Historic preservation is vital to Natchez
Published 5:28 pm Friday, March 11, 2022
What would Natchez be without our historic district? It is truly what sets our city apart. Enjoyed by both those who live within it and the thousands of people who visit each year, preservation of our historic district is vital to Natchez.
Fortunately, we have our Natchez Preservation Ordinance – and it is important that we follow and enforce it. By doing so, we protect the authenticity of our historic buildings, the property values within the historic district, and the city’s heritage tourism economy. We also have a civic obligation to insure that the character of the historic district is enjoyed by generations in the future.
2021, the year just past, was the 100th birthday of America’s first historic preservation ordinance. The city was New Orleans, which passed an ordinance in 1921 creating the Vieux Carre Commission to preserve the historic buildings and character of the French Quarter. Ten years later, Charleston, S.C., enacted a preservation ordinance for the preservation of its “old historic or architecturally worthy structures and quaint neighborhoods.” In 1951, 30 years after New Orleans and 20 years after Charleston, Natchez enacted its first preservation ordinance “to preserve the distinctive and historic character, charm, and beauty of the City of Natchez.”
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These three cities were among the first dozen or so cities in the United States to recognize by city ordinance the value of preserving their historic buildings. These ordinances have played a major role in preserving the distinctive character of Natchez, Charleston and New Orleans. It is notable that each of these cities is today the number one heritage tourism destination in their respective states. Cities can fairly quickly create theme parks, zoos, sports arenas, and other attractions, but it would take more than a century to create a real historic town.
The City of Natchez recently sent out an official postcard notice to owners of property located within the Natchez Preservation District. The purpose of this notice was to inform and/or remind each property owner about the legal requirement under the Natchez Preservation Ordinance to file an application with the Natchez Preservation Commission before undertaking any work that results in a change to the exterior of the building or its associated property. These changes include windows, doors, siding, and roofing, as well as the building or altering of carports, garages, storage buildings, and similar structures. Also included are the installation or removal of major landscape features like fences, driveways, walks, and large trees.
The Natchez Preservation Ordinance protects the city’s architectural integrity, its heritage tourism economy, and property values in the historic district. It also contributes to neighborhood harmony in the Preservation District, where residents live in close proximity to one another. When an application is filed with the City Planning Department, notices are mailed to all property owners within 160 feet and a sign is placed on the property to alert neighbors that an application has been submitted to the Preservation Commission. These procedures allow neighbors to be aware of potential new construction or alterations that might negatively affect their properties and to have an opportunity to voice their concerns in writing or in person.
The city’s Department of Planning and Zoning will assist property owners in completing application forms. These forms, the preservation ordinance, and the city’s Design Review Guidelines are available online from the city’s website, www.natchez.ms.us. The staff of the Historic Natchez Foundation is also available to assist the public in completing the application forms and in presenting applications to the Natchez Preservation Commission. The foundation also works with property owners to guide them in their restorations and rehabilitations.
As both the oldest settlement on the Mississippi River and the oldest municipality in Mississippi, Natchez has many buildings that exceed 100 years old and quite a few buildings that are more than 200 years old. We also have the earthen ruins of a fort now over 300 years old and native American landmarks that are many centuries older. Our architecture is the tangible interpretation of our history and what distinguishes Natchez and makes it unique. It is important that all of this be preserved! Natchez Deserves More.
Dan Gibson is mayor of Natchez.