Sunday, April 7, 2013

Melrose Estate, Natchez

What a difference several days makes when we are on the road!  We were seeing advertisements for tacos and tamales, and now it is all about muffalettas and boiled crawfish.  Friday, heading northwest out of Texas and coming into Mississippi, we soon were driving through swampland.  We are now parked by the Mississippi River, in Vidalia Louisiana.  Near our park is a bridge over the river, which takes us into Natchez.  Our day Saturday started with a stop at the Grand Village of the Nachez Indianas.  The village was the ceremonial mound center and chief settlement of the Natchez Indians.  After the tribe attacked a French fort in 1729, the French retaliated and destroyed the village.  Now the only reminder of the tribe's presence are a few mounds.  The state park has reconstructed a Natchez house and granary.
For a small town (population around 20,000) Natchez has many antebellum homes, approximately 500.  During the Civil War the town experienced only one shelling ,  it is probably one of the reasons why the older buildings are still intact.  It is a wonderful town to explore by foot.  While wandering around its streets we certainly felt as though we had stepped back into the 19th century when cotton was king and Natchez was an important river port.
There are fourteen 19th-century antebellum houses, some of which are only open for tours during the spring and fall Natchez Pilgrimage Tours.  We had time to visit only one, the Melrose- pictured above.  It is part of the Natchez National Historical Park.  It was built in 1845 by John McMurran a lawyer and land-owner of 5 plantations.  He and his wife Mary Louise were avid readers of Sir Walter Scott.  In one of his works Scott wrote about Melrose Abbey, located in Scotland.  That is how the town estate of  the McMurrans received its name.  We had a tour guide for the main house who was quite the historian on 19th century Natchez.  She claimed that about 85%  of the furnishings of Melrose came from the original family.  Pictured below is the dining room where above the table is a large mahogany "punkah".  When operated by slaves it shooed the flies away from the food and also cooled the diners.  From 1841-1861 the estate employed 8 to twenty five slaves.  Even though this was not a plantation, slaves were needed to tend vegetable gardens and livestock, also to drive the master and mistress in carriages around town (which was located 3 miles away).
Another interesting feature of the house was a sofa, pictured below. The center table can be removed for additional seating.
This is wonderful time of the year here in Natchez; when the camellias and azaleas are still blooming, and wisteria as well as many spring flowers are starting to make their appearance.  All of them can be seen on the grounds of Melrose.  However, for me it is the majestic live oaks which dominate the landscaping.

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