Betty and Jim Ballard of French Camp visit Historic Jefferson College Tuesday because they are big John Wayne fans and wanted to see where “The Horse Soldiers” was filmed. The site has been named a Southern Travel Treasure by the American Automobile Association’s magazine, “AAA Southern Traveler.” (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)
Betty and Jim Ballard of French Camp visit Historic Jefferson College Tuesday because they are big John Wayne fans and wanted to see where “The Horse Soldiers” was filmed. The site has been named a Southern Travel Treasure by the American Automobile Association’s magazine, “AAA Southern Traveler.” (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

Historic Jefferson College tops AAA treasure list

Published 12:01am Thursday, August 28, 2014

NATCHEZ — From the roadway, Historic Jefferson College presents a kind of pastoral picture testifying to Mississippi’s territorial past.

Now, a national travel group has designated the rolling lawns and federal style buildings associated with the state’s only educational center chartered before statehood as a “Southern Travel Treasure.”

The American Automobile Association  publishes a bi-monthly magazine, AAA Southern Traveler, and the September-October issue features Historic Jefferson College as a part of its Travel Treasure series. The magazine circulates to 260,000 homes in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

“We’re pleased to add Historic Jefferson College to the growing list of ‘treasures’ in our region,” said Michael Right, editor and publisher of AAA Southern Traveler.

Betty and Jim Ballard explore Historic Jefferson College Tuesday. (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)
Betty and Jim Ballard explore Historic Jefferson College Tuesday. (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

“Our members recognize the South has endless travel and recreational opportunities.  We try to offer places like this to our readers to encourage more exploration of local sites and attractions.”

Historic Jefferson College Branch Director Robin Person said the site’s location on U.S. 61 probably appeals to travelers looking for a break.

“It is on the way, right off the road that people would be traveling,” she said. “My guess is typical AAA members would be more educated, so historical sites would be something that would interest them.”

Approximately 14,000 people visited Historic Jefferson College last year, including 71 international visitors.

Jefferson College opened in  1811 in Washington — then the capital of the Mississippi Territory — with 15 boys and girls in attendance. It eventually became an all-boys academy, and the eventual president of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis, attended school there.

The school closed in 1863, but reopened briefly following the Civil War to serve as a Freedman’s Bureau school before being returned to its board of trustees, which reopened the College as a preparatory school that eventually evolved into a military prep academy. It closed in 1964.

The Mississippi Department of Archives and History took possession of the property in the 1970s and restored the property, which now serves serves as a museum. The buildings standing on the site date from 1817 to 1937.

Historic Jefferson College is open  from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free.