° empty

Area ready for Spring Pilgrimage crowds

Jay Sowers / The Natchez Democrat — Jan Scarborough, right, customer service associate at the Natchez Visitors Center, talks with Marion, Ill., resident Rita Hindman on Friday morning about the tours available during this year’s edition of Spring Pilgrimage in Natchez.
Jay Sowers / The Natchez Democrat — Jan Scarborough, right, customer service associate at the Natchez Visitors Center, talks with Marion, Ill., resident Rita Hindman on Friday morning about the tours available during this year’s edition of Spring Pilgrimage in Natchez.

NATCHEZ — Locals in hoop skirts and top hats and out-of-towners sporting fanny packs will hit the streets of Natchez in force today with the official start of Spring Pilgrimage.

But even though today is the formal start of Natchez’s best-known tourist draw, Natchez Pilgrimage Tours Director Marsha Colson said recent weeks have seen a strong lead-in for the scheduled month of home and garden tours and the events scheduled around them.

“In the last few weeks we have had a lot of business, a lot of people in the Natchez Visitor’s Reception Center,” Colson said. “There is usually some overflow from before and after Pilgrimage, and it is looking really strong.”

It’s difficult to gauge how many people not coming with a tour group will take part in Pilgrimage this year, Colson said, but group bookings are up.

“With individual ticket sales, it is really hard to tell because all we have to go on are advance sales or Internet sales, and there are other things that can affect whether people come here or not — for example, the weather or the price of gasoline,” she said.

“But that said, we have more business booked and more dollars in group tours than we did at the same time last year — that part’s looking good.”

Homeowners Association President Anne MacNeil said increased tours and the return of riverboat tours have homeowners looking forward to nice crowds in town.

“We are very excited about the number of advance bookings for groups,” she said.

While in more recent years pilgrimage has been five weeks with every house on tour nine times, this year Pilgrimage has been shortened to four weeks with houses on tour eight times.

That was a decision on the part of the homeowners association. MacNeil said the group decided it would be wiser to consolidate the time the houses were on tour.

“The five-week Pilgrimage has only been something we have done for 10 years or so,” MacNeil said. “Traditionally, it was a month, so this is a return to our roots of a four-week Pilgrimage.”

Prior to the decision to have one fewer tour per house, the dates for Pilgrimage had been set for today through April 13.

Colson said because of that, this year will include several house tours known as post-Pilgrimage.

“These dates are set well in advance, and we knew some people had seen those dates, so some of us thought it would be good to offer something extra for those four days following Pilgrimage,” Colson said.

Post-Pilgrimage will include the six museum houses and eight private homes. Two of the private homes will be open for tours for two hours each day during post-Pilgrimage.

Tickets for home tours, the Historic Natchez Tableaux, and performances of “Southern Exposure” and “Southern Road to Freedom” may be purchased online at www.natchezpilgrimage.com or toll-free at 1-800-647-6742.

Tickets can also be purchased at the Natchez Pilgrimage Tours desk at the Natchez Visitor Reception Center.