Saturday, March 30, 2013

Natchez to Home via New Orleans

First, a little whine with my cheese....

I had this blog 98% complete last week, but during the final touches the technical gods, as they have done since the beginning of the year, decided to continue my punishment and wiped out every single letter of my writing.  Is it because I still cling to Windows XP?  Could it be that my refusal to accept fancy flash web building and videos that start automatically (and annoy the heck of me) has somehow put me at odds with technology who is now on a full court blitz to make my life miserable?  Or could it be that it's simply time to stop using Google's Blogger for our blog?  The jury is still out on that last question, but something tells me there is a better platform that would have let me go back to a previous draft of this blog entry.  Of course, that has nothing to do with the hardware and software failures we've dealt with since the beginning of the year, and most definitely is not why 'you' came I'll gulp the last of my whine and move on.

Askew Landing to Natchez 

Water Mill at Grand Gulf
We said goodbye to our friends as Askew Landing and headed back south, through Vicksburg, to Grand Gulf Military Park.  Just outside of Port Gibson, this was an excellent stop and we found the small admission fee to be well worth it. Grand Gulf was once a bustling river port town in the first half of the 19th Century, and it's European history dates back to the late 1700's when the Spanish issued land grants to settlers in the area. Located very near the Mississippi River, the Big Black River flowed into the Mississippi at this point offering easy access to river trade. As the area began to flourish, three land owners decided to lay out a new town on their property in 1828, and named for a large whirlpool which formed as the Mississippi River struck a great rock formation just north of the town site.

Old Church around Grand Gulf
A series of disasters, including yellow fever, would plague the town, and by the time the Civil War came knocking, the population had decreased from over a thousand to less than 200.  Grand Gulf Military Park was officially opened in 1962. Dedicated to preserving the memory of the town as well as the Battle of Grand Gulf, the park features a museum, a number of historic buildings that date to the era of Grand Gulf's heydays, a cemetery, and the Civil War sites of Fort Cobun and Fort Wade.

A tour through the 400 acre park, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, provides visitors a peek at the past through displays in the museum, buildings and equipment on the grounds, and numerous historical markers. Visitors can tour the park by either driving or walking. The best place to start is in the museum, which provides information on the tour and features historical items, artifacts and photographs from the old town of Grand Gulf and the Civil War. It also features a campground, which accommodates both tents and RV's, picnic areas, a pavilion for large group events, hiking trails, and an observation tower.

Read more about the history of this once thriving port city in our article Grand Gulf - A Bustling Port Along the River.

Other new articles related to this area - 
Rodney - From Prominence to Ghost Town
Bruinsburg to Port Gibson in the Vicksburg Campaign
Windsor Ruins - A Silent Sentinel to the Magnificent South

Inside Mount Locust
Leaving Grand Gulf, we hooked back up to the Natchez Trace at Port Gibson for our final stretch of the historic road to Natchez.  Trying to beat yet more rain, which we dealt with most of the trip, we concentrated our efforts on just a couple of stops, one of which is Mount Locust. The only remaining inn, or "stand" on the Parkway, Mount Locust allows you to see what the "Kaintucks" may have experienced at the road side stands. It is open year round (mile post 15.5), except for December 25, and rangers are available from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm to share information on the historic structure.

While your here you can walk along some of the original Trace, used for centuries by Native American's and early European settlers.  The "stand" has been restored to it's original 1820 appearance, and while we were there, the National Park Service was building a new visitors information center on site.  Be sure to walk behind the "inn" to the slave cemetery hidden in the trees just a short walk away.

After Mount Locust, and just off the trace (mile post 10.3), we headed for Emerald Mound, the second largest Indian Temple Mound in the United States. It was built and used between 1300 and 1600 A.D. by the forerunners of the Natchez Indians. These Indians used a natural hill as a base, which they reshaped by trimming the top and filling the sides to form a great primary platform, 770 feet long, 435 feet wide and 35 feet high. At the west end still stands a 30 foot secondary mound once topped by a ceremonial structure. Exit the Natchez Trace Parkway at Mississippi Highway 553 and go west one mile.

