I arrived in Vicksburg, Mississippi just after lunchtime in time to attend the Spring Pilgrimage tour of some of Vicksburg’s best B&Bs and historical residences. The Vicksburg Bed and Breakfast Association sponsored this tour each year in late March and early April. Most of the homes date to the mid to late 1800s and serve as impressive representations of the Vicksburg’s Civil War past.
Having driven past Vicksburg on numerous occasions, I had no idea the wealth of history and stories it could tell. Forty-eight hours allowed me to scratch the surface of its Civil War past and World War II preservation.
Each year, late March and early April, the Vicksburg Bed and Breakfast Association sponsor a tour of selected B&B’s and historical residences. I was able to join a group of visitors on one of the five tours. We boarded the van at the Old Depot Museum beside the Mississippi River and headed out to experience three of Vicksburg’s historic residences.
Vicksburg is named for Methodist Minister Newitt Vick. Vick purchased the land in 1817 that would become Vicksburg. Vick owned ‘Open Wood,’ a plantation just north of what would become the town. Vick would not see the city grow; he died in the yellow fever outbreak in 1819. The city incorporated in 1825.
The Mississippi River was and is the soul of Vicksburg and its main source of revenue in the early 1800s. Paddle wheelers first docked in Vicksburg in 1811. By 1830, three hundred fifty paddle wheelers were docking there, and by 1850, over one thousand docked there. The record for the most paddle wheeler dockings in a day is two-hundred fifty.
In 1876, the Mississippi River changed its course because of an earthquake. The quake caused it to shift a bit to the West.
In the Trinity Episcopal Church, there are six stained glass Tiffany windows. Near the Church is Vicksburg’s war memorials park. The first memorial installed was the Civil War memorial in 1910.
The U.S. Army corps of engineers is the largest employer in Vicksburg all because of the mighty Mississippi.
The McNutt House is a working B&B, located in the historic district of Vicksburg and owned by Elvin and Pam McFerrin. The historic home is listed on that National Register of Historic Places. Upon our arrival, Elvin and Pam both dressed in period costume welcomed us inside. Our group sat around at the dining room table to learn the history of the house. The McFerrin’s bought the 193-year-old residence in 2010.
The home was completed in 1826. Attorney Alexander McNutt bought the home in 1829. McNutt practiced law in Jackson, Mississippi for a couple of years, then came to Vicksburg. McNutt’s wealth grew quickly. In 1838, McNutt elected 12th Governor of Mississippi and he and his wife, Betsy, maintained the home until 1846. The Wright family bought the house and generations of the family lived there until 1966. By then the house had fallen into disrepair, and it was donated to the Vicksburg Historical Society. Another owner held the residence until 2010 when Elvin and Pam took over the ownership.
While all of the furnishings are not original to the house, many pieces are family pieces are from Pam’s longtime Vicksburg’s family. The buffet is a family piece, manufactured by Prudent Mallard in New Orleans and dates to 1850-60s. The Silver service set was crafted in Baltimore and is made of coin silver belonged to Emma Balfour, Pam’s relative and diarist of the Siege of Vicksburg.
For those ghost hunters out there. There is evidence that two spirits haunt the house according to the McFerrin’s.
Magnolia’s is a restored Victorian Queen Anne style home once owned by the Vick family in the 1870s. 2018 is the home’s first year on the pilgrimage tour. Our hosts, the Jones’ were clad in period costume as they welcomed our tour group inside. They both have put in a lot of work into restoring the home during the eight years they have owned the house.
Built in 1873, the columns outside, windows and pine floors are original. Also original to the home are the iron medallions that decorate the chandeliers in the parlor and dining rooms. The ornate stairway has an elaborate hand-sawed Newell that ascends straight to the second floor. There are massive pocket doors between the parlor and dining room. Several of the original gas light fixtures remain intact. Magnolia’s is currently for sale.
Baer House is a working B&B. Corey and Patricia Rickrode purchased the home in 2015 to run as a B&B.
There was a large Jewish community in Vicksburg in the 1800s. This residence tells the story of Jewish history in Vicksburg. Originally the Greek Revival style residence was built in the 1850s for Max Kuner. It was Kuner who built the original clockworks of the clock in the courthouse.
During the Siege of Vicksburg, the home took a lot of damage. Lazarus and Leona Baer bought the rubble of the house after the war. Today, we would call it a 1870s remodel.
The Baer’s completed the house in the Eastlake Style which was popular in the 1860s-1880s. Victorian in style, it is more linear and geometric. There is a lot of wood, specifically black walnut, chestnut and mahogany throughout the home. The house has high ceilings and transoms’ for cross ventilation. In the main hallway, the mirror is an original piece from the Baer family. The glass over the front door is a menorah and is original.
The upstairs of the house is a bit less grand. There were no closets but had they had a shrunk in the hallway. A shrunk is a piece of cabinetry that can be used as an armoire. People had far fewer clothes then and did not yet have hangers. Everything was folded and laid in the shrunk for storage.
The Baer family were merchants and brought in high-end merchandise for their customers. After the war, they began to bring in more blue-collar merchandise.
Leona Baer was a trendsetter in the mid-1800s, and she insisted on two things in her home, an indoor kitchen and a restroom that had to be convenient. Today, the two-story covered outhouse remains on the rear patio of the house. One side is larger than the other to accommodate the women’s dresses of the period. It was a design ahead of its time. The outhouse was a primitive styled septic system. It is most likely the only remaining two-story outhouse in Mississippi.
Leona died in 1898 and Lazarus in 1924. They would be the last Jewish family to live in the house. In 1924, the Williams’ family moved in with their five children. Two more children would be born in the house. They owned the house until 1976.
The house was then refitted to serve as a law office for the Ramsey law firm. All the wood in the downstairs was painted white. It was during the time the residence served as a law office that an elevator was installed to accommodate a local judge who kept an office at the firm.
The Ballroom with its twelve-foot ceilings served as a law library, and the fireplace is original. When the next owner took possession of the home, it took two years to strip just the hallway back to the wood. By the 1990s, the house was sold and restyled to a B&B.
We did not visit the Duff Green Mansion, but I stopped for a quick visit. The Mansion was a hospital during the Civil War. Soldiers from both the North and South armies were cared for at Duff Green. The Union troops were housed on the top floor and Confederates troops on the lower floor. The reason the Union soldiers were treated on the top floor was due to the continuous Union bombardment. If the house was struck, the army would be killing its own. The ornate wrought ironwork was removed from the building and melted down for munitions for use in the war. It has been restored to its original location.
WALNUT HILLS RESTAURANT
My tour group had heard good things about the food at Walnut Hills. I wanted a quick dinner, so an early dinner was in order. Ordering the crab bisque to start, I included a shrimp Po-Boy with coleslaw to round out my meal. I did decide on a piece of coconut pie to take back to the hotel. My tasty dinner rounded out at a satisfying end to my journey through the history in Vicksburg.
In the next installment of my journey to Vicksburg, I will dive into the town’s Civil War and World War II past.