Louisiana & Mississippi 2006

Welcome to our week-long getaway to St. Francisville, LA, Natchez, MS, and Vicksburg, MS. We're happy to share our vacation with you, and we hope that you enjoy it. We had a wonderful time on the trip, so if you're thinking about visiting any of these places yourself and you'd like a specific opinion on one or the other, just drop us an email and we'll be glad to give you our honest appraisal! Meanwhile, let's get started on the trip...

Day 1 - Driving To St. Francisville

The St. Francisville Inn

We left Jefferson and did a drive across Louisiana to St. Francisville. Our destination for the evening was the St. Francisville Inn, which is the old Wolf-Schlesinger House built in 1880. They serve a buffet-style breakfast every morning, and amenities include a pool located right off a New Orleans style courtyard. Some of the photos from the inn, including a photo of Room 4 where we stayed, are below.

Dinner at the Cypress Grill

After checking into our B&B, we discovered that there weren't very many places in town to eat on a Tuesday night. Our innkeeper told us about the Cypress Grill - just around the corner - where we could get a bite of dinner. Since it appeared that many of the locals went there to eat, we figured that we'd give it a try. After starting out with fried mozzarella sticks (no diets on vacation!), we each ordered an entree; specifically, the Rib Eye Sandwich and the Chicken Salad.

Looking Across The River

As we were exploring St. Francisville, we found ourselves down at the river and saw a ferry. It ran every thirty minutes, and there was a fifty cent charge to go across. We couldn't figure out exactly where it went, so we asked the person in the last car where they were going. "New Roads!" they replied. "So what's there?" we asked. "New Roads!" the person said again. We later found out that New Roads is another city in Louisiana. It was getting late, and we didn't particularly like the idea of being across a river from our B&B, so we headed back to the St. Francisville Inn. By the way, that little white dot across the river in the photo is the ferry.

Day 2 - A Day of Plantations

Stopping by the Visitor's Center

We started the day out at the St. Francisville Visitor's Center, which had a good selection of brochures for everything to do in the area, and also had information about tour times and prices. It also had a museum with a history of the area, and interesting info about the city.

Oakley Plantation &
Audubon State Historic Site

Our day started out at Oakley, and it was a great way to begin. Construction on the plantation home started about 1801; because Oakley started out as a Spanish Land Grant, the building of such a home was a requirement. One of its most famous occupants wasn't an owner, but instead a teacher hired to tutor the owner's child. His name was John James Audubon. Mr. Audubon lived there for only a few months, but used that time to draw many of the birds of the region for his now-famous series. One thing that we were surprised to learn was that he shot and killed the birds, then took them back to his room to pose and draw!
About half of the tour is the history of the original owners, and the other half concerns Audubon - in fact, you'll see many of his first-edition prints that are over a hundred years old throughout the house and the museum. Quite an enjoyable place.

The Myrtles Plantation

The Myrtles was built in 1796 by General David Bradford, a prominant figure in the Whiskey Rebellion, which was a civil protest against a federal tax on distilled spirits that grew into an armed conflict. General Bradford, dubbed "Whiskey Dave", had fled President Washington's army in 1794 and obtained a Spanish land grant in southern Louisiana. All of the flooring and most of the windows in the house are original to the home. The Myrtles was the scene of a Reconstruction-era murder and other more natural deaths that have entered into local folklore over the years. The plantation home has been restored to its 1850s grandeur, complete with fine French furnishings and chandeliers. If you'd like to read a ghost story about The Myrtles just click here.

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Rosedown Plantation

Approaching Rosedown had kind of a "Twelve Oaks - Gone With the Wind" feel to it; the place was beautiful. Construction on the house started in 1834, and was completed a year later at the cost of just over $13,000. It was the palatial estate of Daniel and Martha Turnbull. Perhaps as significant as the house itself are the gardens, which were overseen by Martha; at their grandest, they covered over 28 acres. Today Rosedown is owned by the State of Louisiana, and is a State Historic Site. We enjoyed not only walking its gardens, but touring the house as well.

St. Francisville Shops

We took a break from the historical aspect of the day to go through some of the St. Francisville stores. There is no "downtown shopping district" or anything that centralizes the stores, so we'd basically been making mental notes every time that we saw a place that we wanted to stop. Nothing is that far from anything else in St. Francisville, so it was easy to make them all in short order this afternoon.

