coffee Daniell, II, a plantation owner. Unfortunately, Smith Daniell lived only a few weeks after moving into the mansion. The mansion met with misfortune some years later when in 1890, a fire caused by a house guest’s cigarette, burned down the entire structure . But Windsor’s 23 Corinthian columns still stand in the countryside of the Mississippi Delta as a ghostly tribute to the better days of the past.
Late March, 2015-We spend a warm and sunny day walking in the historic city of Natchez, one of the oldest settlements on the Mississippi and the “Antebellum Capital of the World.” It remains a beautiful city with its southern mansions, many of which are in slight disrepair. The sad history of Natchez is told in the historical signage that marks the path of the original Natchez Trace Trail with its photographs and accounts of the slave trade that flourished here before the Civil War. That evening we ate dinner at King’s Tavern, the oldest standing building in Natchez, built in 1769. Haunted by the ghosts of two men and a women, whose remains were found in the 1930s, with a jeweled dagger, behind a bricked in fireplace. Legend has it that the woman was the mistress of a long past owner, and that his wife commissioned her murder. T
he current establishment displays the jeweled dagger and the staff claim to be visited regularly by the bar’s ghostly inhabitants.
Initially,I was not going to post our photos of Port Gibson because each carries a sense of darkness and gloom. But I changed my mind after taking another look at the photos and felt that they show a dark, eerie day in a town with its best days a century past. I decided it was worth posting.
Historic Port Gibson lies just a mile off the Natchez Trace Parkway, and is located in the Mississippi Delta about 60 southwest of Jackson MS. Travel guides note that this town, with its 1500 or so residents, was the site of several Civil War battles and was spared destruction because Ulysses S. Grant deemed the city “too beautiful to burn.” We cycled into the town eager to see the still intact historic district that dates back to 1803. It was a dreary overcast day and we planned to relax over lunch in the downtown area.
The road into the town showed us, however, a place of broken down trailer homes and trash covered lawns and roadsides. A roadside trailer offered “coon meat” for sale. Nothing we saw of the houses and buildings presented a picture of anything but overwhelming poverty. We headed for the Courthouse in the downtown area, a lovely antebellum structure built in 1845 that still serves as the courthouse for Claiborne County. We noticed vans from national news stations, like CNN, shown in the photo of the courthouse. The CNN reporter, on a break, told us that the day before, an African-American man had been found hanging from a tree, with bed sheets around his neck, in the woods near this town. The FBI arrived to investigate whether the death was a lynching or a suicide. National news services were covering the story. The darkness of the day suited the sadness of what had happened.
After talking to CNN, we looked for the historic district. The Town center, like the outskirts, surprised us with the buildings standing in disrepair and abandonment, and further showed the overwhelming poverty of the community. There were no restaurants or shops to grab a soda or lunch. We found our way to the Piggly Wiggly, the only eating place that we could find, where Howard lunched on fried chicken.
We then explored the historic district, starting with the Wintergreen Cemetery. This cemetery dates back to about 1807 and contains a section of gravestones for fallen confederate soldiers in the Civil War. The cemetery is located on high ground at the edge of the town and is large enough so that we could ride our bikes on the path that wound through it. Wintergreen felt dark and ghostly with Spanish moss hanging over old monuments and stone gravestones with biblical figures, like the fallen lamb on the child’s grave .
Our last stop in the historic district was the church of the Gold Finger Pointing to Heaven. The Gold Finger belongs to the First Presbyterian Church, which dates back over a hundred years (at least the finger does) and commemorates a pastor who always pointed to heaven when giving sermons. Looking up through the trees to the finger, the day just felt pretty creepy to me.
Late March, 2015, we cycled along the Natchez Trace Parkway between Jackson and Natchez, Mississippi, in the company of our friends Steve and Wendy. The weather accommodated us with cloudy skis and temperatures in the upper 60s. Mid-day, we stopped for a fried chicken Sunday lunch at the famed Old Country Store (rumored to be the best fried chicken anywhere!) located just a mile or two off the Parkway.