2017: Natchez

Melrose Estate

April 18


After a couple of days of down time in camp, we spent our last day seeing one last mansion. Melrose Estate is one of several parts of the Natchez National Historic Park, maintained and operated by the National Park Service.

Our tour guide was a park ranger and he was very entertaining; but he mostly engaged with some very loud people that were on the tour, so I kept my distance and missed some of his spiel. He told many wonderful stories about the history of the house and the families who owned it.

Only three families owned the estate between its construction in 1849 and its purchase by the National Park Service in 1990. After the initial owners built and furnished the estate, the two subsequent owning families purchased and preserved most of the original furnishings, so Melrose is known to be one of the most intact antebellum homes in Natchez.

The double parlors have two fantastic sets of the valued Belter furniture, upholstered in red and green.

The dining room has an ornately carved punkah (manual fan) over the table, also called a "shoo-fly" in the American south. During dinner a slave would use the attached rope to operate the fan to cool the diners and keep flies away from the food.


When built by the original owners, Melrose was one of very few homes to have indoor plumbing. The original fixtures in this bathroom were removed, but a different set from another local historic site were re-installed here. The tall wooden structure at left is a shower-tub combination, and behind it is a flush toilet. Water pressure to run the fixtures was provided by a cistern on the roof.

All the beds had the obligatory canopies overhead, which in season would have been draped with mosquito netting. Only one of the beds in the house actually had netting, to illustrate what it was like. It must have been very hot to sleep under that in the stifling summer!

A separate building in back of the house served as a kitchen on the first floor, and slave quarters on top. There is an old well housed in a gazebo-like structure. One room on the first floor contained some enormous white troughs that, according to the sign, were used to "process milk products". I didn't want to know more about THAT.

Alice Sims, Jane Johnson.

One of the ranger's stories we did remember, and a little research filled in the specifics. Melrose was inherited by six-year-old George Kelly when his mother died in 1883; at that time the boy's father took him back to New York City to be raised. From 1883 until 1909 Melrose was maintained by Alice Sims and Jane Johnson, two former slaves who had belonged to George's grandmother. After George returned to Melrose with his wife, the two women continued to work for the family for most of their lives. Jane Johnson died in 1944 at age 105 and is buried in the Natchez cemetery with the epitaph "Never bought, never sold."

That evening, we returned to a local barbecue joint that we'd tried the evening before, the aptly named Pig Out Inn. Our first meals had been unbelievable, meat melting in your mouth, a unique, slightly piquant sauce that wasn't too spicy for my sensitive taste buds. It was the best BBQ I've ever had.

Unfortunately our second try wasn't nearly as good. The sauce was the same, but the meat was dried out and tough. The risk you take with a local artisan, I suppose. Mike still decided to buy some for the road, and we bought several bottles of the sauce for ourselves and as gifts.

We stopped on the way home at a picturesque overpass looking out at the Natchez bridge. Who would expect that railroad tracks could be so pretty? Nearby was a strange quarter-circle of Greek-looking columns; it seemed to be some sort of park, but there was no signage to explain it. Another mystery we'll never solve.

We crossed the bridge for the last time in the car; tomorrow we'd be driving the motorcoach back across on our journey to the next stop in Memphis. So long, Natchez; we'll miss you and remember you fondly.