Historic Home Trail - "A Walk Through History"

You can get a walking tour brochure at the Visitor's Center that takes you on their "Walk Through History". This stroll through the National Register Historic District takes you past homes of various architectural styles, many of which are marked with Bicentennial plaques that describe the history of the structure. Although they are not open for public touring, it is an educational and entertaining walk.

Grace Episcopal
Historic Church & Cemetery

This is a must-see in St. Francisville. The church was originally organized on March 15th, 1827, which makes it the second-oldest Episcopal Church in the state of Louisiana. When you pull up to the church, you will see the Gothic architecture of the building; it was constructed from 1858 to 1860, and the cornerstone for the building was laid by Leonidas Polk, the "Fighting Bishop of the Confederacy".
Now, we don't want to get all "Dan Brown" on you, but while visiting the church we spotted several Masonic influences. As it turned out, the church has an interesting Civil War story along those lines. A Union gunboat captain who was shelling the city (and causing damage to the church) was killed, but because he was a Mason who had desired a Mason's funeral, fighting was halted by both sides to conduct his burial. Both Yankee and Confederate Masons participated in the ceremony as Commander Hart was laid to rest in a traditional Masonic Plot. It was officiated by the Reverend D.S. Lewis. After that, the fighting picked up right where it left off.

The Bottle Tree

...and finally, back to the St. Francisville Inn. One of the interesting things that we saw at the inn was a bottle tree, that seemed to have been around for some time. Bottle trees come from the voodoo religion - people believed that when an evil spirit sees the sunshine dazzling from the beautiful bottles, it is enamored and enters the bottle. Like a fly, the evil spirit then becomes trapped within the bottle; too dazzled by the play of light, the spirit prefers to remain in its colorful prison, rather than trouble the world of the living. They are very prominant in old Louisiana gardens. After studying it for a short time, we went back to the room. We were still full from the wonderful lunch that we had at The Myrtles, so we'd stopped by a deli and got sandwiches for a picnic in the room. We were exhausted from walking all day, so after getting settled in we spread out our dinner, found a James Bond marathon on television, and relaxed.

Day 3 - On the Road to Natchez

Butler-Greenwood Plantation

This antebellum home is unique in that it has stayed in the same family that originally built it in the early 1790's. In fact, one of the direct descendants was our docent for the tour. This home boasted one of the largest collections of original furniture in the area.
The gardens are beautiful as well, and we enjoyed a relaxing walk around the centuries-old moss-covered live oaks.

Greenwood Plantation

Greenwood was originally built in 1830 by William Ruffin Barrow. Twenty-eight columns surround the Greek Revival plantation house. Prior to the Civil War, the massive 12,000 acre plantation was worked by 750 slaves and produced both cotton and sugar cane. The reflecting pond beside the house was dug by slaves to get clay to produce the bricks for the house. Part of Greenwood's tragic past was a fire that destroyed a good portion of the house; it was carefully restored, however, and today stands substantially as it did in 1830. Six movies have been filmed at Greenwood, including the "North & South" miniseries.

Cottage Plantation

The Cottage Plantation was originally built in 1795; sections were added all the way up to 1859, however. The architecture of the buildings reflects both an English and a Spanish influence. One of the final buildings gives the Cottage Plantation a distinctive "L" shape, with the newest part - built in 1859 - housing their B&B. Outbuildings include a school house for the plantation's children, an outside kitchen, a milk house, a carriage house, a barn, and three slave houses. Interred on the plantation is Judge Thomas Butler, who acquired the land and house around 1800, and is responsible for much of the plantation as it stands today.

Lunch at Mammy's Cupboard

It's hard not to stop for lunch at a giant statue of Mammy where her dress is a restaurant. The place was packed with locals, a sure sign that the food was going to be great. The chicken salad was some of the best in the world, and the roast beef sandwich was delicious as well. Veggie soup came with lunch, and we were so full by the time that we finished that we couldn't even think about ordering a piece of one of the mouth-watering pies that we'd been staring at since we walked in.

We Made It To Natchez!

