Natchez Trace, Day 4: Jackson to NatchezOur day began with an early morning self-guided tour of the majestic Beaux Arts style Mississippi Capitol, but that's a topic for another post. By 10:15, we were back on the Natchez Trace Parkway, ready to complete the final 100 miles today, rolling past a few minor sites en route to seek out some ghosts.
Near MM 40, we turned west onto MS-18 and drove into the historic town of Port Gibson (pop. 1,567), chartered in 1803 and home of the first library in the Mississippi Territory, built in 1817. By the time of the Civil War, the town had established itself as a cultural center of the territory, competing with Natchez and Vicksburg in both commerce and the grandeur of its antebellum homes. Though the town has since suffered decades of economic decline, local legend holds that General Grant spared Port Gibson because he found it "too beautiful to burn."
|Claiborne County Courthouse (1845)|
|"Church of the Golden Hand"|
Just down the street from the "Hand" stands another surprising structure, Temple Gemiluth Chassed, the town's distinctive 1892 synagogue with stained glass windows and a Moorish doorway incongruously topped by a Russian style dome.
|A synagogue with no congregation|
From Port Gibson, we meandered west toward the Mississippi River on rural back roads that all but kudzu seems to have forgotten. After driving about 13 miles past occasional abandoned homesteads and overgrown cemeteries, we came to a small sign indicating we had found the 'Ruins of Windsor.' Up a short gravel road, we found the remains of what was once the state's grandest Greek Revival antebellum mansion.
|Ruins of Windsor|
|Rodney street on Google Maps (L) and in reality (R)|
Then, as it does periodically, the river changed course, and Rodney's population dwindled, hovering near zero today. Though Google Maps shows a couple of main streets in what was Rodney, the reality is quite different. Roads into the town are overgrown and some within the town have almost been reclaimed by nature. We were able to locate the two churches where the letterboxes were hidden, but both were too overgrown by weeds to approach. As in Port Gibson, the Presbyterian church was of particular interest.
|The former Presbyterian church of Rodney (with a cannonball still lodged above the top central window)|
Our GPS had no idea where Rodney was, nor did the AAA road map, so we were sort of winging our way, following MS-552, also known as—Rodney Road! It seemed a logical strategy to us, and as a side benefit, it led us to the campus of Alcorn State University. Of course we had both heard of the historically black college, primarily because of its gritty football teams, but we had never learned exactly where it was located—until today.
|Alcorn State's remote campus|
|Mount Locust Inn|
Just north of Natchez, at MM 10, we stopped at Emerald Mound, the most significant native landmark on the parkway. The 35-ft high ceremonial site, built and used between 1300 and 1600, stretches across eight acres, making it the second largest temple mound in the U.S. Unlike dome shaped mounds used primarily as burial sites, this flat-topped knoll supported temples and other ceremonial structures of the ancient Mississippians, ancestors of the Natchez tribe.
More Photos from Today
|An employee at the old Claiborne County courthouse in Port Gibson showed us the trap door in the hanging tower.|
|Time has added an elegant patina to the Windsor Ruins.|
|Remain in one place too long southwest Mississippi, and the kudzu may drag you into its clutches.|
|Nature is reclaiming the one paved street in Rodney.|
|The Mount Locust Inn kitchen|