Welcome to the Natchez Trace Parkway, a 444 mile National Scenic By-way that takes you from Natchez Mississippi to Nashville Tennessee. It’s off limits to commercial traffic, narrow, limits speed to 50mph, loaded with natural scenery and is a more relaxing drive than driving expressways! The Trace also crosses 4 eco systems and 8 major watersheds, is home to countless plant species, birds, and reptiles.
The Trace dates back many centuries and was a natural travel corridor for several Indian tribes. As the United States expanded, a growing number of travelers tramped the rough trail into a clearly marked path. Slaves were also marched down the trace. Trader would float cash crops or livestock down the Mississippi River on flatboats, sell the goods and boats, and return via the Trace. In early 1800, Thomas Jefferson designated the Trace as a national post road for mail delivery between Nashville and Natchez. Today it’s part of the National Park Service and creates a greenway from the foothills of Tennessee, to the bluffs of the lower Mississippi.
One of the many stops along the way was the Cypress Swamp, a nature trail complete with cypress trees, Spanish moss, and alligators!
All along the Trace there are numerous historical stops. The maximum length of a vehicle traveling the parkway is 55 ft. Since we were at the limit our challenge in traveling the Trace was we were too big for some of the pull outs. We had to be careful not to get in a situation where we could not turn around.
Planning to drive the trace is a requirement as there are no fuel stations or food stops. There are small towns along the way but access is somewhat limited. All and all, the trip on the Trace was very enjoyable.
Situated some 200 feet above the banks of the Mississippi River sits the town of Natchez Mississippi. Steeped in African-American heritage, Natchez encompasses the struggles and triumphs of people who’s ancestors were captured, enslaved, and brought to America more than 300 years ago. Spanish, French, and English immigrants also contributed to the areas rich history.
More than half of US grain exports are transported on the river via barge. Day and night, seven days a week, tugs pushing as many as thirty barges at a time traverse up and down the river. It’s a constant parade!
Fancy a trip on the Mississippi aboard a riverboat? No problem!
Our Coach was parked on the Louisiana side of the river in Vidalia. Two bridges connect the towns, each one way. They add a certain charm to the area along with handling the ongoing traffic that crosses the river.
Slave trading was big business in Natchez. And along with the slavery were huge plantations. And huge plantations had wealthy owners with really big houses. So many of these majestic homes were destroyed during the Civil War however some have been saved, restored for private residences, or repurpose as museums with the purpose of keeping past history alive for future generations.
Does anybody want to guess why the entrance to this house has two stairways? Well, the reason was that getting a glimpse of a woman’s’ ankle was considered risqué so to prevent the gentleman from getting a glimpse, men would use one side and women the other. Hmmm, how times have changed!
On the outskirts of Natchez, deep among the forest trees heavy with Spanish moss is the largest most captivating octagonal mansion in America called Longwood.
Built in 1860 for wealthy plantation owners Hallar and Julia Nutt, the plan called for four main floors, a fifth story solarium and a sixth story observatory. The structure was also to have 32 rooms each with a balcony. Connecting the levels was to be a grand spiral staircase. Crowing the structure was a Moorish dome with a twenty-four foot finial. With the onset of the civil war in 1861 construction was halted and with the exception of the first floor the home was never completed .Numerous family members lived in the home doing only the minimal to maintain the home and was owned by the grandchildren until 1968. A Texas business man purchased the property and restored the lower level and grounds. Later he donated Longwood to the Natchez Pilgrimage Garden Club with the condition it be left unfinished as a monument to the heart break of War Between the States.
St. Mary’s Basilica built in 1830 was the only catholic cathedral in Mississippi. The architecture is truly extraordinary with original Tiffany stained glass windows and pillars and ceilings adorned with 24k gold leaf.
Natchez was not a destination that we had previously thought of. As often happens in our travels we come across the off the beaten path gems and this place is one of them. We really enjoyed our stay here! Leaving , we will travel the Natchez Trace, a 444 mile trail used for early 1800s travel between Nashville Tennessee and Natchez prior to the Mississippi riverboats. It’s now maintained by the National Park Service and is off limits to commercial traffic. It should be an adventure!