Spring Pilgrimage is blooming!

Published 9:26 pm Sunday, March 3, 2024

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Spring is in the air – and with it anticipation! We are only one week from the opening weekend of Natchez Spring Pilgrimage 2024, and owners of more than 36 beautiful historic homes are about to dust off their welcome mats so they can greet the thousands of pilgrims who will make their way to our shining city on the highest hill. Friday, March 8, marks the start, and home tours will continue for nearly two months, concluding on April 28!

Since 1932, the Natchez Spring Pilgrimage has been an annual tradition beloved and enjoyed by millions – and its beginning makes for an amazing story. Struggling to come back from the Great Depression, with many historic homes in need of some TLC, strong women of Natchez, led by a determinedly charming Katherine Grafton Miller, wife of Balfour Miller and owner of Hope Farm, decided it was time to invite tourists to visit Natchez.

All over town, it is said that convincing ladies talked their husbands into tidying up their gardens to welcome visitors to enjoy six days of garden tours amid blooming century old azalea bushes. But as mother nature is prone to do, a cold front blew in, blooms wilted, and the ladies quickly turned their focus toward opening the doors of their historic mansions to the public. What started as a trial run proved to be a great success! The next year, the pilgrimage was extended, and later, a Fall Pilgrimage was added. The idea soon spread to other cities across the south, and now, more than 90 years later, the Natchez Spring Pilgrimage, hosted by our two garden clubs, the Natchez Garden Club and the Pilgrimage Garden Club, lures people from all over the world to visit Natchez.

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The brilliance of Katherine Miller continues to this day. It can be said that her idea of a Spring Pilgrimage saved Natchez, bringing countless visitors into a town that had been depressed, spurring economic development and creating jobs. Today, we are home to more restaurants, gift shops, and tourist attractions than possibly any other city our size, and tourism has long been our number one industry. Last year, more than one million tourists visited Natchez, leaving behind an economic impact of more than $100 million.

In addition to touring homes, Natchez now offers so much more for visitors to do. They can choose from over 40 Bed and Breakfasts for their overnight stay, in addition to great hotels and short-term rentals. While they are here, they can indulge in great food, enjoy live music, or treat themselves to a carriage ride, outdoor excursion, or walk along our historic streets and historic bluff, taking in our amazing sunsets and our well-marked Natchez Trails and Walking Tour.

The African American History of Natchez is a special treasure waiting to be discovered. Our NAPAC Museum, the Natchez Museum of African American History and Culture, is located at 301 Main St. and welcomes visitors daily from all over the world. In addition, guided tours of our city are available along with a recently created self-guided tour of 29 historic sites pertaining to Natchez Black History.

Our Natchez National Historic Park is another great tourism asset, featuring Forks of the Road, sadly once the second-largest slave market in the deep south. The historic park also includes other sites such as the William Johnson House, once the home of the “Black Barber of Natchez,” a free man of color, and Melrose, said to be the finest residential example of antebellum Greek Revival Architecture in the country.

A ticket to these great Natchez Spring Pilgrimage opportunities begins with a click on the cellphone or laptop. Visit visitnatchez.org for complete details, ticket purchases, a link to the home tours calendar, and exciting information on so many other things happening this spring in Natchez, from Music Festival events to live theatre! Information can also be found by visiting the websites of the garden clubs, natchezgardenclub.org and natchezpilgrimage.com. Or call 601-492-3000.

Natchez – it’s time! Let’s dust off those welcome mats and make this Spring Pilgrimage one to remember! Because Natchez Deserves More.

Dan M. Gibson is mayor of Natchez.