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Spring Pilgrimage numbers show increase from last year

Jay Sowers / The Natchez Democrat — Abigail Healy, left, leads a tour through Elgin Plantation on Thursday afternoon. Healy's great-grandfather, Dr. John Carmichael Jenkins, built the structure, which remained in Healy's family until it was sold in 1915.
Jay Sowers / The Natchez Democrat — Abigail Healy, left, leads a tour through Elgin Plantation on Thursday afternoon. Healy’s great-grandfather, Dr. John Carmichael Jenkins, built the structure, which remained in Healy’s family until it was sold in 1915.

NATCHEZ — Two weeks into the month-long marathon of hoop skirts, tailcoats and living history that is Spring Pilgrimage, some of the houses on tour are seeing a 25-percent increase in visitors over the last few years.

“Pilgrimage is going very, very well,” Natchez Pilgrimage Tours Executive Director Marsha Colson said. “The houses are having many more visitors than they are used to. In recent years, it wasn’t unusual for houses to have 200 visitors a day, but some have had 250 and even close to 300 people.”

The strong ticket sales have not been limited to group tours, Colson said.

“It seems that not only are more people visiting, both groups and individuals, but I am noticing more individuals,” she said. “It seems that those individuals are buying more and doing more when they come here.”

Colson said she believes the increase in visitors can be attributed to two things — national economic recovery and effective advertising.

Jay Sowers / The Natchez Democrat — Ruth Ellen Calhoun, left, describes the history of Elgin Plantation to a group of visitors on the building’s front porch.
Jay Sowers / The Natchez Democrat — Ruth Ellen Calhoun, left, describes the history of Elgin Plantation to a group of visitors on the building’s front porch.

“As far as Natchez Pilgrimage Tours and how we market pilgrimage and our home tours, we are doing a lot of things that we have done in the past, but we are doing them consistently better, and that’s showing up,” she said. “We have gotten some really good publicity. We have had probably five TV interviews, and we were fortunate to get some TV advertising in the Alexandria area for very reasonable pricing, and I have gotten a lot of calls from that area.”

Whatever the reason visitors choose to attend Natchez’s premier tourism promotion, once they’re in town factors that normally slow down sales aren’t seemingly affecting them this year.

“(Sales are good) even on Sundays and days when the weather wasn’t good,” Colson said. “Sunday afternoon is not usually the best day, because when people stay the night Saturday they usually leave Sunday afternoon, and cloudy and cold rainy days aren’t usually the best day, but that hasn’t seemed to make any difference this year.”

Elgin owner Ruth Ellen Calhoun said she has definitely noticed the increase in visitors, and — like other homeowners — has been keeping count.

“We enjoy it, and it is a lot of hard work, and we are exhausted at the end of the day, but (the pilgrims) seem to be all over town,” she said.

And that’s why good Pilgrimage attendance makes the work that goes into it worthwhile, Colson said.

“The homeowners have to work just as hard to spruce up their houses and yards and get things ready whether we have big crowds or small crowds, so it is very rewarding when you have good numbers and good crowds,” she said.

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