• 75°

Magnolia Ball to benefit society of Ellicott’s Hill

Why should we care about preserving historic properties in Natchez? We benefit from learning about those who came before and contributed to the complex fabric of our community. These buildings stand as silent witnesses to the lives of the people who lived there and reflect the many changes affecting this small riverfront community.

Please join us at 6 p.m. Saturday, March 7, at Magnolia Hall, for our third annual Magnolia Ball, a gala fundraiser to benefit preservation efforts of PSEH and Natchez Garden Club. Tickets are available online at www.natchezgardenclub.org under events. Donations are gratefully accepted if you are unable to attend.

For 222 years a house on Canal Street has perched precariously atop a vantage point overlooking the Mississippi River. Even before there was a house, there was a vantage point, which provided Andrew Ellicott and his small party of surveyors the perfect place from which to observe the Spanish enclave at Fort Rosalie. Ellicott had traveled to the Natchez Territory with orders from George Washington to establish the United States boundaries agreed upon in a recent treaty signed with Spain. In 1797, Ellicott chose this spot to raise the United States Flag and claim the territory in defiance of Spain.

Shortly thereafter in 1798, James Moore, an early settler purchased the lot and built a house. It was typical of other houses that were being built along the grand promenade now known as Canal Street. Today it is the only surviving example of the many merchant dwellings, which lined the promenade. These structures provided the underpinning of society in early Natchez, housing politicians, lawyers, doctors and merchants. Business was conducted in these dwellings and families resided in the upper chambers.

In many ways the story of the House on Ellicott’s Hill (as it is known today) is the story of Natchez. Originally a merchant dwelling, the house reflected the fortunes and fates of those inhabiting it. In its heyday it was home to the first Mayor of Natchez. Followed by a prestigious doctor who established his surgery there. During the antebellum era, the house was a boarding school for boys. After the war, the economy was decimated. The house was used as a boarding house for workers from the nearby cotton mill and operated as a tavern for weary travelers. By the 1930s it was shuttered.

In 1927 a group of civic-minded ladies incorporated to form the first preservation organization in the state of Mississippi, the Natchez Garden Club. In 1934, The House on Ellicott’s Hill became the first preservation project in the state. For many years the house served as headquarters for the Natchez Garden Club. In the 1970s the club acquired and restored Magnolia Hall. It is now used as club headquarters and is the venue for many garden club fundraising events.

As stewards of these historic properties it is both a privilege and responsibility to maintain these special houses for future generations. Operating as a philanthropic nonprofit arm of the Natchez Garden Club, Preservation Society of Ellicott’s Hill is committed to the restoration and preservation of our properties and promoting our community by sharing the story of our history with visitors from all over the world.

Christine Bartha is chairman of the Preservation Society of Ellicott’s Hill.