Emerald Mound
We didn't do the Church Hill Loop Route side trip, but it would be worth your time to explore.  At the same exit to Emerald Mound, Highway 553 bears to the right (road to Emerald Mound goes straight). The rural community of Church Hill is located at the intersection of Mississippi Highway 553 and Church Hill Road. The area is named after Christ Church which sits atop a terraced hill. Built in about 1790, the building's design was copied from the old country church buildings of England. Across the intersection is a wooden country store built around 1837. The store bears the name Wagners Grocery on the upper header of the store. The store, which also housed the post office, was closed in the late 1990's. Antebellum plantations line both sides of Highway 553. The Church Hill Loop is 22 miles long - 12 miles along Mississippi Highway 553 and 10 miles along the Natchez Trace Parkway from milepost 10.3 to milepost 20.

Grand Village of the Natchez
Our final stop on our tour of the Natchez Trace Parkway was actually after exiting the Trace in Natchez.  The Grand Village of the Natchez was the tribes main ceremonial center starting around 1682. The early French inhabitants of the area described the ceremonial mounds built by the Natchez Indians on the banks of St. Catherine Creek as the "the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians." In 1729, after several disagreements and acts of violence, the Indians provoked war with the French and were subsequently destroyed as a people. The 128-acre Grand Village site features a museum, a reconstructed Natchez Indian house, and three ceremonial mounds. From the southern terminus of the Natchez Trace Parkway, turn onto U.S. Highway 61 South (Seargent S. Prentiss Drive); turn left onto Jefferson Davis Boulevard. The Grand Village of the Natchez Indians will be on your right.

For more information on the original road, and the Natchez Trace National Parkway, including sites by mile post, see our article Natchez Trace - Traveled For Thousands of Years

Also enjoy our Vicksburg, MS Area photo gallery

The City of Natchez

A view of Natchez from Louisiana
We pulled across the Mississippi River to an RV Park just across from Natchez in Vadalia Louisiana for our next stay.  (RV Campground/Park reviews at the end of this article).  If you're into American History at all, and love old Antebellum homes of the south, you'll want to spend a minimum of 2 days here, if not more. Named for the Natchez Indian Tribe, the city was established by French colonists in 1716, making it one of the oldest and most important European settlements in the lower Mississippi River Valley.

Don't miss the incredible Natchez Visitors Center at the head of the Mississippi River Bridge on Highway 84. The facility is the Mississippi Welcome Center, home to local offices of the National Park Service, the Natchez Convention and Visitors Bureau, as well as Natchez Pilgrimage Tours.  A must stop before you go touring, and a one stop shop for tickets to tour the antebellum homes.

Kathy thinks Crawfish are too
much work.
We had the opportunity to stop in at the Under the Hill Saloon before kicking off our tour of the rest of the city and had a great time with Beth and the crew, who even introduced us to the art of eating "mud bugs" they had brought in from a local eatery. Built in the late 1700's or early 1800's, the buildings exact date of construction was lost in a courthouse fire. But history shows it has been used as a brothel, bar, warehouse and general merchandise store.

Back in the 1800's, Natchez was divided into two classes. The town on the bluff which was orderly and respectful,where life and property were safe. And then there was Natchez Under-the-Hill, the lower part of town along the busy river bank. Home to every vice imaginable, it had a rough and tumble time during the busy years of flatboats and steamboats. The historic building that is now the Under the Hill Saloon still speaks of a time filled with cheap whiskey, illicit love and gambling. The Saloon holds the distinction of being the only business still operating 'under-the-hill' that portrays the early days of frontier saloon life. This is a great stop to quench your thirst.

Rosalie Mansion, Natchez
Natchez served as the capital of the Mississippi Territory and State until being replaced by Jackson in 1822, and was a pivotal center for trade and commerce. The city was originally built by African slaves brought by the French, which were the first Africans in what would become Mississippi. Known for their cultivation, these Africans of the Bambara tribe would greatly contribute to the economic growth of the region.

In the mid 1800's, the city was home to a collection of wealthy Southern planters who grew large crops of cotton and sugar cane, leading to Natchez becoming the principal port for the export of these crops. The fortunes earned by the wealthy lead to the building of many large mansions, most of which escaped the destruction of the Civil War due to the city's quick surrender to Union forces in May of 1862.  Many of these homes are open to tours, some even serving as a bed a breakfast.  We will most definitely be writing more about Natchez soon.

Natchez to the Gulf Coast

We headed south out of Natchez to our next destination on the coast, crossing into Louisiana on Highway 61  before going back east to Bay St. Louis on I-12 out of Baton Rouge. Highlights for us from this stretch include Port Hudson and St. Francisville.

