Y’all, I am super stoked for today’s post—it’s the first one all about the road trip my friend Emma and I took over Labor Day Weekend! Since we covered so much ground, I am going to write a post about each place we stopped so that it’s not complete information overload. Once the other posts are up, I’ll link to them below so that it’s easy to navigate to each one:
- Natchez by way of Jackson, Mississippi (this post!)
- Oxford, Mississippi
- Birmingham by way of Tuscaloosa, Alabama
- Atlanta Georgia
We started our trip the Thursday night before Labor Day weekend and flew home the Tuesday after Labor Day. We spent a day in each location and I feel like the pace we planned our trip at was perfect—the longest stretch of driving we had to do was about four hours, but most days we drove two or three. It’s been a long time since I’ve done a good old fashioned road trip, and this one ended up being one of my favorite ones I’ve ever taken.
When I told people where I was going for LDW, I got a lot of blank stares since this part of the country is not a highly trafficked tourist destination from those in the DC area. But I’d always wanted to go to Mississippi and Alabama since I feel like it’s hard to understand the United States without understanding the American South. (Maybe that’s just the American Studies major in me!) Now having been, I would go in a heartbeat, and I hope my posts about the places we visited inspire other people to add this beautiful part of our country to their travel list.
Natchez, Mississippi was one of my favorite places we went on our trip and is now definitely one of my favorite places in the US. I learned about Natchez from my Grandmother, who loved reading about the antebellum mansions in Southern Living—but I found that when I mentioned Natchez in casual conversation, a lot of people weren’t as familiar. So I thought it’d be helpful to provide a little bit of context up front—Natchez, named for the Natchez tribe of Native Americans, is located right on the Mississippi River, directly across from Louisiana. It was a very prominent southern town before the Civil War, as many cotton and sugarcane planters owned houses in town—their tracts of farmland were located in the lowlands near the River. The proximity to the River made it a center of trade, and many of their products were taken down to New Orleans and exported to Europe.
Natchez is also the southern terminus of the Natchez Trace, the northern terminus being Nashville, Tennessee. The Natchez Trace is a historic forest trail that was created and used by Native Americans for centuries, and then later used by European and American explorers, traders, and planters. As steamboat trade expanded on the Mississippi River, the use of the Trace declined. Today, the 444-mile path is commemorated by a modern parkway that runs the historic route. We drove it for a part of our way to Oxford, and it was a beautiful drive!
JACKSON, MS /
We didn’t spend much time in Jackson, so I didn’t feel like I could write a full post on it, but wanted to include it since it was where we started our journey. There is one direct flight from DCA to Jackson each day, and we were on it! We picked up our rental car at the Jackson airport. The rental car itself was one of the more expensive fees we incurred on the trip for two main reasons—we were dropping it off in a different city, and we were putting quite a few miles on it. Of course, we couldn’t do the road trip without the rental car, so it was worth every penny, but in case you’re planning a similar trip, just know the car is going to be a significant cost. (We paid about $300/each.)
One nice thing about traveling often for work is that I have been able to rack up a ton of Marriott Bonvoy points. When we were looking for hotels in Jackson, I realized the Jackson Marriott was only 7,500 points for a night, so we booked a room on my points, meaning it was effectively $0 for us! Since we stayed, it looks like it’s no longer listed on Marriott’s website—so it could be coming under new ownership. Regardless, the location was very central to most things downtown. The hotel itself was somewhat dated, but for one night, it was just what we needed, and to kick off our trip, we enjoyed some wine in the hotel bar.
The next morning before we left, we stopped by the Welcome to Jackson mural and drove by the Governor’s Mansion, which was gorgeous, before getting breakfast at Broad Street Baking Company. I had found this restaurant on Trip Advisor when I was searching for best breakfasts—and it was delicious! I ordered a tater tot bowl I’d never indulge in at home, and bought one of the best sugar cookies I’ve ever had for the road. They also had fudge brownie cookies in the shape of the state of Mississippi and we thought they were so cute!
After we ate breakfast, we drove the two hours down to Natchez—it was a very easy drive! Natchez is also about an hour and 35 minutes from Baton Rouge and two hours and 45 minutes from New Orleans if you’re looking for other cities to fly into. Unfortunately, there’s not a major airport in Natchez, so your best option is going to be flying into a larger city and renting a car to get there.
