Melrose descendant dies

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 5, 2009

NATCHEZ — For most in Natchez the name Marian Kelly Ferry likely isn’t familiar.

But Ferry, who died March 29, was a living link to the city’s history.

Ferry, 99, grew up in Natchez and lived at Melrose.

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“It’s like the end of an era,” Amon Jordan, a longtime friend of Ferry’s, said. “She was one-of-a-kind.”

While Ferry spent the last several decades of her adult life living in Michigan with her husband, she always had a strong love for Natchez, Jordan said.

“She loved everything about Natchez,” Jordan said. “Marian was devoted to this city.”

Historic Natchez Foundation Programs Director Mimi Miller said a love for Natchez and a desire to preserve the city’s historic properties was instilled in Ferry by her parents.

Ferry’s parents, George and Ethel Kelly, restored Melrose after the old house had been in disrepair for more than 20 years.

So influential was their contribution that the Historic Natchez Foundation’s preservation award is named for Ferry’s parents.

And even after the deaths of her parents, Ferry continued to make regular trips to Natchez and make substantial contributions to the Natchez Historic Foundation, Miller said.

“The donated Kelly Family Collections constitute one of the most significant and extensive collection of papers and ephemeral related to the history of Natchez and the Lower Mississippi Valley,” Miller said.

But Ferry was able to leave more than just historic possessions behind.

Natchez National Historical Park Superintendent Kathleen Jenkins said Ferry lived in a time and place with which few living are familiar.

Jenkins has spent time with Ferry and said Ferry is able to provide a human element and context to the time few alive have known.

“She was an amazing person,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins said Ferry had close personal relationships with many of those who kept Melrose running.

Some of those working at the house were former slaves.

Today the National Park Service owns Melrose, and Ferry’s assistance in helping them understand the property’s past was extremely valuable, Jenkins said.

“She helped to give a whole new understanding to the times and the people,” Jenkins said. “They weren’t just social or political representatives, they were people.”