We were aware that the forecast called for some rain on Sunday, but we had no idea how intense a downpour we would see or that it would prevent us from taking our planned walking tour on Sunday. Thank goodness Angie took several pictures of the area in the very short time before the skies truly opened in the morning. The bridge pictured is between Mississippi and Louisiana across the Mississippi river.
I was oblivious at first because I was in the Natchez Visitor Reception Center checking out the exhibits. We were taking turns so one of us could stay outside with Rebbe. The only upside I felt at this point was relief that we had carried our rain jackets with us in anticipation of what we expected to be just showers, which is what the weather apps kept telling us was the forecast. I felt a bit down. We are trying to get as full an experience of the places we are visiting as we can but the weather really hasn’t cooperated much since we left Fort Lauderdale. And since we wanted to spend a chunk of time camping, we are a bit worried about the weather systems. But, despite my feelings of woe, we decided to try to soldier on, starting with a cup of coffee at a coffee house that was ranked in the top ten of all Natchez-area restaurants.
We thought we were going to buy a couple of drinks to go, and sit in the car with them. Then the first positive act of the day occurred. By which I mean first positive thing to happen other than the daily blessings of being with my awesome wife and our loving dog.
One of the people behind the counter told me that we were allowed to bring the dog in! So before I go any further on what a great place and experience this was, I have to tell you the name. It’s Steampunk Coffee Roasters.
I called Angie, who was waiting in the car with Rebbe, and told her they could come in. Once the rain eased a bit, she brought him in and we settled at the counter and ordered some coffee. I can’t begin to tell you what a rejuvenating and joyous experience we had.
Of course, it’s important to mention that the coffee was really good. I had a latte and Angie had a cappuccino. The drinks were made using this cool-looking espresso machine, which we later heard was older than the establishment, but not the building in which it was housed, which dated from the mid-19th century.
The young man behind the counter, whose name I think was Robert, was a sweetheart, and he even gave us each a chocolate covered espresso bean as a treat. We also had a lovely conversation with one customer who was a major dog lover. She was getting ready to go home and take care of her large dog, who was very scared of thunder, to the point of being on Prozac, poor thing. She also seemed to be one of those people who found strays a lot! Our chat with her began to help my spirits revive.
After a little while, a man we found out was the owner came to talk to us, and we talked for quite a long time, mainly about traveling. He’s done most of his roaming by motorbike, but understood the ways of the bike tourist and our frustrations about being forced to constantly adapt plans due to the vagaries of the weather. His name was Dub and he was so kind to us, offering us a free shot of espresso and telling us that we could stop by on Monday if he was there, even though the coffee house would be closed. He said that he wouldn’t have the espresso machine on, but that he could always make us some pour-through. He was so kind. This is Dub with Robert.
The whole experience made me, and I think Angie, feel a ton better. We probably stayed over an hour at Steampunk but after all, this is a huge part of the experience for us. We haven’t necessarily met local residents as much as we’d have liked along our travels, but when we have it’s been wonderful, and in some ways I’d rather have these interactions than just see ABC (another bloody church). This is part of why we are doing this too.
We decided, even though the weather was still pretty grim, to soldier on for a bit and see some of the sights around the town of Natchez. The first stop, since we were already heading that way, was the city cemetery. Although not the original site, many of the original graves from the 18th century were relocated there. Since the weather was still crummy, we just drove around so we didn’t get a really good look at all the graves, but we did spot some unknown soldier graves. Many of the “nabobs” of the city are also buried there and yes, apparently they used that word to describe themselves. We also spotted the Jewish section and noticed one grave that I believe was from a freedman who had served and been honored for his service. I was actually surprised to learn that there are a few union soldiers and some Buffalo Soldiers buried there, as well as a medal of honor recipient from the civil war.
After driving round the cemetery, we drove onward to see some of the notable sites in the city, including an interesting junction that was home to the public library, the city’s first church, a notable example of French Second Empire architecture (one of the two dominant architectural styles in the region-the other being Greek-style), and the city’s synagogue, which was built by a community that was founded in 1840.
I popped out of the car and took a few pictures.
By this time, we were ready for lunch. Since it was Sunday, not much was open, but we were pretty sure that Big Mama’s Tamales was. Of course, we didn’t know if there would be something on the menu for each of us but we wanted to take a look. We left Rebbe in the car and walked up to look at the menu. Although it wasn’t perfect, there were at least items on the menu that each of us would eat. And, yet again, we were informed that Rebbe was allowed inside the restaurant! Once again, the staff were super friendly and kind. I ordered chili, which was quite flavorful, and Angie ordered the nachos with chicken, which was about the only thing not made with beef or pork. We also ordered sodas, since they had free refills and plastic cups that were reusable, the first souvenirs of this trip!
Suitably nourished, we decided to continue with our sightseeing by car. We wanted to see some of the plantation houses around the town. Actually, most of the mansions in the immediate area are what are called suburban plantations. They weren’t really plantations at all, since they were generally not really working farms. Many of the aristocracy in the area wanted to live closer to town. In the antebellum era, Natchez was home to a higher proportion of millionaires than any other area in the south, so the wealthy of the region wanted to enjoy the benefits of the local scene rather than being “stuck” out on their rural properties.
Our first stop was going to be Longwood, which is notable for its architecture and the fact that it was never fully completed, but it turned out one can’t even drive up to the house and see the outside without paying $15 a person. Not worth it we decided. We did drive up the driveway at Auburn, which is not open on Sundays. It’s a shame because it has an unsupported spiral staircase which is apparently cool to see. The outside was very grand. We next drove to Melrose, a National Parks property. We didn’t want to tour the Greek revival mansion so much as see what we could of the smaller buildings on the grounds, and what we could of the grounds without getting too wet. The park service staff were delightful and friendly, and once again we were allowed to take Rebbe inside. The one gentleman said that he felt that Mississippi is one of the most dog-friendly places, though he wasn’t sure how the law actually stands regarding permitting dogs in food establishments.
We got our stamps in our National Parks passport and then worked our way around some of the outer buildings. One of the buildings had an exhibit about slavery and the lives of the slaves. Although someone had written in the visitor’s book that there wasn’t enough about slavery, I found what there was to be pretty informative. Of course it’s tragic to think that there were and sadly still are people who think it’s ok to treat others like this and don’t even really think of these folks as human.
We decided we wanted to make one more stop before calling it a day. This was to the Johnson House, which is in the center of town. This was a house that had been owned by a freedman named William Johnson, who was a barber in town. Both he and his wife were likely the offspring of a landowner and a slave, which is apparently how they each achieved their freedman status. The freedmen and women occupied a sort of nether world. They were not slaves, they could even (and in the case of this guy, did) own slaves, but they couldn’t vote and they had to be very careful about their activities. There is a museum of sorts on the main floor of the house, managed when we were there by a super-friendly parks service volunteer who hailed from Arkansas and said she spends about 9 months a year traveling and volunteering at various NPS locations. The woman told us that the main floor was probably rented out for commercial use when William Johnson owned it, with the family living on the upper floors, which were accessible only by an external staircase. We toured the living quarters and saw some of the furniture that had actually been in the possession of the Johnson family.
Once we had finished that tour we had really had enough for the day. Trudging around in the damp is not fun, although at least it was not particularly cold. We went back to the hotel and kicked back for the rest of the afternoon and evening, reheating our Thai food leftovers and watching the season finale of Downton Abbey.