Every once in a while when I travel, instead of staying at a hotel, I like to stay at a historic Bed and Breakfast. It takes a little bit of research to find a home that has been preserved and modernized yet hasn’t lost it’s historical character. On my recent trip up to Memphis, Patty and I stayed a wonderfully preserved home at the Dunleith Historic Inn in Natchez, Mississippi.
The families who originally owned these types of dwellings often lacked funds to maintain the properties. Many have been abandoned or left to decay while families try to decide what to do with them. Fortunately there are history lovers out there who make the necessary investments to restore and preserve important pieces of American life. In the case of Dunleigh, the home has always been occupied. It served as the city home of the original plantation owner Job Routh. It has been bought and sold a couple of times but was never abandoned. It is therefore, in excellent shape.
The home encompasses 40 beautiful acres on a bluff above the Mississippi River where the original town of Natchez grew up. The carriage house, stables, poultry house, dairy barn and greenhouse date back to the 1790’s. The original home burned down and was replaced by the current mansion built in 1856. Today, 22 rooms are available for overnight stays. A first class restaurant occupies the carriage house and the beautifully landscaped grounds make a perfect place for receptions and weddings. Rooms are a bit pricey, but this Inn is at the top of the list for these kinds of historical homes. Expect to pay anywhere from $140 to $300 per night.
Patty and I were intrigued by the informative tour that we got with our morning coffee. Natchez was the southern terminus of the Natchez Trace, the land trail that led back to the northeast. It was part of the Confederacy during the Civil War. Wealthy landowners built their fortunes using slave labor in the plantation fields. Slavery is always a difficult part of American history to deal with.
Natchez was a major trade center with river boats providing transportation up to the Ohio River and down to New Orleans. This property was built from profits made in the cotton and sugar trade along the Mississippi River. The working plantation was 40 miles north of Natchez and the owners occasionally occupied the home there while this home was being built. Black and white photographs of previous families and slaves are displayed on the walls.
Our guide told us that Natchez was fortunate during the Civil War in that very few of the homes were destroyed by the invading Union Army. In the twentieth century, the city’s economy experienced a downturn, first due to the replacement of steamboat traffic on the Mississippi River by railroads in the early 1900s, and later due to the exodus of many local industries that had provided a large number of jobs in the area (ref:Wikipedia).
Natchez is small and quaint, perfect for driving down streets lined with well preserved mansions, shops, churches and parks. Everyone we passed waved at us. The smiling faces made us feel right at home. Then too, the slow paced, southern drawl of the Mississippi folks makes you want to have one more glass of iced tea while sitting on the front porch rocking chair and swap stories all afternoon. We only got to stay one night before moving on, but we can’t wait to return.