• 66°

Spring Pilgrimage tourists enjoy stories told at houses


NATCHEZ — Natchez is telling stories and tourists say they couldn’t be any happier.

In recent years, tourism officials and local homeowners have been making a concerted effort to talk about the people behind the houses. In addition to hearing about furniture, china and other details about the houses, tourists are learning about those who lived in the house, including about the lives of enslaved people.

Janice Starkey visited Magnolia Hall with a group of friends from North Little Rock, Arkansas. For Starkey, it is the stories that keep her coming back. Starkey said her first trip to Spring Pilgrimage was in 1984.

Starkey said her 4-year-old son at the time was captivated by the stories. Since then, Starkey said she has been to Natchez four times.

“It doesn’t get old,” Starkey said. “I love the architecture, but I also love hearing about the history of the people who lived here.”

Natchez Pilgrimage Garden Club President and Natchez Pilgrimage Tours board member Eugenie Cates said the town had worked in recent years to offer more stories.

“We have worked hard at that,” Cates said. “Tourists have created a demand for that — they are looking for it and asking about it.”

Cates said in recent years tours of historic houses such as The Gardens, Greenleaves and D’Evereux are offering more details and stories.

Cates said Concord Quarters, which was recently added to Fall Pilgrimage, offers a unique view into the lives of enslaved people who worked behind the big house.

At Magnolia Hall, tourists learn about the new renovations of the house and why the house was painted brown to look like a brownstone.

Lori Edge, who traveled with Starkey, said those sorts of details are what make Natchez come alive.

Edge said she enjoys hearing about the “little things” that are not written about in history books.

Edge and Starkey said as much as they love touring the house, they also like meeting residents and hearing their stories.

“The people in the town are just as fascinating,” Edge said.

Starkey said she still remembers being invited to the house of Maggie Burkley on the bluff several years ago.

“The people are so friendly and nice,” Starkey said.

Suzy Cobb and Beth Miller, from Springfield, Illinois, agreed.

“We have been so impressed,” Miller said. “The town is so beautiful and clean.”

Natchez Garden Club member Helen Moss Smith said many tourists are fascinated with not only the house but also the history behind pilgrimage.

“They want to know about the garden clubs and the people who are showing the houses,” Smith said. “The story of the two garden clubs is historical, and people are interested in that story.”

As a retired college professor, Neal Brooks said coming to Natchez gave him an opportunity to see many of things he discussed in his history courses.

From Baltimore, Maryland, Brooks spent the day in Natchez with his wife, Carol. The couple stopped in Natchez on a trip between Vicksburg and New Orleans.

Carol and Neal said they would have spent several more days in the city had they known all that Natchez had to offer.

“Natchez doesn’t get enough coverage for people to understand how much is actually here,” Brooks said. “This town is really interesting and spring is the ideal time to be here.”

Virginia resident Tim Edmonds said he wished that he could have found more information online about Spring Pilgrimage earlier than he did.

Edmonds and his wife, who visited Linden Saturday morning, said he had started planning a year in advance for a trip across the South with their friends from the Netherlands.

“We kept going online as early as October,” Edmonds said. “The information on Spring Pilgrimage did not hit on websites for us until December. It is not long enough for someone planning a trip.”

Despite not being able to acquire timely information, the Edmonds said they love coming to Natchez and being able to introduce the town to their friends.

“We came to Natchez on the Delta Queen in 2005 — the last year the boat was on the river,” Edmonds said. “Natchez is the prettiest demonstration of Southern heritage and of how life existed before the Civil War.”