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Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat — South Dakota resident Marcia Gerdes and Minnesota resident Bonnie Curren use the touch screen at Melrose to learn about the antebellum house and the other properties of the Natchez National Historical Park. Gerdes and Curren, above, learn about the Forks of the Roads.
Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat — South Dakota resident Marcia Gerdes and Minnesota resident Bonnie Curren use the touch screen at Melrose to learn about the antebellum house and the other properties of the Natchez National Historical Park. Gerdes and Curren, above, learn about the Forks of the Roads.

Touch here: Melrose uses new technology to tell story

Published 12:01am Thursday, March 27, 2014

NATCHEZ — The Natchez National Historical Park is giving visitors a peek into the past by taking its latest step into the 21st century.

The National Park Service recently installed an interactive computer kiosk in Melrose, located in the Natchez park. The touchscreen kiosk gives visitors an interactive look at Melrose, the William Johnson House, Fort Rosalie, Forks of the Road and different aspects of Natchez history.

In the Melrose section, visitors can see photographs of Melrose through the years, read sections on homeowners, the gardens, outbuildings, the slave community and view floor plans of the historic house, NPS historian Jeff Mansell said.

The section on the William Johnson House, located downtown, is similar, Mansell said, and features selections on Johnson’s diary and the Johnson family.

The Forks of the Road section also provides information and photographs of the St. Catherine Street site, which was home to the second-largest slave market in the country.

Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat — Marcia Gerdes and Bonnie Curren read about the antebellum house Melrose using the new touch screen on the property.
Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat — Marcia Gerdes and Bonnie Curren read about the antebellum house Melrose using the new touch screen on the property.

The kiosk also has a voice-guided interactive game geared toward children that features NPS trading cards that mark the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. Players can view information on the cards then play a trivia game about the information, Mansell said. Players can also receive their own trading cards after playing the game.

“We’re getting great feedback about it,” Mansell said. “The first day we had it up … we had a family with three young daughters come in, and we invited them to be the first people to experience the kiosk. Their three little girls enjoyed (the game) so much they just wanted to continue playing it.”

The kiosk is one of two the park received through two grants from NPS totaling $20,000 through the Civil War to Civil Rights and Lower Mississippi Delta Region initiatives, Mansell said.

A second kiosk will be soon be placed at the Natchez Visitor Reception Center on Canal Street.

The software that runs the kiosk will allow NPS to continually add information for visitors, and Mansell said information about the Civil Rights Movement in Natchez is likely next to be added.

“It really provides a wealth of knowledge at your fingertips,” Mansell said. “I hope people in the community will come out and see them, because I think it’s a great model of what can be done at other sites.”

Natchez National Historical Park Superintendent Kathleen Jenkins said the kiosk gives the park “infinite flexibility and infinite possibilities” for the visitor experience.

“It’s wonderful to give visitors the opportunity to explore things at their own pace,” Jenkins said. “It gives people who are visual learners things to look at while they’re learning. For children, it’s an opportunity to learn while playing an electronic game.

“I feel like it’s a big step into the 21st century, and I think we need to look for more and more opportunities that gives us a chance to reach multiple generations.”