Natchez Spring Pilgrimage: How did it come to be?


The annual spring historic home tour that takes place in Natchez, Mississippi is the longest running tour of its kind in America. Over ninety years after its inception, the Spring Pilgrimage still draws visitors with its impressive collection of historic mansions, manicured gardens, preservation and survival stories, natural beauty, and a local population born and bred into the art of making you feel welcome.

Natchez, Mississippi was one of the loveliest towns on the Mississippi River back in the mid-1800s, and it still looks much the same. It is said that before the Civil War, half of America’s millionaires called Natchez home and because of that it is now home to the most extensive, intact group of 19th century estates anywhere in the country. And while the houses are unbelievably beautiful, the stories are even better.

To answer what makes Natchez so unique with regards to this breathtaking collection of homes requires a brief history lesson. Natchez was spared complete destruction during the Civil War that many southern towns faced because many of the Natchez elite were either neutral or Union sympathizers; Natchez representatives to the state secession convention voted against secession; and Natchez held no strategic significance geographically with respect to the war. In 1863 the town surrendered, but Union troops occupied the area until well after the war ended.

Fast forward to 1927, when many of these historic home’s owners still occupied these extraordinary mansions and began to ponder an alliance with preservation in mind. It was this idea that birthed The Natchez Garden Club. In March 1931, a this small, but mighty organization planned to host a convention of like-minded organizations around the south.

On the agenda for convention visitors was a tour of the many beautiful gardens of the historic homes, which would be at their peak in the spring at the time of the convention. But a late freeze that year took care to ruin the gardens, and rather than disappointing the many visitors slated to come, it was suggested to allow these visitors to Natchez to tour the homes instead. This idea was not well-received by many homeowners, as it was a last-minute change, and required them to open their private residence to the public. But hospitality prevailed and thus the first widespread Natchez home tour occurred. The widespread opinion was these homes should not be kept a secret, and the idea for the first spring pilgrimage blossomed.

The Garden Club got to planning a week-long tour event the following year, creating pamphlets, folders, and posters. But 1932 found the country in the depths of the depression, and many members thought it impossible to be able to attract many people to Natchez during such troubling time. Despite some opposition plans moved forward and twenty-five homes opened their doors to the public.

An all-out effort by the historic homeowners was undertaken to showcase not just Natchez homes, but Natchez hospitality. And at week’s end, 1,500 visitors from thirty-seven states had come for the first official Natchez Spring Pilgrimage.

Natchez is still in the business of hosting the Spring Pilgrimage and has since added to that a Fall Pilgrimage. The proceeds from the Pilgrimages benefit the long-standing tradition of historic preservation in Natchez, where there are thirteen National Historic Landmarks and over 1200 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.

Credit: ‘Bluff & Bayous March/April 2022’