Another chapter for Dunleith

Published 12:04 am Sunday, January 20, 2019

Within the next two weeks, one of Natchez’s most iconic and well-known mansions should have a new owner.

Dunleith, arguably one of the most luxurious commercial bed and breakfasts Natchez offers, has been caught up in its owner’s personal bankruptcy.

As a result the property is to be sold on Feb. 1 as part of a foreclosure process with a local bank.

It would be easy for locals to simply throw up a hand and mock the situation, but that would be a disservice to the hard-working folks at Dunleith and related business Bowie’s Tavern and to the family that invested in the properties many years ago.

Historic properties are expensive.

Ask anyone who has ever been a caretaker of one. They’re expensive to buy, expensive to repair and expensive to operate and maintain.

Many years ago, while working as a photographer for the newspaper, on assignment covering the renovation of a house I was astounded at just how expensive correctly restoring an antebellum mansion could be.

The owner described the work that had been done on each area of the house.

She told the reporter about extensive work and redecorating that had been done to the second floor of one of Natchez’s most grand mansions.

“The upstairs draperies alone were approximately $90,000,” she said.

“Ninety-thousand dollars?” I thought. That was a staggering amount of money to my then 23-year-old ears, let alone to be spent on drapes. At the time I chuckled at the thought that a local bank probably would not have let me borrow the money necessary to buy this woman’s upstairs drapes, even on a 30-year-mortgage!

Yes, caretaking Natchez’s history can be enormously expensive.

But thank God Natchez has had the good fortune not only to preserve so many structures of our past, but also to attract outsiders to come to our community and help care for the buildings.

If Natchez didn’t have its history preserved, we would not have much of what we take for granted here.

Without the houses, far fewer visitors would come here. Natchez would be just a pretty spot to view the Mississippi River and perhaps learn a little about Native Americans who once lived here.

Without the houses, it’s quite likely the riverboats would simply pass by the Natchez bluffs. The riverboat calliope music would likely be a rare sound as it passed by.

The number of shops and restaurants would be far less than we have now. And downtown would be much more vacant and desolate.

Natchez is interconnected with historic properties and in a good way.

The family that has owned Dunleith has done good things for Natchez through the years. They’ve developed the property and added an upscale downtown bar that many residents and visitors alike have enjoyed.

The bankruptcy, foreclosure and prospect of a new owner make up an ugly phase in the life of the house, but for Natchez, it’s nothing new. Houses have changed hands, had down periods and up periods.

And in the end, Dunleith and Natchez will survive.

Despite the stress, uncertainty and unknown that surrounds the matter, in the end, the house and the businesses associated with it, should come out just fine.

Another chapter in Natchez’s history will be closed and another will open.

The next owner will pick up where the last left off and continue on with the care and feeding of an important part of what makes up the legacy of Natchez.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.