Park superintendent sets goals at his new post

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 22, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; Working to rehab the Natchez National Historical Park’s properties and working with owners of private property to preserve their holdings are top priorities for Keith Whisenant.

Whisenant was named in November as superintendent of the park, which includes the antebellum house Melrose, the William Johnson House and the site of the French Fort Rosalie.

Much has already been done to clear debris from, shore up the inside of, and renovate the outside of two historic structures on State Street &045; the McCallum House and the once-home of William Johnson.

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Johnson was a free black man who was known as &uot;the Barber of Natchez&uot; and kept an extensive diary in post-Civil War days &045; what some believe to be one of the most complete records of Natchez at that time.

The Johnson house will contain exhibits related to him and the family life and Natchez society of his time. The McCallum House will contain an information center and Park Service offices.

&uot;We’re hoping to get contracts out soon for exhibits (for those properties) so we can be ready when the Johnson House is completed early next year,&uot; he said.

With that restoration under way, Whisenant has been looking at the park’s other properties to determine what changes &045; and funding &045; are needed.

&uot;We’re looking at finishing restoration of Melrose &045; the areas the visitors see &045; including rehabbing the dairy building and doing work on the kitchen,&uot; Whisenant said.

He has discussed with other Park Service officials about the possibility of hiring an additional curator to help the owners of private sites preserve their historic properties.

Whisenant wants to expand the park’s ranger program in downtown Natchez &045; specifically, expanding tours.

He is also discussing with regional Park Service officials that legislation would be needed for the park to accept a fourth property, the Forks of the Road former slave market site.

The City of Natchez recently bought 0.25 acres at the site, which sits at the intersection of Liberty Road and St. Catherine Street, with the hopes that an interpretive center or some other recognition of the site’s history will be erected there.