Myrtle Plantation, St. Francisville
St. Francisville, established in 1809, has a number of buildings from that period that have survived.  Spain claimed the area around St. Francisville for a time before it was annexed by the state of Louisiana in 1810. And Jewish immigrants played a big role in commerce in the late 1800's that helped the town survive the lean years after the war. This is a great town for those wanting to see restored plantations and Victorian homes.

We made a quick stop at Myrtles Plantation for some picture opportunities.  Built in 1796 by General David Bradford, it was originally called Laurel Grove. The property has changed hands several times since and currently features a full service restaurant, Bed and Breakfast, guided history and mystery tours and more.  Said to be one of America's most haunted homes, the plantation has been featured on several television shows, including Unsolved Mysteries in 2002, where the production crew is said to have experienced technical difficulties while trying to film.

Display at Port Hudson
A few more miles down highway 61, Port Hudson State Historic Site in Louisiana preserves the Civil War history here as Confederates used the bluffs near the small town as river batteries in their effort to contain Federal troops after the fall of New Orleans.  The siege of Port Hudson in May of 1863 saw 30,000 Union troops against less than 7,000 Confederates in some of the bloodiest and most severe fighting of the Civil War.

As the siege continued for weeks, Confederate finally surrendered in early July after 48 days of battle. The siege of Port Hudson was the longest in American military history.  Now a National Historic Landmark as well as a State Historic Site, they hold annual re-enactments the last full weekend in March.  There's a small admission fee to the park, with a museum at the visitors center and several hiking trails. Nice stop for a day trip or on your way to other destinations.

Bay St Louis Area

Mr Riley & Ms Kaydee were missing
the 14 inches of snow back home. NOT
After a short rainy night  in Hammond, LA, we pushed on to our next long term RV Park stay near Bay Saint Louis, MS. (RV Park reviews at end of this article) Bay Saint Louis, Waveland and other nearby towns along the coast have a feel of "newness".  It was here that the eye of Hurricane Katrina made landfall in August of 2005, devastating the entire region. We could see, even seven plus years later, many empty lots along the coast that were surely once occupied by historic homes.

This area was claimed for France in 1699, but also has Native American roots dating back thousands of years.  As far as more recent history, after the Civil War the town and area became a resort for Northerners seeking warmer climates, and the town and surrounding areas flourished. However disasters have plagued the region over the years.  Large fires in the early 1900's claimed many historic homes, churches, stores and the Opera House.  Then Hurricane Camille rolled ashore in 1969, killing hundred and destroying thousands of homes and businesses. But the worst was yet to come with Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  Thirty-eight foot waves pounded Bay Saint Louis, destroying beach front mansions and homes that dated back to 1787.  In fact, out of over 500 homes listed on the National Historic Register in the Beach Boulevard district, all but 16 were wiped out and the remaining severely damaged.

This Oak carved into an Angle Tree
to commemorate 3 survivors who clung
to it during Katrina.
One of our stops was at the Cypress Cafe, located in the historic Bay St. Louis Mississippi City Hall. It was here on August 17, 1928, when the city jail was located on the bottom floor, that prisoner Silas Richardson, arrested for car theft, shot his way to freedom. In the process, he killed John Dambrino who was there to pick up the keys to the stolen vehicle, and seriously wounded Chief of Police Mark Oliver. It was suspected that someone handed Richardson a gun through the bars of his cell at the back of the building.

Richardson hid in a nearby swamp before hopping a freight train to New Orleans, but came back to Bay St. Louis in late August to get his clothes. Spotted by a neighbor of his parents, he was captured, found guilty in September and after losing appeals, was hung early May of 1929. It was first hanging in 20 years, and the last hanging ever in Hancock County.

Bay St. Louis old City Hall, now
Cypress Cafe
While we were at the Cypress Cafe, owner Holly Lemoine-Raymond gave us a tour, showing us where the cells were in the back, along with where the shooting took place. The building is allegedly haunted, but Holly seemed to have some reservations about the "ghostly" aspect. Here staff however told us of unexplained occurrences like a side door that you can only open from inside, opening and slamming on its own. Some allege it's John Dambrino, the shooting victim who is buried a block away in an historic cemetery. Regardless of what you believe, this was a great stop for a delicious lunch and history in historic downtown Bay St. Louis.

