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Mississippi: Past and present

Longwood Plantation, courtesy Natchez CVB


Now nearing the end of its third century, Natchez celebrates its unique spot in the history of the South.

“The historical significance of the area is that it’s the oldest civilized settlement on the Mississippi River,” said Sally Durkin, media liaison for the Natchez Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It was established in 1716, making it two years older than New Orleans. We have over 1,000 structures that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and 13 national historic landmarks.”

Historical sites in the area include 13 antebellum houses that are open year-round for tours. Although each offers a distinct experience, Longwood Plantation is considered the crown jewel of the area. Built in an octagonal shape with a blend of Italianate and East Indian architecture, the house was never finished, and it remains in its original, incomplete state.

A number of other sites around town shed more light on the area’s history. The Grand Village of the Natchez Indians explores the life of the area’s original inhabitants; Jefferson Military College gives visitors a glimpse into its historic dormitories, kitchen building and other sites.

For a great view of the city as it was in the late 19th century, stop to see the historical exhibit at First Presbyterian Church.

“We have a collection of photographs that were taken by three photographers from 1845 through 1900,” Durkin said. “They depict life in Natchez — the old mercantile stores and the Victorian children in their elaborate costumes.”

DeSoto County
The known history of Mississippi dates back to at least 1541, when Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto and his crew made their way through the area on their search for the “Fountain of Youth,” the search took him through much of the present-day South. DeSoto County in northwest Mississippi is named for the explorer.

Today, visitors can learn about the area and its namesake at the DeSoto County Museum, which traces the history of the area from 1541 to the present. Artifacts and displays begin with the arrival of de Soto to the area and deal with his interactions with the native people living there, along with the historical development of the area.

One of the key highlights of the museum is a newly restored 1840s log cabin. The museum goes on to examine the area’s life and industry during the riverboat era of the 19th century and has a working model of a paddle-wheel boat. Other exhibits include items from the parlor of an antebellum home and artifacts from the Civil War.

Other photos and artifacts at the museum represent the history of the area’s African-American community, as well as key agricultural, recreational and social developments in DeSoto County. Groups will enjoy learning about celebrities such as John Grisham and Jerry Lee Lewis, both of whom grew up in the area.