Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Understanding the Past in Natchez, Mississippi

"Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards"
Soran Kierkagaard

As we have made our way south along the Mississippi River, we have come to realize how the history of our country has been greatly influenced by Old Man River.

I was intrigued when I heard about Natchez, a southern Mississippi town that had avoided destruction from the Civil War conflict. As a result, a stroll around Natchez today offers an extensive look into Antebellum architecture and lifestyle. Sounds like a very cool city for a "history nerd" like myself.

Because no major battles were fought in it during the Civil War, Antebellum Natchez was preserved to become a mecca for lovers of huge plantation homes and plenty of history.

Somebody is not quite as enthused as me,
hope I can find something more up his alley ...

And we did as we took a tour of the
Charboneau Distillery ... Cheers!

The history of the city of Natchez is closely tied into the history of the Natchez Trace, a trading route used by Native Americans and early settlers.

We took a day to drive a little ways up the Trace, stopping at various sights along the way. Although the Trace is supposedly a "bike friendly" roadway, we had a few close calls during our first visit here in 2015. We decided to cover more history and nature of the 444 mile Trace by car this time around.

Early traders would bring their goods from the north down river by boat, sell their items ... and also sell their wooden boat to be used for lumber. They would then walk the Trace many miles back to their home up north. I'm not thinking that Doug has the same idea.

The Emerald Mounds were formed by Indian tribes as ceremonial and spiritual gathering places. It is amazing to think about how many people were needed and how long it took to build these mystical structures using only the primitive tools of that time period.

It was lunch time as we got to the small town of Port Gibson. Trip Advisor stated that Rosie's Cafe was the #1 restaurant in town. Since there was a steady stream of locals going in and out, we decided to try it out. Doug's burger ... average. Joanne and Gary's golden chicken wings ... underwhelming and over priced. My catfish ... deliciously breaded, spiced and cooked! Lesson learned: When in the South, stick with the local delicacies.

Since we were so close, we decided to continue up to Vicksburg to drive through the National Military Park once again. Read about our first visit here. 155 years later, the scars of the Civil War are still evident in this southern town along the Mississippi River. Battles were fought and homes were burned. We read the plaques and saw the monuments in order to remember ... and hopefully understand.

We looked out over the grassy fields and through the forests of trees and tried to imagine the horror of the forty-seven day siege of Vicksburg.

The cannons have since been silenced. Roads, homes and communities have been rebuilt, and hopefully, lessons have been learned and understood.

We stopped at the ghost town of Rocky Springs on the way back down the Natchez Trace Parkway. Once a prosperous town of almost 5000 people, it disappeared by the end of the 19th century when disease, poor farming methods, and natural disasters devastated the community. Only the town church building remains today.

Behind the church, the abandoned town's cemetery revealed the effects that disease and lack of medical care had on some of the youngest members of the community. 

Back across the river in Vidalia, Louisiana, we enjoyed our mornings walking along the river trail next to our "home" at Riverview RV Park

... and driving across the river into Natchez in the afternoons to check out the allure of this historical city.

King's Tavern boasts of being the
oldest structure in town as it appears
in city records as early as 1769.

Notice any ghosts behind the bar?
Local legends swirl about unusual forms
appearing in photos taken in this building.

A monument to the
Confederate soldier stands tall
in one of the city parks.

A walk down Silver Street brings you
to the river and the oldest part of town ...
 Natchez Under-the-Hill.

The saloon and other businesses
there in the 1840's were said to be
frequented by gamblers, river pirates,
and women of ill repute, and that

their "spirits" are still felt at times. 

We, however, found more "spirited"
entertainment while listening to a jazz funk
band at Smoots Grocery Blues Lounge.

In a land where "cotton was king", Natchez became the center of economic prosperity in the Antebellum era (1783-1860). Prior to the Civil War, there were more millionaires in Natchez than in any other city in the United States.

Fortunes were made from growing and selling cotton using the cheap labor of slaves. These fortunes funded the building of extravagant mansions along the high banks overlooking the Mississippi River.

Because the citizens of Natchez were quick to surrender to Union forces in 1862, the city was spared the destruction that Vicksburg and other southern towns suffered. Thus a majority of these Antebellum mansions are still standing as a monument of past glory ... or, as we hope, as a way to understand the past in order to improve our future.

We toured the Melrose Mansion, an 1849 Greek Revival-style home that is now managed the National Parks Service. This home had only three owners before the NPS took it over in 1990. Each time it was sold, all the furnishings and artwork were passed on to the new owners. Since the original owners furnished Melrose with "all that fine taste and a full purse" could provide, it presents a view into the Antebellum way of life that is intriguing to many people. It was "way over the top" for us.

The fine china,

the gold plated chandeliers,

and the velvet covered feather beds
reflected an extravagant lifestyle.

But, we wondered ... at what cost???

At the cost of the enslaved servants
who had to respond to their master's
requests when they heard the bell ring
at any moment night or day.