Natchez isn't all that far north of St. Francisville, so he had a leisurely drive up Highway 61. When we got into town, the first place that we hit was the Natchez Visitor's Center, where they have a ton of brochures about things to do, along with an extremely helpful staff. They also have tour busses leaving from the center all day long, but since this we've been here before, we didn't take advantage of them.

1888 Wensel House B&B

Instead we drove directly to our B&B, the 1888 Wensel House, and we were very pleased - not only with the location, but also the room. The accommodations were wonderful, and our innkeeper was delightful. We were looking forward to our two nights here. We stayed in the "Oak Room", which is on the far right below.

St. Mary Basilica

This beautiful church is a marvelous work of art in itself, with its architecture, stained glass, and statuary. The cornerstone of the church was laid on February 24, 1842, and is the only church in Mississippi built as a Cathedral. The church was dedicated and the first mass held on December 25, 1843 in celebration of Christmas that year. As you walk in the foyer, you can pick up a Self-Guided Tour brochure.

A Little Letterboxing!

One of our travel hobbies is letterboxing, and we found clues to a couple of letterboxes in Natchez. The first one (the "Krew of Killarney" letterbox) was quite elusive and we almost didn't find it... we traced the clues several times, though, and finally found the letterbox. If you're curious as to what all this is about, just visit www.letterboxing.org

Shopping in Natchez

Since there are many places to shop in Natchez, we got a good start. You'll find everything here from antique stores to quaint little boutiques. Some of our favorites were Fydeaux's Pet Company (because we're dog parents), and Turning Pages Books (because we love to read).

Dinner at Fat Mamma's

Fat Mamma's is in a little log cabin, and is the home to the famous "knock you naked" margarita. We stopped in for a meal of knock-you-nakeds, tamales, and gringo pie. As hot as it was outside (Natchez was setting records every single day), we were happy to find seating indoors in the air conditioning. Of course, we had to grab a few bottles of their signature margarita mix to take back home with us. If they'd only open a restaurant in Jefferson!

Natchez Under the Hill

While the gentlemen and ladies of the town lived up on the hills of the city, under the bluffs was a playground for the despicable, dastardly, and the debauched. There were bars, brothels, and gaming establishments lining the piers. In today's world, the Mississippi River has taken quite a bit of the area, but you will find a restaurant, a few souvenir shops, and a luxurious casino boat.

Natchez Ghost Tour

This gets a thumbs up from both of us. It was an hour and a half that contained just the right mix of Natchez history, and the city's haunting stories. It is a lot of walking, but there are several stops along the way to let everyone catch their breath. Our guide was so entertaining that the time seemed to just fly by, and everyone was riveted to his tales.

Day 4 - A Day On the Bluffs

Natchez City Cemetery

We started out the day in the City Cemetery, and it's the kind of place where you could easily spend hours walking among the tombstones, just enjoying the statuary and reading the epitaphs. It was established in 1822 on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River, and there are stories about some of the graves that are just fascinating... like to read a couple? Then click here.

Rosalee Mansion

This mansion was built on the location of Fort Rosalee, situated on a high bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. The original fort was completed by the French in 1716, and named for the Duchess de Pontchartrain. After the fort was abandoned, Peter and Eliza Little purchased some of the land in 1823 and started construction no their beautiful home, keeping the name Rosalee. In 1857, the house was purchased by Andrew Wilson; it would remain in his family line until sold to the Daughters of the American Revolution for preservation in 1938. During the Civil War, it was used as the Union headquarters during the occupation of Natchez. General Walter Gresham and his wife lived there, and General Ulysses Grant visited. In the photo to the far right, you'll see that Tami was invited to play one of their historic old pianos.

A Little Morning Antiquing

We'd picked up a "Shopaholics Guide to Downtown Natchez", and decided to take it for a spin after visiting Rosalee. Several parts of the downtown area were under construction or renovation, but we found many to occupy our time. Of course, we found several things to bring home to The Grove. Franklin Street had banners up proclaiming it to be "Antique Row", and we spent the rest of the morning there.

Lunch at Magnolia Grill

For lunch we took a drive back "under the hill" for the Magnolia Grill. It's the oldest continuously operating restaurant at Natchez Under The Hill, and their menu looked very appetizing. We each ordered one of their specials - one of them was a bacon/mushroom/mozzarella burger, and the other was a grilled chicken spinach salad with feta cheese, mushrooms and bacon. Both were delicious, made even better by the fact that we had a table overlooking the Mississippi River.

