NNHP celebrating 20th anniversary

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 19, 2008

Natchez — The public is invited to join a year-long celebration of the 20th anniversary of Natchez National Historical Park, created by Congress on Oct. 7, 1988. Many people still do not realize that Natchez NHP is a separate national park interpreting the history of Natchez — and not just part of the Natchez Trace Parkway.

Special events will take place throughout the year showcasing the progress achieved at the park sites currently open to the public: Melrose, the William Johnson House and the Natchez Visitor Center.

All three sites are wheelchair accessible.

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At Melrose, 1 Melrose-Montebello Parkway, the mansion that was preserved by the Kelly and Callon families has been transformed from a magnificent home to a premier historic house museum.

House tours begin at the top of each hour, with the first at 10 a.m. and the last at 4 p.m.

The Melrose grounds are open to the public free of charge from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

At Melrose, visitors also learn about the hundreds of enslaved people of African descent whose forced labor on plantations created the wealth that built Melrose, and the slaves whose talents were utilized at the estate.

The William Johnson House at 210 State St., tells the story of the free people of color who lived here before the Civil War. Most of them were the mixed race offspring of enslaved people and white plantation owners.

Some were prosperous enough to own slaves themselves — as did William Johnson. Johnson was born a slave but freed as a child and trained as a barber. As an adult, he owned three barber shops and raised a large family on the upper levels of his house.

But Johnson is best known as an author of journals from 1835 until 1851. First published by LSU Press in 1951, they provide detailed insight into the daily life of Natchez.

In 1998, the National Park Service partnered with the City of Natchez for a visitor center at 640 S. Canal St. that also houses park and city offices.

Here the public may gather local information at the state welcome center, buy event tickets from the city or Natchez Pilgrimage Tours counters, view a 20-minute movie or browse the logo shop or Eastern National bookstore that supports the park’s interpretive themes.

This year the park is initiating the next phase for the Fort Rosalie property along Canal Street, which will feature additional removal of deteriorated structures and the first public programs at the colonial French fort site.

The park will also complete a boundary study on whether the Forks of the Road slave market site meets the criteria to be added to the park, bringing national attention to this under-recognized foundation of the Natchez story.

Special park events will be scheduled for each month of the coming year, culminating next fall with the opening of our new exhibits at the visitor center. For more information call 601-446-5790, or check the park’s web site at www.nps.gov/natc.