Houses prepped for Pilgrimage tours

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 5, 2010

NATCHEZ — Ruth Ellen Calhoun has a pilgrimage secret, but she doesn’t mind sharing it.

Calhoun, who owns Elgin Plantation with her husband Dr. William F. Calhoun, said when painting the steps leading to the front of her house, she always makes sure the painter mixes in a little sand with the final coat.

“We don’t want any of our guests slipping,” she said. “And with all the rain we’ve had recently, I almost slipped myself so I made sure to have my painter back for that extra step.”

Calhoun is preparing her house for the annual five weeks of Spring Pilgrimage that begins Saturday.

Morning and afternoon tours are scheduled for each day between Saturday and April 10. A total of 23 houses will be open for tours during Spring Pilgrimage

Tickets for three-house tours are $24, and tickets for two-house tours are $16.

Natchez Pilgrimage Tours Director Marsha Colson said the two-house tour will allow more flexibility for visitors who may not have as much time for the morning tours.

New this year, Rosalie will be open for daily tours as well as being included on a normal three-house tour.

A complete tour schedule and ticket information is available at www.natchezpilgrimage.com or by calling 601-446-6631. Tickets are only available for purchase at tour headquarters.

“We are really counting on individual ticket sales this year,” Colson said. “For the last two years, those have really given Pilgrimage a boost.”

And things are looking positive, Colson said.

“We were worried with all the cold weather if people would travel,” she said. “But I spent a couple of hours at the visitors’ center Wednesday, and I was really encouraged. We had people in from New York and Wisconsin so that makes me hopeful.”

Elgin will be on tour Sunday during day two of Pilgrimage, but Calhoun has been hard at work for several weeks.

“We are so busy getting ready,” she said. “There is so much to do and much of it can’t be done until right before Pilgrimage starts.”

Calhoun said each year she takes time to do a little research about life at Elgin Plantation and is always finding interesting tidbits to add to the story the hostesses share with touring guests.

“We are so fortunate to have Dr. Jenkins’, the original owner of Elgin, diaries,” she said. “I try to read through them each year to see if there is anything of interest that I have missed, and every year I find there is a lot I’ve missed.”

A little last-minute cleaning remains to be done and flowers need to be cut and arranged for different areas of the house. Calhoun only has to venture as far as her own yard for most of her flowers.

“I like to cut my own and arrange my own,” she said. “And if I can’t find enough in the yard, I like to find something that would have grown here.

“I prefer that to professional arrangements during Pilgrimage, because our guests expect to see what it is like to live in these homes.”

Calhoun said she was a little worried about finding fresh flowers this year with all of the recent wet weather, but she believes there will be plenty in bloom in the coming weeks.

“The one thing the colder weather did was hold back the azaleas from blooming so now they will be in full bloom for the end of Pilgrimage,” she said. “I think it will be a treat for those who come in the last week.”

The National Weather Service is not predicting rain for this weekend and partly cloudy skies and high temperatures in the mid-60s should be pleasant for touring.

The Historic Natchez Pageant begins today and continues with showings at 8 p.m. each Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at the City Auditorium. Tickets are $15 each and can be reserved by calling 601-446-6631.

Pageant performances this Friday and Saturday night are free to Adams County and Concordia Parish residents. Attendees can pick up free tickets by showing their ID at the ticket counter at the Natchez Visitor Reception Center, 640 S. Canal St., or at the ticket office at the City Auditorium.

Natchez Little Theatre will begin its annual production of “Southern Exposure” at 8 p.m. Saturday and will continue each Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday until April 11. Tickets are $15 and can be reserved by calling Natchez Little Theatre at 601-442-2233.

Southern Road to Freedom will be performed at 8 p.m. each Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday between March 6 and April 10, excluding March 30 and April 1 and 2, at Holy Family Catholic Church. Tickets are $15 and can be reserved at the Natchez Pilgrimage Tours ticket counter at the Natchez Visitor Reception Center.

Colson said while the last few weeks of Pilgrimage preparation are stressful and busy, she breathes a sigh of relief once things get started.

“You know you have done everything you can to get ready — you’ve painted, you’ve cleaned, you’ve put the flowers out,” she said.

“Now all we can do is welcome our guests warmly and tell them about our history and our city and hope they enjoy their visit and come back.”