The town is also home to St. Stanislaus College, founded by the Brothers of the Sacred Heart in 1854 and the oldest educational institution on the Gulf Coast. In 1923, the school became a college preparatory school.  We had a great time in this area, and the residents have done a wonderful job in their continuing efforts to rebuild.  It was definitely a "leisure" stop for us that included some much needed beach time. Other highlights of our stay included the beautiful drive along the coast to Biloxi and Gulf Port.  Well worth your time, especially if your inland folks like us.

Here is our photo gallery for Natchez and our trip to the Gulf

Wrapping up our Winter History Tour with New Orleans & Southern Louisiana

After a wonderful stay just outside of Bay Saint Louis, we moved back west on Highway 90 to one of our ultimate destinations, the Big Easy.  Along the way we stopped by Chalmette Battlefield, part of Jean Lafitte National Park.  It was here that the famous Battle of New Orleans took place in January of 1815, the last major battle of the War of 1812, and one that is considered as the greatest American land victory of the war.  It also didn't have to happen, since the Treaty of Ghent was signed just days before in late December of 1814.

Battle of New Orleans
This Battlefield features a small driving tour (free of charge) as well as a visitors center.  Nice stop for history buffs, but our primary focus was to see more of New Orleans, specifically the French Quarter. There is too much history here to simply blog about, but in short, La Nouvelle-Orleans was founded in May of 1718 by the French Mississippi Company.  During the American Revolution it was an important port city for smuggling aid to rebels, transporting them up the Mississippi River.  During the 1700's the city transitioned from French control to Spanish control, which they held until 1801, when it reverted back to the French, before finally being sold to the United States in 1803 as part of the Louisiana Purchase.  In the early 1800's, the Haitian Revolution sent thousands of refugees to the area, adding to the extremely diverse cultures of Spanish, French, Creoles, Irish, Germans and African free men and slaves.

Bourbon Street
The French Quarter is the oldest neighborhood in the city, which used to be centered here. Also known as Vieux Carre (French for Old Square), most of the present day buildings were built under Spanish rule after the Great New Orleans Fire of 1788, and another fire in 1794 destroyed most of the French architecture. You should plan at least 2 full days, if not more, to explore the French Quarter, and other day or two to explore the rest of the city.  We managed to find an RV Park not to far away provided shuttle service to and from the French Quarter daily, so without the hassle of trying to find parking, etc, we thoroughly enjoyed walking up and down the historic streets.  You'll find entertainers scattered about, playing music, juggling and overall entertaining tourists for tips.

St. Louis Cathederal
Be sure not to miss Jackson Square, formerly known as Place d'Armes, which is an open park at the center of the French Quarter.  After the Battle of New Orleans it was named after the victorious Andrew Jackson. Just across the street, opposite of the river front, is the 18th century St. Louis Cathedral flanked by the old city hall (now a museum) where the Louisiana Purchase was signed, and the Presbytere, built to house Roman Catholic priests, and later acting as a courthouse in the 1800's and museum in the 1900's.  Today the square is a gathering place for artists, tarot card readers, fortune tellers and street performers.

We also took time to ride the trolley lines through portions of the area to see the old antebellum homes, although looking back we would have explored that differently.  Overall though, you will not be disappointed with a visit to New Orleans and it's rich history of culture. We were there weeks after Mardi Gras yet Bourbon Street and the entire area was alive with people the Sunday we explored the French Quarter, so no worries about missing any of the action the rest of the year. We will return and spend more time for sure.
New York City's Calypso Tumblers
 perform at Jackson Square
After New Orleans we began our trek home, touring more of Southern Louisiana.  Highlights for us included Avery Island near New Iberia, Arcadian Village in Lafayette and this historic city of Natchitoches.

Tabasco Country Store
We parked a couple of nights at New Iberia and spent a day at Avery Island.  The home of Tabasco Sauce, this 'island' has quite an interesting history. One of five salt domes islands that area along the Louisiana coast, it is surrounded by low lying swamps and marshes.  It was named for the Avery family that settled here in the 1830's.  In 1868, Edmund Mclhenny founded his company and began manufacturing Tabasco brand pepper sauce, which is still produced there today. Take a tour of the plant, and be sure to visit the Tabasco Store.

Swore he was fake, til the damn thing
took off and scared the..well, you know
After you've had your fill of sauce, cross the road to Jungle Gardens and Bird City. This is a natural paradise created and managed by the Avery/Mclhenny family's since the late 1800's, and features exotic plants, crocodiles, bamboo and other wildlife.  The bird sanctuary was established in 1895 as a way to preserve egrets who were being slaughtered for their feathers. After raising a handful in captivity, Edward Mclhenny released them to mirgrate across the Gulf of Mexico and the following spring they returned with more egrets. This migration continues today where you can witness thousands coming back to roost. There's a small admission fee to the island and additional charge for Jungle Gardens, but well worth the price. Plan a full day for Avery Island.

