Monday, May 21, 2007

Belle of the Bends

My excitement grew as we took a left turn onto Klein Street. Suddenly we were decending a very steep hill and the road had turned from asphalt to brick. At the botton of the long hill I could see a very muddy looking strip of water. One of the main purposes of our trip was so I could see the Mississippi River, but something told me the muddy strip at the bottom of the hill was not ‘Ole Man River.’ Dear Hubby seemed to read my mind and was quick to point over the trees and to left as he said, “The Mississippi is over there.” I followed his finger and could see the swell of water that I was seeking over the tops of the trees.

We came to a cross street with a bed and breakfast on each side. A wedding was taking place at the inn on the left and there was quite a crowd watching the bride and groom. We inched on through the intersection and then we saw our destination…..Belle of the Bends. DH turned into the drive and entered the code our hostess had given him earlier. The gate slowly swung open and we inched through the iron gate and slowly rolled down the drive. On one side was a beautiful hedge and on the other was a bank blanketed with the prettiest green vine that was so thick you couldn’t see the ground underneath. We parked at the back and before we could take a step or two Mary, our hostess, was already walking towards us with her arm outstretched to shake our hands.

The back garden was simply lovely. The first thing we noticed was the largest Crepe Myrtle we had ever seen surrounded by the most intriguing green plant with brownish rust streaks. Later I discovered the plant surrounding the Crepe Myrtle is called Ironwood and the Crepe Myrtle is over 160 years old! This image is a close up of the trunk of the Crepe Myrtle.

Small hedges…perhaps Boxwoods…along with brick pavers formed crossing paths in the back along with a bird bath filled with Petunias and a lovely “Bird Girl” statue from Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil fame. The back garden has simply too many wonderful finds for me to mention here, and I did not have time or storage space on my phone camera to take as many pictures as I wanted to but it was simply wonderful to walk the brick paved paths.

A brochure I picked up in the house advises the following:

*the house was built in 1876 by Mississippi State Senator Murray F. Smith and his wife Kate, and is a very fine example of Victorian Italianate Architecture

*the house originally looked out over the Mississippi River, however during the same year the house was built the Mississippi eroded through DeSoto Peninsula and cut a huge channel during a flood, and this totally diverted the huge flow of the Mississippi away from the port of Vicksburg. Residents woke one morning to find their river gone. Can you imagine? Another amazing fact about the Mississippi is in 1812 an earthquake called the New Madrid (after the faultline) Earthquake was so strong it caused the river to flow backwards for a time. Some folks get these two events confused, so that’s why I mention it here. It took several years for the Corp of Engineers to complete a canal so that the Yazoo River could be diverted down the old Mississippi River bed connecting the port of Vickburg to the great river.

*Everywhere you look in the home you find lovely antiques…many original to this fine home that has only had five owners in the 131 years since the home was built. The carpet in the main hall and down the staircase is one of the same patterns that was installed on the Titantic.

*Double porches wrap around one side of the home and there are seating areas scattered throughout. DH and I loved the hanging wicker swings. We could sit and look out towards the Mississippi River. It was great. I grew up in a home with a wide, wooden front porch and the Belle’s porches brought back many childhood memories as I walked across the painted wood that had been warmed by the hot sun all day. It feels so good to your bare feet. There is nothing like a warm southern evening on a front porch.
*The house was named for the steamship, Belle of the Bends, that carried Teddy Roosevelt to Vicksburg in 1908.

*All rooms have 13 ½ foot ceilings and the doors are a remarkable 10 foot in height.

*The main floor is embellished with double crown moundings seperated by a strip of the lovliest Bavarian plaster carvings I have ever seen. Also all windows and doors throughout this gem of architecture are surrounded by double mouldings of cypress that curve at the top. These embellishments are unique to this home.

*There are four very different rooms upstairs for vistors. DH and I stayed in the River Scene room and slept on a bed made in 1840. Actually, there are beds that are even older than the one we slept in at the Belle….At the end of our stay Mary gave us an extensive tour of the entire mansion and every room was beautiful and each have their own bathroom, heart of pine floors, and lovely carpets spread throughout. As we went to bed the first night I literally climbed up on the bed (at one point it was a controlled roll) I wondered aloud about the people who had lived in the house and all of the interesting stories the house could probably tell if it had the power to talk. DH and I pondered over this as we munched on our chocolate covered strawberries “someone” had left on our bed when it was turned down for us.

*Breakfast was at nine each morning. The dining room at the Belle is the most inviting room in the entire mansion. The large table, comfortable chairs, and presentation of food and dishware are exquisite. I was reminded of the wonderful meals that sparked interesting conversations at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello as we breakfasted the second day. Conversations centered on our occupations, history, politics, the state of the South, and of course, education (guess who brought that up?) Each morning we had interesting fellow guests to dine and conversate with as well as our hostess. It was a pure pleasure to meet a wonderful nurse practicioner from Mississipppi the first morning and a lovely couple from Texas the second morning. Mary spared no detail with her table setting and amazingly it was a little different the second day. We navigated several plates, pieces of silverware, and stemware each morning. The second day we even had our own individual cut glass butter dish with domed cover. Oh my! Mary did a perfect job of making everything so elegant yet so simple for those of us who are not high born. My non-Mother’s Day/birthday breakfast was Eggs Benedict my absolute all time favorite.
In my thank-you note to Mary for our stay I told her she and her husband had done a magnificent job of making their home livable yet they have maintained the historical integrity of their home.

Belle of the Bends is an American treasure and they are truly blessed by God to be her caretakers. It was simply the most amazing place to make our headquarters as we walked in history’s footprints over Mother’s Day weekend.

On your next trip to Vicksburg make sure you stay at Belle of the Bend and be sure you tell Mary I sent you!

Follow the link above or here to see more of the Belle.

There will be more pictures this week and I will detail our jaunt through Natchez as well.


Butterfly Angel said...

Hola! You have convinced me to take a visit because of your dynamic use of the written word.

I can't wait for more updates on your mini-vacation!

Hang in there, the school year is about to bite the dust.

Anonymous said...

How lovely! Welcome to MS and regarding your post below...nope the roads stink. Take the Trace down sometime. From Bham take 78 to Tupelo and hit the Trace south. BEAUTIFUL! Good road...Slow...but beautiful.

EHT said...

Butterfly Angel, you won't regret making the trip....I promise.

Kontan, I want to take the Trace loop between Natchez and Vicksburg where there are several plantation homes including the one where Jackson was married. We tried to fit it all in, but you simply can' need at least two to three days. Longwood made the most impact with me. I may write about it first.