House tour sales up compared to last year

Published 12:58 am Saturday, October 9, 2010

NATCHEZ — When a serendipitous mini disaster led the Garbers to their future home one year ago at Brandon Hall Plantation, Kathy Garber could not have predicted she would be greeting fall pilgrims at her Natchez home in less than a year.

Former Lafayette resident Ron Garber was driving to go hunting in Vicksburg last year when his trailer axle broke and sparked enough mess on U.S. 61 North to summon two fire trucks.

In addition to the firemen, the Brandon Hall caretaker came to Ron’s rescue, offering him the plantation’s grounds to regroup.

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When Ron arrived, he realized his wife, Kathy, had once visited Brandon Hall with some friends two years before.

“We didn’t come looking for Brandon Hall — it found us,” Kathy said.

The caretaker remembered Kathy, because she was the only one who refused to leave the grounds to go shopping.

“I was in my tennis shoes looking around the grounds the whole time,” Kathy said.

During Friday’s Fall Pilgrimage Red Tour, when Kathy leaned over and pointed to her name in the same guest book she signed in 2007, she said she never pictured that weekend she would soon own the place.

But since her husband convinced her to move from Lafayette to the Greek revival cotton plantation when he learned it was for sale, Kathy said living at Brandon Hall has been a treat.

When the Garbers moved to Brandon Hall in December 2009, she said she knew showing her house at pilgrimage was part of the package, in a way.

Kathy said she thought touring her home at pilgrimage was a wonderful idea, especially since many people promised her she would get a lot of help when the season rolled around. The people of Natchez delivered on the promise, Kathy said.

Also giving tours at Brandon Hall was Scott Smith, a Tennessean and devoted Natchez fan; Candace Bundgard, the Garbers’ neighbor and a history buff; and Kathy’s 24-year-old daughter, Rachel, who has also made Brandon Hall her home — and office.

Rachel Garber admitted she was completely against her parents moving to a plantation in Mississippi a year ago when they broke the news.

Rachel said she thought her parents wanted to downsize, which did not jive with the plan to purchase and live in a plantation built on a 48-acre piece of property.

However, after being inspired by a wedding at the Southern Oaks Plantation in New Orleans, Rachel decided to start a business around her parents’ mid-life relocation.

Rachel moved from Houston, and now lives in Natchez and plans weddings and other events at her parents’ home.

“I’m loving it. It’s a change of pace from skyscrapers to the woods, but I love it,” Rachel said.

Rachel said meeting people from all over the world is the most interesting part of her job.

Kathy said approximately 130 people on average have arrived to tour Brandon Hall for fall pilgrimage each day it has been on tour.

Although Kathy said she has no past pilgrimage experience to compare, she has heard that the turnout has been good this year.

Natchez Pilgrimage Tours General Manager Marsha Colson said as of Friday, the number of group tours this year was up 30 percent compared to 2009 Fall Pilgrimage.

Ticket sales on house tours are up 15 percent from last year, Colson said.

Colson said the 5:30 p.m. days-end diversion events have been very successful, as well.

Colson said visitors have had a good response to the new addition of costumed characters costumes and to the households and families who host pilgrimage.

Colson said she feels fortunate that the hosts and hostesses of the homes are so willing to participate and engage with tourists.

“It’s wonderful, people are social here,” Colson said.

“It’s interesting because here we are in a small town, 40 miles from an interstate, and the world comes to see us.”