By coming less than one hundred miles north, we've crossed that magic line of "all the leaves are on all the trees" to "the buds on the trees are just about to burst open." We've come to Natchez to drive the Natchez Trace, but it looks like there is so much to do here that the leaves may be out by the time we take off.
This is a historic town, the oldest on the Mississippi River, first settled in 1716. Before the Civil War when cotton was king, there were over 500 millionaires living here, more than any other spot in the US but New York. The cotton planters had lovely plantation homes along the river, but they spent as much time in town as possible and built equally lavish homes here. Although most of the folks who lived here sympathized with the Union side, once Mississippi seceded from the union, they were loyal to their state. However, little fighting took place in the Natchez area and the lavish homes remained lavish and more or less intact. In 1863 the Union forces took over the city and some of the top brass enjoyed living in these mansions. Losing the Civil War was not helpful to the local economy, but the boll weevil really did the place in. People struggled to live where they were and no one had the cash to knock anything down or build something new. Natchez remained frozen in time. When the Great Depression came in the late 1930's, no one here noticed, because they were already so poor.
During this time the women of the Natchez Garden Club decided to open up these lavish homes in the spring for a fund raising event they called the Pilgrimage. It had started with just a tour of their gardens, but one year a storm destroyed all the blossoms so they held the tour showing their homes instead. They dressed in Antebellum costumes and shared their family history while they showed these private residences. This open house tour was such a success it has become a regular activity every spring and fall ever since. Some beautiful homes are tourist destinations and open year round, but during the Pilgrimage 23 homes where families still live are open at specified times. There are also evening presentations - a play satirizing the Pilgrimage, a pageant reenacting life just before the war, church choir performances, etc. etc. If we tried to do it all, we could be here another week.