Posted by: justnaturallyme | May 16, 2012

Mississipi’s Heritage Tour

The Illinois Monument at Vicksburg national Battlefield

The second part of the press trip was very different but just as  fabulous as the first. Vicksburg was our first stop.

One of their most interesting attractions is  the Vicksburg National Military Park, 1,800 acres of earthworks, cannons and impressive monuments. Also displayed at the park is the USS Cairo, a Union ironclad sunk by the Confederacy and raised after more than a century underwater. The park has monuments to the Union troops from various states and a beautiful sculpture dedicated to the African-American troops who fought there. The  battlefield memorializes one of the most crucial battles of the Civil War.  Capture of the city was crucial to the Union victory because it was the key to all travel on the Mississippi River. Defense was equally important to the Confederates for the same reason. Unable to capture it by direct attack, Grant decided to starve the defendant out. The people and defenders of Vicksburg were stubborn but eventually Grant’s tactics worked. After 47 days, Confederate General John C. Pemberton finally surrendered to Grant on July 4, 1863. The memory of this stinging defeat resulted in Vicksburg refusing to celebrate the Fourth of July until a visit by President Eisenhower in 1947.

A very full round table at Walnut Hills

The Old Town section of Vicksburg had many beautiful homes dating from the Antebellum period but due to time constraints we had to postpone seeing much of the city for a later visit. We did visit one recycled home on Adams Street in the historic district.  The house was built in 1880 by the Rogers family and is typical of many Victorian homes in Vicksburg. Its  wide porch with large front-facing windows and Vicksburg pierced columns. welcomes you to Walnut Hills,  a round table restaurant, modeled on  the old time boarding house style restaurants. It’s ability to meld the traditional with some of the best tasting food found anywhere have made it one of Mississippi’s most written about restaurants. (americanroads.net is soon to join the list of prestigious magazines that have praised this fine restaurant t. Watch for the July issue.)

Driving down the old streets of Natchez, it is easy to realize that prior to the Civil War, Natchez was home to more millionaires per capita than any other U.S. city, except for New York City. Everywhere you look, there are well maintained antebellum homes. that were once the palatial estates of the landed gentry. Today, more than a dozen of these showplaces of another era are open for tours. Of the ones that are not open to the public many may be seen during annual Spring and Fall Pilgrimages. ( Hint: That’s a wonderful time to visit.)

Longwood

Natchez Under the Hill, today a quaint section with shops, restaurants and of course the elaborate gaming casinos, feted out to resemble old riverboats,  was once a haven for riverboat gamblers, thieves and ladies of the evening. We got to experience a taste of it all on our tour.

We visited Longwood, known in its day as “Nutt’s Folly.”. It was to be the largest octagonal home in America but never fulfilled its destiny. The home was begun in 1860 by the extremely wealthy plantation owner, Dr. Nutt, to showcase that wealth and all the exquisite things his money could buy. The War Between the States put his plans on hold. He died before the war ended.  Ironically, after the war, his family  was now destitute and moved back into the basement of the unfinished home and were often dependant for their food on the gardens of their former slaves. The tour offers glimpses of what this magnificent building would have been if  circumstances were different.

Lobby of the Eola Hotel

Our lodging was an integral part of Natchez’s history. After the War Between the States, Natchez eventually experienced a revival. The 1900s saw Natchez once again as a glittering playground for wealthier visitors. One entrepreneur, a Mr. Isodore Levy, saw the need for a great hotel similar to those in Europe here in Natchez. He called in the prestigious firm of Weiss, Dreyfous, and Seiferth. Charles E Weiss designed the building to last for the ages. He made seven stories, the tallest building in Natchez-it still is. He gave it a European opulence it still maintains. No expense was spared. When it was completed it was named “Eola” in memory of the Levy’s pretty 16-year-old daughter who did not live to see her magnificence namesake.  In July 1927, The Natchez Eola opened to rave reviews in local and out of town newspapers.

By 1932, it was made the headquarters for the Natchez Spring Pilgrimage. The Pilgrimage is the city’s premier event that sees thousands of visitors flock to Natchez to visit the magnificent Antebellum and Victorian homes that open to the public during this event. Then as now, the Eola with her graceful interior, arched doorways, antique furnishings, marble trim, stately columns and New Orleans style courtyard was the place to stay.

View from The Vue.

Time as always took her toll on the opulent hotel. By the 1960s, the old hotel was showing her age badly.  It closed in 1974. Then, in 1978, new owners who appreciated the faded beauty bought the Eola. They spent six and a half million dollars restoring it to its former magnificence. It was money well spent. Today, from the moment we entered the lobby we were enveloped in old-world luxury and treated as well as traveling royalty of the Victorian era.

We dined like royalty as well at The Grand Soleil Casino Resort’s fine dining experience, The Vue.  The hotel, which is named for The Great Sun, as the Chief of the Natchez Indians was known, perches on the highest point of the Mississippi River so The Vue lives up to its name. We could see almost 30 miles upstream. Sunset and the sharply lighted river bridge is an experience.