Magnolia Hall

Magnolia Hall was one of the stops on the ghost walk last night, so we wanted to tour the house itself. This beautiful Greek Revival mansion was built by Thomas Henderson in 1858. Mr. Henderson was a merchant, planter, and an elder in the First Presbyterian Church. It was also one of the last great mansions to have been built in Natchez before the outbreak of the Civil War. It did not escape that conflict - shelling by the Union gunboat Essex damaged the home. The downstairs rooms are furnished with period antiques, while the upstairs floor contains the only historic clothing museum in Natchez. We greatly enjoyed the tour.

Another Visit to Fat Mama's

It wasn't quite time for dinner, so we stopped at the little log cabin on Canal Street for a couple of Knock-You-Naked margaritas. We found out that the cabin had been built in the early to mid 1900s (the waitress thought sometime in the 1930s), and in its history had been everything from an antique store to a doctor's office; Fat Mamma's is just its latest incarnation.

Dinner at King's Tavern

We had dinner at King's Tavern, where we'd had a wonderful steak dinner on a past trip. It is one of the oldest buildings in Natchez - if not the oldest itself - and was built sometime in the latter 1700s. Along with being a tavern and inn, it was also the city's first post office. Richard King, owner of the tavern, was a prominent man in Natchez of that day. There is a notorious side to the restaurant, though. In the 1930s, workers were expanding the fireplace and tore out the chimney wall. They found a space behind the wall that contained the skeletal remains of three bodies: two men and one woman. Laying on the floor was a jeweled dagger, which was assumed to have been used in their demise. Be that as it may, the food at King's Tavern is incredible.

Day 5 - Heading Up The Natchez Trace

The Natchez Trace Parkway

When we were in this part of the country a few years ago, we simply motored from Natchez to Vicksburg on Hwy 61, the fastest route. This time, however, we took the Natchez Trace Parkway in hope of a much more scenic drive. As it turned out, we weren't disappointed at all.

Historic Jefferson College

Our first stop along the Trace was at Jefferson College, which was founded by an act of the first Central Assembly of the Mississippi Territory in 1802. It was named in honor of President Thomas Jefferson. Its doors were first opened to students in 1811, and it served as both a prepatory school and later as a full college. Ten-year-old Jefferson Davis attended there in 1818. The school closed with the outbreak of the Civil War, and re-opened again in 1866. It remained a prepatory school until 1964, and was known as the Jefferson Military Academy. Declining enrollment eventually forced the school to close.

Cruisin' Down The Parkway

After our visit to Jefferson College, we got back on the Trace and kept going north. Although the speed limit was only 50 mph, it felt like we were flying along with all the beautiful scenery around us. It wasn't crowded a bit - all of the local and industrial traffic was on Hwy 61, so we had the road to ourselves. In fact, we only saw a few cars along the way.

Mount Locust

Along the way, we found Mount Locust, which is the only one left of more than fifty inns that existed between 1785 and 1830 along the 500-mile Natchez Trace. It has been restored to its 1810 appearance, the period on the Trace when travel reached its peak. The inn was originally built in 1780, and is one of the oldest structures in Mississippi. During its heyday, Mount Locust functioned not only as an inn, but also as a working plantation.

Onward Toward Vicksburg

With Mount Locust behind us, it was time for another gorgeous stretch of Mississippi beauty along the Trace. Our next stop was going to be the Windsor Ruins, so while we were keeping an eye out for that, we just continued to enjoy the drive. The time literally flew by.

Windsor Ruins

We got off the Trace to go see the Windsor Ruins, and we found them out in the middle of nowhere. Construction of Windsor was completed in 1861 (just like The Grove!) by Smith Coffee Daniel II, a cotton planter. The mansion survived the Civil War only to burn to the ground on February 17, 1890, as result of a cigarette from a careless visitor. Everything but the columns and ironwork was lost. Today the site is administered by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

Pointing Toward Heaven

Everyone told us that when we went through Port Gibson, to watch for the finger... the one pointing up to heaven, that is! Sure enough, it was one of the first things that we saw as we approached the town. It sits on top of a steeple of one of the churches there, and is a very inspiring - if not a little unusual - sight to behold.

