Home » OPINION » Columns » JACK WEATHERLY — Natchez: balloons down, but town not gone with the wind
One of many houses for sale in Natchez. ... Photo by Jack Weatherly

JACK WEATHERLY — Natchez: balloons down, but town not gone with the wind


The 33rd annual Great Mississippi River Balloon Race at Natchez disappeared with the wind this year.

Turbulence canceled all but the preliminary “hare and hounds” race on Friday.

The town has endured winds of change – at times catastrophic – since it was founded 300 years ago. It was spared the torch by U.S. Grant, who had a bigger prize in his sights – Vicksburg.

And more than survived, as Faulkner said, it has prevailed, as, pound for pound, the preeminent showcase for antebellum homes.

That includes the biggies of Charleston, Savannah and New Orleans.

Here’s a major difference: Much of its history is for sale.

And at a right good price, as Scarlett O’Hara’s uppity former plantation overseer told her before she threw red Georgia dirt in his face.

The town is shrinking, not unheard of in a state that is doing the same.

But it is doing so with grace.

Balloonists fire up Friday evening, hoping for good conditions. Photo By Jack Weatherly

Natchez is brimming with historic houses for sale, many of them in quite good shape.

We did not visit the town for the balloon race, though we did see them firing up and inflating on the lawn in front the Grand Hotel, where we stayed, on the bluff overlooking the river.

That’s entertaining in itself.

Natchez is a two-hour drive from our house in northeast Jackson. We take the Natchez Trace Parkway, whose predecessor route dates to time immemorial, when migrating animals created it, then Indians, and later Europeans followed it.

The 445-mile national parkway does a pretty good job of skirting time as it meanders northeasterly, like the path of a tornado, to its terminus in Nashville.

The roadway cuts a narrow swath through old forests with towering oaks and pines draped with Spanish moss hanging from their limbs like great Druidic beards.

How could there not be romantic tales with this kind of setting.

And how could there not be sorrow to make the romance believable.

The great beauty of the mansions belies the great sorrows that surround them.

In a word, slavery.

Out tour guide on the Hop On Hop Off double-decker bus informed us in an otherwise wholly entertaining monologue, that 2,000 people were sold in Natchez slave markets.

At one point, The Forks of the Road was the location of the market. Our guide, a jolly black lady, pointed out rusty iron rings sunk into a patch of concrete where the slaves’ shackles were attached.

Natchez benefited from the confluence of factors that led it to become a major and wealthy city on the lower Mississippi. Cotton, British textile demand Eli Whitney’s fabled gin, and, of course slave labor.

The irony is that while it is most assuredly on the nation’s dominant transportation route – the River, not the Trace – it not connected to major highways and airports.

Thus it is spared the onslaught of change, at a price.

» Contact Mississippi Business Journal staff writer Jack Weatherly at jack.weatherly@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1016.


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