Arcadian Village
Our next stay was with an old childhood friend of Kathy's in Lake Charles. On the way from New Iberia, we stopped at the Arcadian Village in Lafayette.  Created in the 1970's as a way to improve tourism, this  "village" has two other purposes; preserve early Arcadian heritage and benefit the LARC (Lafayette Association for Retarded Citizens).  They transformed 10 acres of farmland into a shaded community complete with a bayou running through it.  Seven of the 11 buildings area authentic homes of the 19th Century, and all tell the story of Arcadian life.  The admission fee was worth the price as we explored the many buildings in this 'historic' setting.

Kathy and I capture our happy moment
in front of the medicine cabinet at
Arcadian Village.
Our final stretch, after a couple of wonderful days with Kathy's friend Ann in Lake Charles, found us in Natchitoches, Louisiana's oldest town, established in 1714. You may recognize it as the setting for the movie "Steel Magnolias", and it's steeped in Native American and French history.  Becoming part of the United States in 1812, the area never  lost it's mix of Indian, French, Creole, African American and Anglo cultures. We spent a day around the city exploring the Cane River National Heritage Area, which includes many old Plantations open to tours daily.  Plan a couple of days at least in this historic city, one to enjoy the Plantations and another to enjoy the historic downtown.

We'll be writing more about Southern Louisiana in the months to come.  It was a great adventure to wrap up our six week history tour.  Although we had some setbacks due to RV problems in Mississippi that prevented us from seeing all we had planned to see, our trip did manage to teach us some valuable lessons; like shorter more frequent blogs are better (if you've made it this far you will probably agree), find a more reliable internet method other than RV Parks wifi and ATT's network, don't count on the weather to cooperate, and pretty much just go with the flow.  I'm sure there's more lessons, but overall Kathy and I were very happy that we managed to live in tight quarters for six weeks with two dogs and still want to do it again.

Here is our photo gallery for Southern Louisiana, including New Orleans

RV Park/Campground Reviews

River View RV Park & Resort - Vadalia, LA
Good location, nice view of the river, very accommodating and friendly staff, some sites need better leveling as we had several inches of water at our front door after a heavy rain. WI-FI is non-existent, unless you're in the clubhouse, I guess. We were parked right in front and still couldn't get it. Excepted Passport during the week. We gave this one 7 out of 10

Bay Hideaway RV Park and Campground - Bay Saint Louis, MS
We can see why this RV Park is rated one of the best in the South. Great location just a few miles from the Gulf Coast. Very active with guests with planned outings and activities. Very clean and great Wi-Fi throughout the park during off peak hours. Although we stayed for only a few days (at passport rates during the week), there are several snow birds that come back year after year. Highly recommend this RV Park. While we did not use the shower/bathroom facilities, we did use their laundry, which was clean. We gave this one 8 out 10.

Jude Travel Park - New Orleans, LA
If you are wanting to get close to the French Quarter without paying through the nose, this is a great RV Park. They offer shuttle service to and from the French Quarter from morning to around 10pm. Great WiFi and Cable TV. The RV Park is very tight though, and while they are pet friendly, there's not a lot of places to take your dog, other than your own area and up and down the single road in/out. Would recommend to those wanting to spend quality time exploring New Orleans. We marked "do not know" on family friendly simply because of the tight space. Did not accept Passport. We rated this park 6 out of 10.

Chases RV Park - New Iberia, LA
Friendly staff and good RV Park. Great Wi-Fi close to the office, and just off highway 90 and 83 interchange. Did not use bathrooms while here, so don't know about them. Spacious and it appears to have some long term residents. Great place to stay to explore New Iberia and Avery Island which are close by. Did not accept Passport. We rated this one 7 out of 10.

(Note: We use RV Park Reviews. Traveling in a 22' Travel Trailer. All electric 30 amp or more unless otherwise noted).


Anonymous said...

Hi, I enjoyed reading about your trip. Im from Tennesse and I love the south. I live in Tx. now and I really miss it so enjoyed going down memory lane with you. I went to New Orleans in January and nearly went to that haunted house but couldn't drag my companions away from the cuisine to take another road trip. Thanks, Suzy

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