WHERE TO STAY /
We stayed at the Monmouth Historic Inn, and when I get back to Natchez one day, I definitely want to stay there again. Built in 1818, it was purchased in 1824 by its most prominent occupant, John Quitman. He was a lawyer, but penniless when he moved to Natchez, and married Eliza Turner, daughter of a prominent Natchez family. He went on to partner in one of Natchez’s most successful law firms. He also gained national attention as a military hero in the Mexican American War, as Mississippi Governor, and as a US Congressman. He died in 1858, and his wife Louisa passed away the following year. With the coming of the Civil War, his daughters could not keep up with its massive upkeep costs. In the second half of the 1800s and into the 20th century, the estate fell into disrepair. Over the years, many of its furnishings were sold off. In 1978, the home was purchased and underwent a massive restoration and many of the Quitman furnishings have been found and returned to the home. The current owners, Nancy and Warren, purchased Monmouth in 2012, and have done such an amazing job with it!
Monmouth offers a variety of room types, both in the main historic home, and in several buildings around the property that have been built so more guests can enjoy the property. We stayed in the Plantation Suites building in Woodlands Suite #43. We had a canopy bed that I would have loved in my childhood room! Once we checked in—and were greeted by the most welcoming staff—we went on a walk around the gorgeous property.
From 5-7pm daily, there are complimentary snacks in the Quitman Lounge and Study, located right off the main courtyard. The space is also well decorated, with a portrait of John Quitman over the fireplace and beautiful furniture that makes a great nod to the period. We befriended the bartender, Roosevelt, who has worked at the property for 35 years. His Mint Julep is so good that the Kentucky Derby flew to Natchez so he could teach them how to make it. We also asked him about any ghosts he had seen on the property—and he told us he once saw John Quitman right where we were sitting. While we were enjoying a happy hour, we also were lucky enough to have an hour-long conversation with the owner of Monmouth, Nancy. She was a true delight and gave us so much information about the history of property and Natchez.
There’s complimentary breakfast included with your room, which was a nice surprise. There’s a cold buffet with fruit, yogurt, juices, muffins, and granola, and then you get your choice of a hot breakfast—either an eggs/protein/biscuit combo or French toast.
Everyone we met at Monmouth went above and beyond to make our stay special and the attention to detail and service was unbeatable. Many of their staff has worked there for 20+ years, and I can see why it’s a place people come and don’t want to leave! One thing I’d love to do next time is take the tour of Monmouth—it’s offered everyday at 10am and 2pm. We weren’t there at either of those times either day, so it didn’t work out, but you always have to have a reason to come back!
WHERE TO EAT + DRINK /
We ate lunch in Natchez at Magnolia Grill in Natchez Under-the-Hill. The proper part of town was up on top of the bluff, and here, under the hill near the boating docks was the rowdy part of town. There were saloons, brothels, and a large slave market. At the end of the nineteenth century, the steamboat began to be replaced by the railroad, and Natchez Under-the-Hill soon became a sleepy river port whose primary commerce was the ferry, which provided transportation to and from Louisiana, located just right across the Mississippi River. Now, Magnolia Grill is on a small strip of retail that also is home to The Camp Restaurant, which serves comfort and cajun food, Under the Hill Saloon, and Silver Street Gallery & Gifts, a really cute home decor and gift store. We really enjoyed Magnolia Grill, and ate on their screened-in porch that overlooks the Mississippi. We split the fried pickles to start, and they were seriously the best I’ve ever had. I also had their burger, and it was delicious. They had really good bar food, and great service.
For dinner, we ate lunch at 1818 Restaurant at Monmouth Historic Inn, where we stayed. This was our big “splurge” meal of the trip, and we loved getting dressed up for it. Even if you aren’t staying at Monmouth, this would be a great way to come see the property and enjoy it. 1818 Restaurant is located on the first floor of the historic house, and there are about eight tables, so it feels really intimate and like you’re dining in someone’s private home. In the hallway outside of the restaurant, they had amazing Zuber wallpaper, which we had seen earlier in the day at Stanton Hall, too (more on that below!). Zuber is known for its amazing panoramic scenes that come to life through large panels of wallpaper. We started with salads—I had the caesar and Emma had the wedge—which were served with amazing, fresh bread. We then both got the steak for dinner, which was served with mashed potatoes and asparagus. I really enjoyed the sides, but I asked the steak to be served medium, and it definitely was on the more done side—in hindsight, I should have sent it back. Emma had the bread pudding for dessert, which looked amazing. We had the best waitress for the evening, and made friends with the couple sitting at the table next to us. It’s cliche, but we found it to be true—everyone is so friendly in the south! After dinner, we went back to see Roosevelt at Quitman Lounge and Study for a nightcap.