Rockets at Infinity

Next morning, we headed for yet another side of Mississippi, the Gulf Coast. Here history combined with ultra-modern to offer fun in the sun. First stop, Infinity at NASA Stennis Space Center, the 72,000-square foot, state-of-the-art facility, and the region’s first interactive science center. Sitting just next to the Louisiana border, this facility is brand new. It is a hands on facility that introduces all ages to the wonders of space and the newest innovations becoming part of everyday live through space exploration. One of the most interesting is the lettuce grown as it would be in outer space, with no soil and small amounts of water. This is science at its best.  Along with introducing people to the wonders of space, the center plans a nature walk to introduce us to the wonders of nature.

The first sight of the blue waters of the gulf is so refreshing. Creative people have always been inspired by the sea and this is no exception. Known as  the “Mad Potter of Biloxi,”  George Ohr was considered an eccentric or worse, a madman, in 1880s Biloxi. Today his genius is celebrated in the brand new  Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art.

The Biloxi Lighthouse

So much that was lost to Katrina has now been replaced or repaired but the iconic Biloxi Lighthouse still stands in the midst of traffic. It seems a symbol of Mississippi’s indomitable spirit.  No matter what happens, it stands calm and serene and allows life to flow around it. Biloxi Lighthouse Visitors Center and Museum on the inland side is a great way to learn about the lighthouse and Mississippi’s coastal history.

Whether you want to pull the slot leaver, flip a blackjack card or play high stakes poker, The Beau Rivage Resort & Casino can accommodate you. In fact, even if you have no interest in gaming, you can shop, swim, surf or pool, get a massage or loll in a spa, dock at the marina or dine , be it snack or elegant cuisine, the Beau Rivage can accommodate travelers of any stripe. It fitted us to a “T.”

And speaking of dining, there are  twelve restaurants, five lounges, an elevated cafe and bar. We enjoyed the BR Prime, the resort’s finest steakhouse. They boast “Enough swank to make the Rat Pack proud” and they aren’t kidding. Food is superb, drinks are icy and delicious and service is first rate. As if we hadn’t pigged out enough for dinner, we had breakfast at their  buffet which offered everything from crawfish to omelets and anything else you might want for breakfast.

Beauvoir

Our last stop in the coast was the final home of Mississippi’s most famous son. Only one man can boast of being, a colonel in the Mexican War, a U. S. Senator, the son-in-law of a U.S. president, U.S. secretary of war, and the only president of the Confederate States of America. Although Jefferson Davis was born in Kentucky, his parents were from Mississippi and he spent his adult life in Mississippi and considered himself a Mississippian. His last home Beauvoir, was severely damaged but salvageable after Katrina. It was here that the southern leader retired to write his  The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government.

Ruth Bailey Earl Exhibit at African-American Military Museum

On the last leg of our tour, we drove into Hattiesburg, home of the University of Southern Mississippi. Our first stop was the African-American Military Museum.  This museum showcases the heroic spirit of African-Americans in America’s many conflicts from the Revolution on to today’s Middle-Eastern conflicts. The building itself is noteworthy as the only remaining USO building for African American soldiers left. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Next stop was the renovated Saenger Theater. Once a popular movie palace it fell into disuse when television replaced the movies for family entertainment. The proud old building  now offers live entertainment in the form of plays and concerts. The highlight of the  theater for me was the old projector that is preserved in the lobby. Amazing when you think the huge reels of film once used have been replaced by a small DVD today.

One of the cute prairie dogs pose

Hattiesburg offers a fine zoo. It is fun for all ages. There is a train ride which circles the park. The prairie dog colony was hard to tear ourselves away from but the highlight was the graceful male jaguar named Toby who painted some canvases for us. He is gorgeous and seemed to understand his trainer when she told him “paint.” He would put his par in the blob of wet paint and drag it across a canvas. The artwork is unique and just as good as many human abstract artists.

That night it was back to Jackson and a fun dining experience at  Sal & Mookie’s New York Pizza and Ice Cream. The menu is large offering something for everyone. The best thing is you can build your own pizza or Stromboli. The kitchen is open so you can see everything being made. Everything is made from scratch so it is really good.  As always, you will b e seeing more of this trip on http://www.americanroads.net so check in there often. New issues come out quarterly.

Next morning it was homeward bound until the next adventure. I will be traveling to Georgia tomorrow so watch for that when I get back.

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Responses

  1. Kathy,,jealous of you,you seem to be having lots of fun,,,,love to follow you on here.Keep up the good work..

  2. I do have fun but it really is hard work but somebody had to do it!!

  3. Great post! And Mississippi is a great state. I just finished designing a poster for Mississippi. Check it out: http://50statesdesignproject.wordpress.com/2012/05/18/39-mrs-mississippi/


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