The Californication of the city of Natchez

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, March 5, 2008

I’ve noticed that recently Natchezians are becoming aware of the phenomenon that Oregonians and others have been dealing with for about a decade: it’s called the Californication of Natchez (or Oregon or Arizona or Nevada or Utah or wherever).

It is inevitable that Californians will take their real estate gains gotten from huge increases in real estate values and move to other places and buy property for cents on the dollar when compared to what they sold in California. Eventually, they did this in high enough numbers to affect local cultures. When isolationist residents in Oregon noticed Californians’ impact on their culture a decade ago, they dubbed this influx of migrants the “Californication of Oregon.” As Californians moved and had an impact, the term “Californication” spread.

I moved here over two years ago with my Jefferson-County-born husband and didn’t consider myself — ourselves — part of a California migration of significance. But, after I arrived, I met dozens of California émigrés. And, some of them, like the Riches (Lani and Ron Riches, who own Monmouth), achieved notoriety. But, I still didn’t see the trend as significant to the local polity.

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Natchez is a small place compared to whole states near California. And, when you think about it for a few minutes, a question forms: Why would Natchez, 1,800 miles from Southern California, attract people to take the big step and move here?

Two factors jump out: Californians adore history, anything “old,” and they are accustomed to economic opportunity. The idea of trading a cookie cutter house for a piece of history is irresistible to them. And, they’ll use whatever money they have left over to start a business that will make money.

So, before Natchezians get caught up in a fear of Californication, we should ask ourselves again: what resources does Natchez have, and how can the Natchez community benefit from those? Californians newly rooted here are proving they have something valuable to contribute. Their culture is strong on historic preservation. And, California culture values entrepreneurial spirit. Californians are moving here because there is a compatibility of values. People such as the Riches see opportunity in sacrificing some of the “what-used-to-be” for a helping of “what-will-it-take-to-make-us-desirable-now.” Tourism is a changing and fickle business. If we are isolationist, we will try and live under a rock and say “because our ancestors built it, they will come.”

Outsiders can provide marketing ploys that will attract tourists to cutting edge amenities. And the houses that stay intact as antiquities should still be our core attractions. We can’t permit them all to be polluted by modern impacts, but we can sacrifice some to the whims of the changing travel industry.

Monmouth is still Monmouth. Devereux is closed, but we and the tourists can still imbibe the atmosphere as we drive by. Let’s tour and promote the many other Natchez attractions left unfettered and capitalize on the creativity we’ve gained from the Californians. Was it Mark Twain or Will Rogers who said, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth?” Does it matter which?

Constance Holt is a Jefferson County resident.