Spring pilgrimages in Columbus, Holly Springs and Natchez offer a look at long ago
Deep porches. Towering columns. Intricate woodwork. Mississippi’s majestic architectural heritage is truly worth celebrating, and three cities do it exceptionally well each spring. Natchez, Columbus and Holly Springs will soon throw open the doors of their historic mansions for up-close tours and social events brimming with legendary Southern hospitality.
Perhaps the granddaddy of all pilgrimages is the Natchez Pilgrimage, which began in 1932 as a way for the riverside city to show off its well-preserved antebellum homes. Since that time, a fall pilgrimage was added to the annual springtime festivities, and the events have become cornerstones of the area’s tourism, drawing visitors from around the world. But the springtime event—set for March 18 through April 18 this year—holds special allure, with 26 mansions surrounded by colorful spring gardens serving as stars of a monthlong show. Natchez nights are as enchanting as the tour-filled days, with concerts, plays and special performances, including the popular pilgrimage spoof “Southern Exposure” and “Southern Road to Freedom,” a tribute to the African-American experience here.
“We have residents opening private homes that have been in their families for six, seven or eight generations,” says Natchez Pilgrimage Tours sales director Lynn Beach Smith. “These homes have wonderful histories, and they’re filled with decorative art objects and memorabilia that have been here for generations.”
Authenticity is at the heart of the Columbus Spring Pilgrimage, which runs from March 30 to April 8 this year, says Nancy Luke Carpenter, CEO of Visit Columbus. “Our home tours are unique in their presentation and authentic in taking visitors back in time and sharing customs, dress and family,” Carpenter says. This year’s pilgrimage will feature tours of 15 antebellum homes where, along with the architecture, visitors can see re-enactors engage in 1800s-style activities and guides in lavish period dress. Carriages and double-decker buses will transport guests from home to home in style. Beyond the brick and mortar, the pilgrimage promises plenty of culinary treats, from a crawfish and shrimp boil on the lawn of the Tennessee Williams Home to a fried catfish feast in historic Catfish Alley to a garden party at Colonnade Garden with cheese straws and mint juleps.
Nearly eight decades have passed since the first Holly Springs Pilgrimage, which lets visitors peek inside some of the same antebellum homes and churches that inspired William Faulkner’s fictionalized Yoknapatawpha County. This year’s pilgrimage, set for April 21-23, will also feature tours of three museums and Hillcrest Cemetery, which was established in 1837 and is the burial site of five Confederate generals. “The antebellum homes here are grand and exceptional,” says LaKisha Mitchell-Buffington, executive director of the Holly Springs Tourism and Recreation Bureau. “Each is graced by uniquely Southern elegance with a historical feel.”
Special events will include “Juleps and Generals” on Friday evening, featuring sweet sips stirred together with storytelling by Civil War-era re-enactors; a Southern-style Saturday-night dinner with catering by Taylor Grocery combined with live music and dancing; and a Sunday brunch at the 1858-built Montrose mansion, which will be open for tour all weekend along with its onsite arboretum.
Holly Springs’ unique charm comes from its “rich heritage and colorful character,” adds Buffington. “The Pilgrimage is a doorway to exploring all that makes up Holly Springs.”