To die for: Natchez has much to see and do for locals

Published 11:28 am Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Locals say the area is filled with unique and beautiful spots. Clockwise from top left, Diane Galbreath pours a glass of wine for tourists at the Old South Winery; runners enjoy the new Natchez Trails.; a horse-drawn carriage passes by a Natchez Trails sign; and fences and grave stones create a striking pattern at the Natchez City Cemetery.

Wearing a bright orange vest, Entergy employee Anthony Mills walked past tourists into the Natchez Visitor Reception Center recently for the first time in all his years in Natchez, to deliver a notice about upcoming tree-trimmings.

After handing over the slip of paper, he walked around curiously to take a look at the exhibits, gift shops and theater.

“This is my first time in the building,” he told the logo shop clerk.

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“You’re in trouble,” responded Logo Shop clerk Susan Bonette.

Bonette wasn’t referring to the power company’s tree trimmings. She was laying on some local guilt to a fellow Natchezian for taking the amenities of his hometown for granted.

Mills’ indiscretion is a common trend, Bonette said. People who live in Natchez can often fail to appreciate what it offers outsiders who travel the world to see it before they kick the bucket.

“People pass (local attractions) every day, and it doesn’t dawn on them to stop and visit.”

Natchez was recently included in the 2011 edition of the travel book, “1,000 Places to See Before You Die.”

The book touts places like Monmouth Plantation, Fat Mama’s Tamales and the Natchez Trace, which it calls one of the best biking routes in the world, as a priority visit to check out alongside destinations like St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin, Ireland, Sing-Sing tribal gatherings in Papua New Guinea and the Khajuaho Temples in India.

In the spirit of helping fellow Natchez residents take advantage of their own city, a few locals recommended their favorite spots in town to visit that are uniquely Natchezian.

Natchez City Cemetery

Visitor’s center gift shop clerk Kathie Swofford said though she doesn’t have flowers to lay graveside, the cemetery is one of her favorite places to visit.

The historical, hallowed ground makes for a great exercise route, she said.

“I walk, take the dogs for a walk,” Swofford said.

And it’s not just the scene, which overlooks the Mississippi River from the bluff, that brings her there, but the stories.

The grave of Florence Irene Ford, a girl who died at age 10, is one of the most interesting, Swofford said.

Cemetery Director Don Estes said Ford’s grave is reachable by downward steps, because her mother would go sit by her grave in bad weather to ward off the child’s fear of storms.

The Old South Winery

Carolyn Cole, a clerk at the winery, said the 32-year-old winery offers complementary tours and tastings from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday.

“We have quite a good clientele of local people from the area as well as lots of tourists,” Cole said.

Cole said visitors are often surprised to see how the muscadine wine is made. In addition, Dr. Scott Galbreath Jr., has perfected a supplement over the years used in the skins and seeds, which aids arthritis symptoms with its high anti-oxidants.

“We also have lots of regular customers, who have been coming for 30 years.”

Walking trails

Bonette said the Natchez Trails are a new favorite of hers.

She especially likes the shaded sanctuary of the nature trail that hugs the bluff with a view through the trees of the river.

“I walk it during lunch hour, and before or after work,” Bonette said.

She said she also likes the walking trail at the Historic Jefferson College and to walk the grounds at the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians.

National Park and museums

Swofford said all of the National Parks’ museums, including the William Johnson House and Melrose, offer interesting, free visits.

Bonette said she finds it interesting that the William Johnson House exhibits let people learn about the life of a black man but also of a businessman.

“Not everybody lived in antebellum (mansions),” she said.

Swofford said the photo gallery at First Presbyterian Church is fabulous, as well.


Swofford said Elms Court is a favorite to visit during Spring Pilgrimage, mostly because of some personal nostalgia.

She used to visit the house now owned by Anne MacNeil as a child under its previous owners.

“We would try to find ghosts, we didn’t ever find any,” she said of her visits.

John David Montgomery, the local legend and bartender of Under-the-Hill Saloon, said his favorite house to visit, and one he recommends to travelers passing through the old bar, is Longwood.

Estes agreed.

“I usually steer (visitors) to Longwood. It’s architecturally so unique and unusual and a sad story,” he said.

Montgomery also recommends a trip Under-the-Hill to locals and tourists who haven’t found their way there yet.

“It’s the oldest port of the river,” Montgomery said.

“With (a history of) laughing, drinking … jokes, gambling, and it still goes on today,” he said.

Visitors center

Bonette said a trip to the visitors center for residents can help them learn so much about the town they might take for granted.

The 20-minute informational video that plays every half hour even taught her a thing or two.

“It’s very entertaining, very well done, very professional,” Bonette said.

After catching his first glimpse of the visitor’s center, Mills promised Bonette he would come back during a day off.

“I didn’t know we had all this stuff,” he said. “I’ll have to take my kids.”