National park working to help Fort Rosalie park rise from the ruins

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 2, 2011

Ben Hillyer | the Natchez Democrat — With the undeveloped lands for the Fort Rosalie park in the background, Anna and Barrett Johnson watch the sun set over the Mississippi River from the new Natchez trails on the bluff. Natchez National Historical Park officials hope to see future work at the Fort Rosalie site compliment the newly built trails.

NATCHEZ — One day, you may stand on the site of historic Fort Rosalie and view it just like the Spanish did — as a beautiful, public promenade on the bluff of the Mississippi River.

That’s the dream of the National Park Service and Natchez National Historical Park Superintendent Kathleen Jenkins, and work in that direction is ongoing.

Jenkins said she would like to see the entire area of Fort Rosalie as a green-space park.

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One eyesore on the seven acres owned by the NPS was removed recently when the old, white storehouse on the riverside of South Canal Street was demolished last month.

A postcard from the early 1900s shows the ruins of Fort Rosalie.

The NPS continues to work on a development concept, and Jenkins said they hope to have the land developed into a park with picnic tables and historical checkpoints on the walking trails by the Natchez tricentennial in 2016.

Jenkins said the park is not concentrating on the Civil War-era history at the fort.

“That’s what is unique about Rosalie,” she said. “We’re not focusing on the cotton kingdom, we’re focusing on the earlier era when we had American Indians there.”

Jenkins said it is the hope of NPS that at some point in time, the park can protect the archaeological resources on the site and interpret them for the public.

She said what is so important is that the site provides an undisturbed record of human occupancy that spans through the Americans, the English, the French and all the way throughout the Natchez Indians.

“We can learn a lot about those cultures and how they lived together through the archeological records they left behind,” Jenkins said.

Other ruins from the recent demolition of a building on Green Street will make the way for the new park.

The NPS has been working to acquire the remaining 28 acres of Rosalie.

The NPS no longer uses eminent domain as it’s primary acquisition means, and park service officials have said they will work around current landowners if necessary.

Jenkins said there have been complications with the titles for some of the land that are being worked out, and there are also owners not willing to sell.

“We would like to move forward with acquisition when there are willing sellers,” she said.

Jenkins says the park owns about one-fifth of Fort Rosalie right now.

In the meantime, the NPS will continue to prepare the land it does own for the dream park. Several remaining dilapidated structures are slated for demolition in the next few months.

“We have been working to finish this process for a long time,” Jenkins said. “We’re just about at the end.”

Jenkins said the park will keep the log house where Fat Mama’s Tamalas once was housed and the Victorian house next to it for exhibits, visitor contact points and other amenities.

Jenkins said when the park is developed into a promenade, it, along with the new downtown walking trails, will be a real treat just in time for the city’s 300th birthday.

“We really have a jewel for anyone in Natchez or visitors to use,” Jenkins said.