Placemaking Spotlight: Natchez, Mississippi

Downtown Natchez, courtesy of Wayne Hsieh

Overlooking the Mississippi River, Natchez, Mississippi, is a quaint Southern town rich in history, culture, and hospitality.

One of the first European settlements in the Mississippi River Valley, Natchez was originally home to the Natchez tribe. French settlers established a fort on the current site of the town on August 3, 1716, drawn to its fertile soil and accessible waterways. The French brought enslaved people from western Africa with them to provide labor to develop the region, then joined forces with the Native Americans in the area to further the area’s rapid growth. After the American Revolution, the town continued to grow, thanks to the wealth that accumulated from the river ports and cotton and sugarcane plantations, attracting affluent residents.

The Longwood Historic Home, from natchezpilgrimage.com

Despite its strategic location, Natchez survived most of the warfare during the Civil War, which left more than 600 buildings and homes still intact, including many of the stately homes of these elite residents. Historic mansions, such as the Longwood Home, the Stanton Hall Historic Home, the Brandon Hall Historic Home, among many others, are still the most popular destinations for visitors.

The Natchez Museum of African American History and Culture, from visitnatchez.org

Natchez is rich in African American history. The city was once the location of one of the largest markets for enslaved workers in the world and was a major city of resistance during the Civil Rights Movement. Natchez has devoted itself to giving a voice to the African American community of the past and present by establishing the Natchez Museum of African American History and Culture in 1991, which tells their stories through various exhibits and memorials.

Today, the small city of 15,000 relies on its tourism industry to fuel its economy. With its sights set on the future, Natchez continues to enhance its offerings to visitors and its appeal to locals. In 2018, the city gained approval to rebuild the entire downtown district to add to its appeal to visitors and residents. The plans include a new stage pavilion, green space for a farmers market, and a parking structure.

The annual Mississippi River Balloon Race, courtesy of flickr

For visitors, Natchez offers a diverse and unique array of activities celebrating its art and culture. The city is home to the annual Great Mississippi River Balloon Race Festival. For one weekend in October, visitors can see hundreds of giant air balloons hover above the beautiful Mississippi River. The Pilgrimage Festival is held every spring and fall, providing visitors with an opportunity to tour the antebellum mansions that make up the foundation of Natchez, including many that aren’t open to visitors at any other time of the year.

In addition to seasonal events, the town’s restaurants, bars, and shops are inviting destinations that embrace solid placemaking values. For example, the famous Under-the-Hill Saloon is housed in one of the oldest buildings in the area, on the thriving port where cotton was shipped and is one of the oldest buildings in the area. For lovers of architecture, the beautiful St. Mary’s Basilica Catholic Church was built in 1842 and is often recognized as an architectural masterpiece.

The Natchez Trace Parkway bridge, courtesy of thelocalpalate.com

The city of Natchez also shares its name with the national scenic byway running through it. The Natchez Trace Parkway stretches for more than 400 miles through Alabama, Tennessee, and Mississippi. It roughly follows the “Old Natchez Trace,” a historic travel corridor that was utilized by the Kaintucks American Indians, European settlers, slave traders, infantrymen, and presidents. Driving this route is another great opportunity to learn about Native American history. Several sites, including the Trail of Tears mile markers and the Emerald Ceremonial Mound, are popular destinations to see and learn about the Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Natchez tribes that populated this area long ago.  

Natchez is a vibrant southern town that embraces its history and well-preserved architecture to create a welcoming space for its visitors and residents to enjoy. It is a great example of a city with excellent placemaking qualities and undoubtedly has a bright future ahead.

Learn more about Natchez here.