The Corners Bed & Breakfast

John Klein built this mansion for his daughter Susan, when she married Isaac Bonham in 1872. The floor plan for the house was modeled after Cedar Grove, the family estate which stands across the street. The Corners overlooks the Mississippi River, with a large double parlor, back veranda and front gallery. The hand pierced columns surrounding the front gallery are unique to Vicksburg and are known in architectural circles as Vicksburg Columns. The front gallery is also a great place to sip on a cool beverage and watch the sun set over the Mississippi River. Our basement room is shown in the center below.

Vicksburg's Washington Street

Speaking of Washington Street, we'd heard that the city had been making lots of improvements there - turns out, that's true. Street decor, parking lots, all looked like they'd been spruced up since our visit a few years ago. Several places were still under construction as part of the ongoing beautification program, we understand. In any case, we spent the rest of the day going from one end to the other. By the time that we finished, we were ready to go back to the B&B to put our feet up and rest!

Day 6 - A Full Day of Vicksburg

Vicksburg National Military Park

There's just no way to describe this experience. We've taken the battlefield drive before, and in fact, Mitchel make the 16-mile trek on foot in his youth as a Boy Scout. The way to do the park is to first stop at the Visitor's Center and watch the film - it starts every 30 minutes. That gives you an overview of the battle and siege of Vicksburg. At the center you can also purchase a cassette or CD that is an audio guide through the park that not only describes all the monuments, but also explains the troop movements and the entire campaign. There are many places that you'll want to get out of your car and look around. The Union Ironclad gunboat Cairo that was sunk in the fighting has been pulled from the river, and now has its own museum for you to explore. Plan on spending half a day in the park - we did!

A Little More Letterboxing

Time for more letterboxing! We always enjoy it, and learn something about the area. Today, for example, we learned about a Vicksburg Veterinarian who always waited to go into Sunday Mass until it was just starting, so he could finish his cigar outside, and also about an old Catholic School with an abandoned nuns' garden. Part of the fun of letterboxing is it is very secretive - no one is supposed to see you do it. By definition, letterboxes are supposed to be safe and on legal ground. Still, at one point we thought we were going to be arrested, and at another, possibly mugged. All part of the fun, though! (www.letterboxing.org)

Lunch At Walnut Hills Restaurant

We'd tried to eat here on our last visit to Vicksburg, but couldn't catch it open. We finally did today, and the home-style food was simply incredible. We started with Shoepeg Corn Salad, then Tami had the Fried Chicken while Mitchel had the Flat Iron Steak - both came with three vegetables, so we were stuffed when we left. That was their "Blue Plate Special", but you could also have a family-style, round table meal, which is especially good if you have a small group. This was a wonderful, down-home dining experience.

Riverfront Park

We could see the river from the front porch of our B&B, but we wanted a more "up-close and personal" view, so we drove down to Riverfront Park. It's just off Washington Street, and we were able to watch some of the river traffic, as well as see the majesty of the Mighty Mississippi River itself. There were several people cooking out in the facilities there, so it is obviously a favorite among locals for picnics and outings.

Stained Glass Manor

We still hadn't tired of touring the historic old homes, so we went to The Stained Glass Manor. The house was built between 1902 and 1908 by Fannie Vick Willis Johnson (The "Vick" in her name is because she is a descendant of the city's namesake). It was designed by George Washington Maher, Frank Lloyd Wright's teacher; the house looks as if Wright might have done it himself. Thirty-six original stained glass panels adorn the house, and gives it the unique name. We had an interesting time with our tour guide, Shirley, the lady of the house. To read a couple of her ghost stories, click here.

Back To The Corners

As the day was winding down, we went back to The Corners, our bed & breakfast. We hadn't had a chance to look around at the other rooms, and since we were the only Sunday night guests, we went exploring. The place is beautiful, and to be honest we didn't see a single room that we wouldn't have been comfortable in. We can't say enough about this place - super location and a great inn. We'd love to come back here in the future.

Day 7 - Back Home Again!

Back to The Grove

It was an enjoyable week, but we finally headed across the State of Louisiana back towards Jefferson, Texas. With a few stops, we made it home, picked up the bassets at the kennel, and settled in to unpack and start doing laundry. It was truly a wonderful vacation. I don't know who was more tired - us from our vacation, or the bassets from theirs.


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