Homeowners, shops await first tourists

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 1, 2010

NATCHEZ — For Cindy Meng, opening her century-old doors to bus loads of strangers is a good excuse to change the light bulbs.

Meng, who has called the Wigwam Mansion home for 12 years, said the preparation involved in giving tours of her home is hard work — but definitely worth it.

Tourists passionate about history love hearing about the four Ivey sisters who built her home at 307 Oak St. in 1836 and how many believe it was used as a gentlemen’s gathering club for union soldiers during the civil war.

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But when the tourists enter her modern kitchen and witness the cozy, lived-in den, the out-of towners always compliment the historic mansion’s homey feel.

“This house is a home,” Meng said, while standing underneath an elaborately painted ceiling completed by D.W. Ducie in 1860.

“We have six (grown) children and three grandchildren — it gets pretty lively on Christmas.”

Meng said one reason she loves being a part of pilgrimage is the tourists’ interest in her house helps enhance her appreciation of its history and character.

She said people she meets at pilgrimage often inspire her to dig into old records and learn more about where she sleeps.

Five workers and Meng spent Thursday painting the porch, dusting chandeliers, filling the fountain with water, cleaning windows and doing other routine chores.

Meng said preparing the house for pilgrimage forces her to buckle down on some domestic chores that might otherwise be neglected.

“Deadlines are good,” Meng said.

“It forces you to change the light bulbs.”

While Meng removes the last smudges on her mirrors, other folks in Natchez are preparing for the influx of pilgrims, as well.

Magnolia Grill Owner John Parks said adding a few more staff members and buying a few more loads of groceries should prepare the restaurant to welcome visitors to town.

Parks said in the past, the first weekend of fall pilgrimage is slower than the second weekend, but he still expects plenty of visitors

An extra bunch of tourists in October is good business, especially since the busy month follows August and September, which tend to be slower, Parks said.

“And (Magnolia Grill) is always glad to see new smiling faces.”

Natchez Little Theater started selling tickets to “Big River” for Fall Pilgrimage season as early as May, Natchez Little Theater Artistic and Executive Director Layne Taylor said.

Taylor said he expects some shows, especially next weekend, to be sold nearly to the theater’s 240-person capacity.

“Big River” will be showing at 8 p.m. every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday until Oct. 17, when a 2 p.m. Sunday matinee will be the last performance. Tickets are $15.

A total of 20 homes are on tour and Longwood, Rosalie, Stanton Hall, Auburn, Monmouth, Dunleith, The Towers and Melrose are open for tours.

Today, Auburn, the Governor Holmes House, Greenlea, Texada are on tour from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The Burn, Wigwam and The Gardens are on tour from 1:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Each day consists of morning tours from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and afternoon tours from 1:30 to 5 p.m.

Tickets for three-hour tours are $24 per person, and tickets for four-house tours are $32 per person.

Tickets can be purchased at the Natchez Visitor Reception Center, 640 S. Canal St., by phone at 601-446-6631 or 1-800-647-6742 or online at www.natchezpilgrimage.com.

Springfield and Richland will be open for tours during Fall Pilgrimage, as well. The houses, located on the same plantation near Churchill, will be open from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Oct. 2, 5, 8, 11 and 14, the same days as the red tour. Tickets to tour both houses are $10 for adults and $8 for children between 6 and 13. A map and directions to the plantation are available at the Natchez Visitor Reception Center.