WHAT TO DO /
We toured two of Natchez’s famed antebellum mansions when we were in town. One of the main reasons Natchez’s antebellum buildings are still in tact is because they were the only county in Mississippi not secede from the Union and surrendered as soon as Lincoln’s troops rolled into town. As a result, no battles took place in Natchez and the town exited the war largely unscathed. One thing I do want to call out is that while I loved touring these beautiful homes, one thing I struggled with on these tours, though, was the representation of slavery and how while many of these tours do make a nod to it, they are overall are devoid of the atrocities. I don’t have all the answers, but definitely not something I can ignore—since I know these mansions were not and are not a beautiful place for everyone.
Our first stop was Auburn. We showed up right when they opened and were the only visitors, so our tour guide really went above and beyond to give us the history of the home and spent a ton of time with us. Auburn was the first mansion in Natchez that really kicked off the trend of other members of planter elite building their own elaborate homes. The main architectural feature of the home is the spiral staircase, which stands entirely unsupported, and is only one of four such staircases in the US today. The home was built by architect Levi Weeks for Lyman Harding, a lawyer from New York. He found himself the Attorney General of the state of Mississippi and built Auburn to celebrate. After Harding died, the home was purchased by Dr. Stephen Duncan, who held the rank of as the wealthiest planter in the South and the largest resident slaveholder in the state, owning over 1,000 slaves. After the Civil War, Auburn remained in the Duncan family until 1910, when it was gifted to the city of Natchez to be used as a public park. The city sold the contents of the home at public auction and the home set abandoned and in disrepair. In 1972, the Town and Country Garden Club of Natchez leased the home from the city and has since worked to restore the home, track down its original furnishings, and source furnishings from the era for the home. We absolutely loved all the hand-craved details and original woodwork, and liked the layout of the house—the rooms were all off a main hallway. The tour also included the detached kitchen and salved quarters, which have recently been restored.
We then drove over to Stanton Hall, which sits on an entire city block in the middle of town. It is one of my favorite houses I’ve ever been lucky enough to tour! The outside of the house is stunning—there is just something about a white house that I love. And the inside of the house is absolutely beautiful—unfortunately no photos were allowed inside, but you’ll have to take my word for it. The restoration work is amazing, and many of the home’s original furnishings remain. Built in 1857 by Frederick Stanton, he was the son of an Irish textile factory owner who came over to Mississippi to get into the cotton industry. The home was completed in 1859, just a few months before Frederick’s death. The family remained in the home until 1894, when it then became Staton College for Young Ladies. In 1938, the Pilgrimage Garden Club of Natchez purchased the home and began restoring it, originally running it as a bed and breakfast to make money for the restoration work. Now, it’s open to the public for tours and hosts numerous events and weddings throughout the year.
We bought our tickets for the houses we saw right on the property, but you can also buy tickets at the Natchez Visitor Center. Auburn was $10 to tour and Staton Hall was $20, but both were worth the price, in my opinion. The other mansions we looked at visiting were Rosalie, Magnolia Hall, Melrose, and Longwood. Longwood especially sounds interesting. Designed by Samuel Sloan fo Haller and Julia Nutt, members of Natchez’s planter elite, construction on the octagonal home (it’s the largest one in the US!) was started in 1860, but paused in 1861 because of rising tensions from the Civil War. The interior of the home was left unfinished, except nine rooms in the basement. Today, tourists can tour the finished basement living areas and the unfinished upper floors of the main house—where tools that were abandoned in 1861 can still be seen strewn about. I’d recommend looking up home tour times before you go since they all seem to be on a slightly different schedule, and many close at 3pm or 4pm in the afternoon.
If you’re looking for other things to do in Natchez, I’d recommend checking out their Trip Advisor page—we knew our priority was touring homes, so that is where we spent the majority of our time researching. Two things I’d love to do when I go back to town—walk around the historic downtown and explore more and go to some of their antique shops!
I cannot wait to get back to Natchez, and would absolutely love to go and stay for several days! We covered a lot of ground in the one day we were in town, but it certainly left me wanting to explore even more. If you have any questions about anything we did, don’t hesitate to reach out: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also, a heads up that if you’re looking to plan a trip to Natchez, you might want to keep an eye on when Natchez Pilgrimage is. A bi-annual event held in the spring and fall, it’s when many private owners open up their antebellum mansions to the public for tours, and there’s a variety of other cultural events happening in conjunction. Those times of year are a big tourist draw, so hotels might be more expensive and restaurant reservations harder to come by. Of course, there are certainly some advantages to going during that time, you just might have to fight a few more crowds!