The Mississippi Historic Preservation site’s list of 106 Mississippi places you should see was an interesting opportunity to focus on travels through the state. Recently, I was in Natchez, and wanted to take our friend Larry Wells to parts of Claiborne and Jefferson Counties that were my family’s old stomping grounds.
This gave me a great opportunity to check out the list, see how well the map worked, and to note some other worthwhile places for anyone traveling through the area.
I’m going to start with one long afternoon trip out of Natchez. Depending how you slice up the time, it would allow you to see six particularly rural sites on the list (Jefferson College, Christ Church at Church Hill, Poplar Hill School,* Temple Gemiluth Chassed Synagogue, Windsor Ruins, and Oakland Chapel at Alcorn), plus a number of other worthy places, all while traveling just over 120 miles.
Jefferson College is owned by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, and is about five miles outside Natchez on Highway 61. It is the only spot on this tour in Adams County.
The college was chartered in 1802 and was in full-fledged operation as a preparatory school by 1817 (except for a hiatus during the Civil War, it operated until the early 1960s). From about 1802 until its first meeting after statehood, the territorial legislature met in de France’s Tavern, adjoining Jefferson College, in a building that burned in the early 1990s. There is no historical marker on its site.
Jefferson College’s main buildings were two Federal-style buildings, the East Wing (on the right in the picture above) and West Wing (on the left). There was a time when these two buildings were connected by a third structure since demolished.
The East Wing was designed by Natchez architect Levi Weeks (who designed Auburn in Natchez as a part of a successful career in the Old Southwest after life in New York had become uncomfortable for him) and was completed in 1819. The West Wing was constructed in 1839.
Below is the West Wing.
As my wife and I were walking up, and I was hanging back taking some pictures, Joyce noticed that students had carved their names in the soft bricks outside the West Wing.
This reminded me of the way there were generations of students who wrote their names in the turret in Ventress Hall at Ole Miss (including more than one generation of Faulkners).
I spent a lot of time looking in the kitchen buildings behind the West Wing. They were also built in the 1830s. I immediately noticed the basement rooms, which had windows with bars. When I mentioned the bars to Kathleen Jenkins while we were at Melrose during the same trip, she stated the obvious– that they were storing things there. This cellar had a large brick-lined space that would have made an excellent root cellar. The next picture is the two kitchen buildings seen from the space between the East and West Wing buildings.
Behind the college buildings there are several nature paths. Walking the shorter one, you see the Ellicott Springs, where Andrew Ellicott (who surveyed the boundary between Spanish Florida and the United States in 1797 and 1798, from the Mississippi River to the Atlantic) had an encampment at the time of the survey.
The picture below is the buildings from behind on the nature path. The near buildings to the right are the kitchens behind the West Wing; you can see the East Wing and then a newer building from about 1911 on the far left.
This is the East Wing, the oldest building on the site.
Here’s the East Wing from behind.
The beauty of these buildings in their simplicity and order reminded both my wife and me of visits to Shaker settlements in Kentucky.
From Jefferson College, we headed northeast on Highway 61 about 4.6 miles to state Highway 553. Turning left (North) on Highway 553 toward Christ Church. Right as 553 crosses the Natchez Trace, it intersects with the road to Emerald Mound, which is located about eight-tenths of a mile from that intersection. On this outing, we continued on to Church Hill.
Go to Part Two
*For reasons explained later, I missed Poplar Hill School. This trip actually combines two outings on back-to-back days, but given the distance is an easy day-trip out of Natchez.