Walk the streets of Natchez, MS and you can almost hear 300 years of splendid history whispering in your ear. You just feel it. It’s the oldest settlement on the Mississippi River, and here you can come face to face with the grand water that has carried trade and travelers for the past few hundred years, and the music and stories that have flowed out from these banks mark beginnings of time in many ways. We sit in the very room with the door open to the very view Mark Twain once took in and wonder about the musings he may have felt.
Natchez you are a beautiful place.
If streets could talk, Silver Street would be making more confessions than any one ear could handle. At least when it was known as “Natchez Under the Hill.” The buildings date back to around the turn of the 19th century and this was the last stop for the river men who had sold goods along the river and then sold their flatboats before returning through the wilderness of the old Natchez Trace. This was the crossroads of the river and road home. Above the bluff was orderly and proper, but at this low spot was the disorderly, a bar and brothel. It was so bad that no boatmen were allowed to go above the bluff without special permission of the Spanish commandant. Those days are long gone, of course, and Under the Hill Saloon is here as a hip spot to hang especially when music is playing.
The Mark Twain Guest House, aptly named for the author himself who spent a night here, is above the Under the Hill Saloon and is a nice break from hotel monotony. Open the large, antique door overlooking the balcony and you are bequeathed an unbelievable view and perfect morning with your coffee.
Across from here is a boat ramp into the river and a nice spot to roll up the jeans and cool your feet. I’ll admit, this was the first time I actually touched the Mississippi River and glad I did.
We see a canoe laying atop some rocks. We weren’t sure if it was abandoned or left there temporarily. Until, we meet the “Duck Guy.” His name is John Lawrence Kanazawa Jolley who travels the river (and lives on the river) in this canoe with his duck. He’s young, though covered with old from the looks of his beard and clothes. This vagabond of sorts is inside tapping away on his laptop and once we’re introduced inside a back room of the Under Hill Saloon, he is more than enthusiastic to tell his story.
He’s very articulate in his explanation of a grand quest to save the rivers and the world. “We have to undam the rivers!” he proclaims. His explanations were part sense and part nonsense, but either way, these are the people that make a trip unforgettable. If there is one thing Scarlati and I have learned from traveling, it’s never judge anyone by what you see on the outside. Make the effort to meet a stranger. A chance meeting may be just an entertaining story, but could also be so much more. You just never know.
The most awe-inspiring place in the city is the Natchez City Cemetery which sits on a bluff overlooking the river. As we make our way towards the back of the burial grounds, the markers get grander and their dates get older. Moss covered oaks that are even larger with more years on them shade much of the grounds. The intricate ironwork and gates are mesmerizing just by their look and how they lead to these quiet, divine burials.
When do we not also search out the great places to eat. We found numerous restaurants, but what stood out were the absolute best burgers at Slick Rick’s who have their own blend of organic spices and herbs and their own way of making it taste good, as they say, you gotta “Shake it to wake it!”
The Historic Downtown, the shops, the food, the music, the romantic Antebellum architecture, the southern hospitality and all of 300 years of history along the Mississippi River… If you come for one thing, you will not doubt be amazed by the rest. Natchez speaks for itself.
Photos by Rebecca Bauer except “Coolin’ the toes in the Mississippi,” “Mark Twain Room ” and “John Lawrence Kanazawa Jolley” by Anthony Scarlati