A National Park Story
A National Park Story
There isn’t exactly a lot to do at the Natchez National Historical Park. The park is spread out across three separate sites throughout Natchez and only two of those have anything to actually do. But those two, the William Johnson House and the Melrose Estate, have an interesting history to tell about the “Barber of Natchez” and one of the finest Greek Revival style homes that ever existed in Natchez.
One of the things that makes Natchez National Historical Park so different from others is that it’s not a centralized park with everything in one location. In fact there are three sites to explore throughout the town and the visitor center isn’t at any of them.
The Natchez Visitor Center is a beautiful building containing three different tourism entities: the Natchez Convention & Visitors Bureau, Mississippi Tourism, and the Easter National Gift Shop of the National Park System. This is where you’ll find the cancellation stamps, brochures to each of the three sites to visit, and a map of the area. The Natchez and Mississippi tourism folks are also great at pointing out what to do in between each of those sites.
The most interesting part of the visitor center, though, is the chronological history display developed by the NPS. This exhibit details the history of Natchez from the first Native American tribes, the first European visitors, and how the town evolved through the Revolutionary War, steamboat era, and Civil War to become what it is today. There is also a very nice twenty-minute movie retelling much of this history using reenactors at various sites throughout town.
Fort Rosalie is more like the site of where Fort Rosalie once stood. There isn’t much left to explore now other than a five minute walk from a small parking area across some mounds that used to be part of this fort on a bluff above the Mississippi River. It’s not much to see but it’s part of the stamp cancellations so if you are a true national park geek you’ll at least have to visit the site.
This three-story historic home in downtown Natchez was the home of William Johnson, locally known as the “Barber of Natchez”. Johnson was emancipated from slavery at the age of eleven who would ironically own slaves himself. After completing an apprenticeship with local barber James Miller, Johnson purchased a building to open his first of three barber shops.
In 1841 Johnson completed the three-story home that is now part of the Natchez National Historical Park. Visitors can browse through the small giftshop, collect their cancellation stamp, and explore the two stories of exhibits detailing the life of Johnson, his mother Amy, and his sister Adelia. The upstairs portion of the house depicts the living conditions from when Johnson lived in this building while the first floor is a modern museum.
The jewel of the Natchez National Historical Site is the beautiful two-story Greek Revival mansion named Melrose. This mansion is one of the most authentic in the country with many original furnishings from the first owners when they moved into the mansion in 1849. Part of the reason for such an incredible treasure, and very little change to the building, is that it has only ever had four owners: the McMurran family, Davis family, Callon family, and in 1990 became a property of the National Park Service.
The secluded, beautiful landscape hidden in the middle of suburban Natchez offers one of the most complete glimpses into the past with several outbuildings, exhibits, a self-guided tour through the gardens, and guided tours of the main building. Rangers lead guided tours of up to twenty visitors at a time through the history, architecture, and culture of the families that lived at Melrose.
Here is a collection of my best travel photography from the Natchez National Historical Park.