Winter Wonderlands: Natchez, Mississippi

Martha Stewart Living, December 2002

Visiting Natchez for the holidays offers a peek at the Old South. The grand antebellum mansions that fill the town's historic district throw their doors open to visitors each December for candlelight tours. Some owners decorate with rigorous authenticity, trimming mantels and gilt-framed portraits with locally grown evergreens and setting tables with period centerpieces. Others freely outline their elaborate porches with fairy lights.

"The Natchez planters were among the wealthiest people in America in their day," says Kathleen Jenkins, curator of Melrose, an estate that is now run by the National Park Service. Re-creating pre-Civil War decor has become common among the Natchez mansions in the last few years, even though it usually means forgoing poinsettias and other more modern Christmas motifs.

"We use only holly, cedar, magnolia, and ivy -- what has always grown on the grounds," says Cheryl Branyan, curator of Rosalie, a Greek Revival mansion in the town. Rosalie and Melrose are both stops on the tours, but Melrose presents another side of the antebellum holiday: an exhibit in the old slave quarters about the domestic life of the 20 slaves who once resided there.

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