White Beaches and a Cotton Estate – Biloxi and Natchez, Mississippi
Biloxi was our final stop along the eastern gulf coast. Other than wanting to hang around the beach a little longer, I was also happy to meet up with my friend Emma. During our first visit here in 2013, she was our personal guide through historic Biloxi (my post is here). Over a bucket of snow crabs, we reminisced about our long bygone days in the Philippines.
With two days left to revisit Biloxi, Steve and I walked around town, seeing Beach Boulevard and checking out the Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum.
While walking around at the Biloxi Town Greene we noticed a sculpted tree called Marlin’s Marlin. This was one of the many sculptures created from dead trees that have been victims of multiple saltwater storm surges over the decades. A sculptor from Florida, Marlin Miller donated his time and talent, finishing a total of 15 works in the area which can be seen mostly on the center median along Highway 90:
Just a few steps east of the sculpture is the Katrina Memorial:
At the Maritime Museum and Seafood Museum, we were presented with lots of information to read and digest about the maritime history and heritage of Biloxi and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. We went through an array of exhibits on shrimping, oystering, recreational fishing, boat building and a section detailing hurricanes from the distant past to Katrina. We initially hesitated to go, but we’re glad we did for we learned a lot from the excellent presentations. The 3-story building’s nine exhibits showcase 300 years of the area’s history, heritage and culture.
Just steps from the casinos are the white sand beaches that are easily accessible from Beach Blvd. (U.S. Hwy 90). It’s one of the city’s biggest draws, along with the casinos and golfing. The soft, white sands on Mississippi Sound have been extensively repaired since Katrina in 2005, and they are well-maintained.
We relished our final walk on the beach, it’ll be a while before we see one again 😦
Natchez National Historical Park, Mississippi
We continued to Baton Rouge, going out of our way to avoid I-10 leading to New Orleans. From our home base there we drove to the small town of Natchez next to the Mississippi River. With the limited time available, we followed the advice of the helpful visitor center folks and took tours at Natchez National Historical Park.
Of the three National Park Service-owned properties, we opted to take a guided tour at Melrose Mansion, built by wealthy cotton planter John T. Mcmurran. The tour gave us a glimpse into a Southern planter family’s lifestyle in pre-civil-war times. We also learned about the role that enslaved people played while living and working in an opulent estate setting.
The antebellum estate, including the main house and its surrounding landscape remain largely unchanged. Many of the furnishings are original.
We found the dining room to be the most interesting. A mahogany fan, called a punkah, hung over the dining table and was operated by a young slave boy called a punkahwallah. He stood in the corner and pulled gently on a rope during mealtime to move the punkah back and forth, cooling the room. Doing this without blowing out the candles on the table required great skill.
Another historical landmark we visited was called “The Forks of the Road.” This site marks the area where enslaved people were brought to be sold from 1830 until 1863. We learned that Natchez was at the center of slavery, the second-busiest slave trading post in the nation after New Orleans. Reading the plaques there was thought-provoking but also depressing.
We continued to take in a few more sights around Natchez before heading back home:
In about half a day we experienced Natchez, at one time the wealthiest city in America. There are several well-preserved and architecturally stunning antebellum homes here, but we also saw many abandoned and dilapidated structures within the city – quite a contrast.
From the white sandy beaches of Biloxi to the grand homes of the cotton barons, we also experienced a lot of warm southern hospitality. And that hospitality continued on into Louisiana!