- Associated Press - Sunday, October 12, 2014

NATCHERZ, Miss. (AP) — As Natchez prepares to celebrate its 300th birthday in 2016, the National Park Service is working to participate while eagerly waiting to blow out its own candles.

The NPS will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2016, and Natchez National Historical Park superintendent Kathleen Jenkins said all the locations throughout the park would be a part the celebration.

“Sometimes people don’t realize that all these sites are like sleeping giants or don’t realize the gems that are right here in Natchez,” Jenkins said. “There will be a lot of activity going on at all of our sites to make sure everything is ready for 2016.”

That work involves renovations and repairs at historic Melrose, the William Johnson House and Fort Rosalie, as well as the potential development of the Forks of the Road site.

NPS officials are also working on a project specific to the Tricentennial in order to showcase a piece of Natchez’s history each day of the year during 2016.

Every day in 2016, the NPS will release a one-minute video that will recap a historical moment in the 300 years of Natchez’s existence that occurred on that day.

Park Service historian Jeff Mansell is leading the project and said the goal is to remind people of the city’s pivotal moments and, hopefully, share some little known Natchez history.

The idea, Mansell said, came from a memory of a similar project used during America’s bicentennial celebration in 1976.

“After the evening news, there was a bicentennial minute, and it was just a one-minute history lesson,” Mansell said. “We kept coming back to that in our meetings, so we said, ‘Why don’t we do that for Natchez and the Tricentennial?’

“We thought it would be a good way to get people interested in the history of the area, while also being a great educational tool and something that involves the whole community.”

Mansell and members of the NPS are working to find events that occurred on that day of the year sometime in the last 300 years.

“We’re combing through diaries, newspapers, books, publications, websites, you name it looking for anything and everything we can find,” Mansell said. “Right now, our goal is to pack the calendar with as much information as possible and then go through and pick the ones we want to use for that day.”

The events will include everything from the July 13, 1863, occupation of Natchez by union troops to the day the Natchez-Adams County Chamber of commerce was established.

Once all the events are collected, Mansell said NPS officials would begin reaching out to community members to help record the audio that will play along with images based on that day’s event.

“We want to involve students, public officials and really just anyone who is interested in helping tell Natchez’s history,” Mansell said. “This is going to be a legacy project for us and will require a lot of work for our staff, but it’s also something we’re going to have fun with and enjoy.”

All roads of Natchez’s 300 years of history can be traced back to one site that sits high atop the bluff and provides a largely undisturbed record of human occupancy including the Americans, the English, the French, the Spanish and the city’s namesake, the Natchez Indians.

Fort Rosalie is the hub of everything Natchez,” Jenkins said. “The fort created the town, and the rest came after that. If not for Fort Rosalie, there would be no Natchez and no State of Mississippi.”

Jenkins said her dream for the site is to create a public promenade somewhere on the bluff that will allow visitors to stand tall and soak in the Mighty Mississippi River.

“We want people to understand that the view is what made the settlement possible,” Jenkins said. “But it’s an ongoing challenge right now.”

That challenge comes with safety aspects of that area of the bluff.

Unlike the portion of the bluff to north, the area around Fort Rosalie is not stabilized.

In order to create an elevated structure that will allow visitors a chance to see the view at Fort Rosalie, Jenkins said the NPS must determine where the safest location might be.

Jenkins said she would be appearing before the Natchez Preservation Commission in the coming months to discuss a plan for that structure and other parts of the Rosalie project.

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Information from: The Natchez Democrat, http://www.natchezdemocrat.com/

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