In less than 200 miles, the hyper, super-charged hustle and bustle of New Orleans’ French Quarter transformed dreamily into my mental image of The Old South. Frank Sinatra’s emotional rendition of Old Man River played as I slowly approached the magnificent façade of Monmouth Plantation. I could imagine Melanie and Ashley Wilkes coming over from Twelve Oaks for a party under the elms.
Monmouth dates to 1818, when the stately house was constructed by the Natchez postmaster. Eight years later, the venerable John Quitman purchased the property, and for the next century, descendants of Quitman lived at Monmouth. Quitman’s various positions in law, business, and politics (he was a two-term governor of Mississippi and twice a U.S. vice-presidential candidate) enabled him to create a masterpiece in Natchez. The Civil War, however, took its toll on the 26-acre sanctuary, and the estate went into decline. In the late 1970s, Ron and Lani Riches bought the property, with a vision of restoring the buildings and grounds to their antebellum grandeur. They have succeeded admirably.
Fine wine and American whiskies dominate the bar at the ornate 1818 Restaurant. Juleps, bourbons, ryes, Tennessee whiskey and cocktails all set the tone for maximum enjoyment in this elegant environment. With my double Maker’s Mark and ice in hand, I strolled the grounds in the warm, golden twilight. As if illuminated by magic, the Chef’s Herb Garden,
the classic architecture of the Reuben Harper Sanctuary, and the Pond – complete with croaking frogs –
shimmered with feelings of a genteel life of another century.