Vidalia, LA - Events of Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Jefferson College was incorporated by the first General Assembly of the Mississippi Territory in 1802 in the small town of Washington, which is about 5 miles east of Natchez. Washington is the same town we talked about in our last post when we wrote about the slave market at Forks of the Road. One of the roads at the intersection where the market was located led to Washington.
The historic college is open to the public for self-guided tours, so we decided to drive over to check the place out, especially since admission is free.
The college was named for Thomas Jefferson, who was President of the United States when the school was first chartered. After several years of financial difficulties, the college transformed itself into an a preparatory school in 1811.
Enrollment fluctuated over the years prior to the Civil War from only 11 students in 1811 to a high of 98 in 1830, but it usually ran around 50. Jefferson Davis, future president of the Confederate States of America, lived in Mississippi for a time as a youth and attended Jefferson College in 1818 at age 10.
The school was forced to close in 1863 because of the Civil War. It reopened in 1866, again as a prep school. In 1893, Jefferson College became a military prep school and changed its name to Jefferson Military School. Due to falling enrollment, mostly as a result of negative reaction to the Vietnam War, the school closed in 1964.
The historic college was restored by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History which maintains the building and grounds today. In addition to being open for tours, they have numerous special events such as a Civil War reenactment, vintage baseball games, summer camp, and various activities for school groups.
The East Wing (on the right in the photo below), which was built in 1819, is the oldest remaining building. It was a multi-purpose building that contained classrooms, offices, and housing for faculty and students. The West Wing was built in 1839 housed the dining hall and offices.
Behind the East and West Wings are two kitchens that were built in 1839.
To the right of the East Wing is Raymond Hall. It is a dormitory built in 1915 as a result of increased enrollment due to the military program that was started around 1893.
The visitor center, which was also a dorm for cadets, was built in 1931. Today, it has photos and displays about the history of the college. There is one room set up as dorm room.
Jefferson College has been the site for the filming of several movies in its later years. The first was Horse Soldiers starring John Wayne filmed in 1959 while the school was still operating. There is a year book from the college on the table in the dorm room open to a page with pictures of John Wayne and other members of the movie cast. There is a photo of John Wayne with some of the students in the lower right and telegram containing a Christmas greeting from John Wayne to the students in the upper left.
There were several other movies made at Jefferson College after it closed including Huckleberry Finn (1973), North and South (1985 TV mini series), and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1992). Proceeds from the movies helped fund restoration efforts.
Adjacent to the college grounds is the college president's house. It was built in 1835 and originally belonged to the town's physician. It was purchased by the school in 1842. Today, it is privately owned. If you look closely, you will see a window air conditioner and a TV satellite dish.
We talked in our last post about slaves being brought down Natchez Trace from Virginia. Since the terminus of the Natchez Trace Parkway lies between Natchez and Washington, we took a little detour on our way back to the motor home to drive up the parkway a short distance. Natchez Trace was a game trail, an Indian trail, and the trail used by keelboat and flatboat men in the late 1700s and early 1800s. The boatmen would float their boats loaded with cargo down the Mississippi River to Natchez or New Orleans where they would sell the cargo and sell the boats for lumber. They would then travel back up Natchez Trace on foot or on horseback to their homes in Kentucky and Ohio.
Construction of a two-lane parkway that follows the approximate route of the Old Natchez Trace was begun in the 1930s. The 444-mile long Natchez Trace Parkway runs from Natchez to just south of Nashville. It has gentle hills and curves, no traffic lights, no stop signs, and access is somewhat limited. Commercial traffic is not allowed (RVs are permitted), the speed limit is 50 mph, and there is usually little traffic. All that coupled with all the trees and grassy areas lining the road make for a very pleasant drive. On nice weekends, however, you may need to watch for bicycles.
There are numerous locations of historical interest along the parkway where you can pull off. These include many places where you can still see Old Natchez Trace.
As we mentioned, Natchez Trace has been used by wildlife, Indians, boatmen, and slaves. The Trace was also designated a postal road by President Thomas Jefferson in 1801 for the delivery of mail between Nashville and Natchez, and the Trace was used as a military road following the War of 1812. With the advent of steam power for both steamboats and railroads in the 1820 and 1830s, use of the Trace declined. An old photograph at one of the roadside stops shows how parts of the road had become sunken after so many years of use.
We only went a few miles north on Natchez Trace Parkway before turning around. It was after 1:00 PM, and we were getting hungry, so we headed back to the motor home after a quick stop at Walmart to pick up a few items.
On Friday, we pulled out of Riverside RV in Vidalia and headed north. We'll tell you all about where we went in our next post.