At the cost of a 10-year-old slave boy
standing for hours pulling the rope attached
to the "punkah" fan to cool the family
and shoo away the flies while they enjoyed

food that he could only dream of trying.

At the cost of living in the crowded and
primitive conditions of the slave cabins,

... complete with a sixteen-stall
"common" outhouse.

This Antebellum beauty came at a price ...

... the price of lives changed by the injustices of slavery.

So, while many people visit Natchez for the chance to go back in time and relive the lavish lifestyles of the Antebellum era, 

... we couldn't help but think about the other part of the story, the story of slavery. So we went to the site of the Forks in the Road Slave Market, where enslaved Africans were sold into a life of working the cotton plantations in the Deep South. We paused to understand the "not so glorious" story of Natchez's past.

Because, we need to understand all of our past history in order to work together as a society to greet the challenges and the joys of each new day.

Until next time ... let the struggles of the past strengthen each of us ... and enjoy all the adventures in your life!

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Search For The Little Rock

It has elluded us on our previous visits. We now returned for a third time to one of our favorite cities, Little Rock, Arkansas with our friends and skillful sleuths, Joanne and Gary to search for ... The Little Rock.

Located on the south shore of the Arkansas River, the city of Little Rock embraces the river edge with beautiful bridges, parks and trails. Discovered by French explorers, it was initially named "La Petite Roche" in 1720 for the series of rock formations along the river. 

And while those bluffs are still pretty amazing, surely, we could find a single spectacular "little rock" to give special meaning to this capitol city of Arkansas. Let the search begin!

From our current "home" at Downtown Riverside RV Park, it was easy to walk across the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge in order to enjoy the garden areas that line the river's edge. The park paths led us through ...

the Sculpture Garden,

a musical park,

Mr Cardinal's autumn hangout,

and lots of neat rock formations.

But nothing that struck us as truly worthy of the "Little Rock" title. 

 The following day we got out our bikes and followed the seven and a half mile trail to the ...

Pretty spectacular, but with no sightings along the way of that big "little rock", we returned through town where Doug was a least able to snag another beer coaster. Oh, did I mention that Little Rock is home to a large number of top notch craft breweries? While many of them were worthy of a return visit, we were happy to discover a new favorite, Core Brewing. In addition to the good craft beer, they provided a comfortable hangout complete with couches and ping pong tables.

We left no stone unturned in our search for the "little rock" as we checked out our first distillery. No historically significant rocks sighted at Rock Town Distillery, but we did find some good cream bourbon and coffee liqueur.

Thinking that maybe this "little rock" may be visible from a higher elevation, we decided once again to climb Pinnacle Mountain to get a better view of the river valley.

We enjoyed beautiful vistas ...

as the rocky path took us
700 feet up to the peak.

"Continue on", our lead explorers told us.

But Joanne and I were
content to just enjoy the views

as we rested for a bit.

This search was going to be more strenuous than we bargained for. I decided that we needed some R&R, so we drove an hour west to explore Hot Springs National Park.

While we have never quite figured out the appeal of this national park formed around bathhouses, it was, nonetheless, fun to ...

... check out the elegant surroundings
of the bathhouses of bygone days,

... fill our water bottles with the 143 degree
hot spring water that took over 4000 years
to make its way back up to the surface,

... try out the beer brewed with this spring
water at Superior Bathhouse Brewing,

... and discover that

... my real man will visit his
least favorite National Park
one more time just to enjoy a
Fat Bottomed Girls cupcake!

Taking a break from our "little rock" search, we walked over to explore the Heifer International headquarters, museum and gardens next to the Clinton Presidential Library.

This organization is working to end world hunger by supplying animals and agricultural supplies, and providing education to people in poor countries in order to help them become more self-reliant.

While walking around their grounds, we were invited to tour their headquarters. As we found out, Heifer International has many reasons to be proud of their energy efficient, cost efficient, and environmentally friendly office and campus. Their award winning design uses 52% less energy than a building of similar size. Specific designs allow them to reuse the rainwater, efficiently utilize sunlight, and turn a former toxic railroad yard into a environmental masterpiece.

Artwork in the building helped control excessive noise as well as reflected the influence that Heifer International has had in so many developing countries of the world.

The intricate stonework as well as all the other building materials were secured from local sources ... maybe a not-so-distant relative of that ellusive "little rock"?

Our time in Little Rock was coming to an end, and I was thinking that maybe this "little rock" was just an urban legend when ...

Super Sleuth Gary
came to our rescue!

He had consulted Professor Google, and sure enough ... resting unpretentiously under the shadow of one of the river bridges ...

sat the "Little Rock",
with official plaque and all!

It took a week to find it, but it was a week filled lots of steps (100,000+ of them according to Joanne's fit bit) and even more laughs as we realized how much fun we can have searching out the treasures around us ...

... and realizing the greatest treasure of all is friendship!

Until next time ... never stop searching for all the fun in life ... and enjoy the adventures in your life!