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Natchez Trace Visitor Center Revisits Days of Old MS

Fri April 30, 2004 - Southeast Edition
Maybelle G. Cagle

In Clinton, MS, heavy equipment is helping recreate life as it may have been more than 200 years ago at a visitors’ center being constructed off the Natchez Trace Parkway.

In conjunction with construction of the center, work is also being done by separate contractors to complete by 2005 the Natchez Trace from Nashville, TN, to Natchez, MS. The Natchez Trace Parkway, which is one of the world’s oldest roads, recorded its heaviest use from 1785 to 1820.

Barnard & Sons Construction of Mendenhall, MS, began building the $1.6-million center last year. The structure is being constructed on a 5 acre (2 ha) site purchased by the city of Clinton. The center is scheduled to be complete by this summer.

A Clinton exit will allow visitors to leave the Natchez Trace to visit the 4,000-sq.- ft. (371.6 sq m) center designed to resemble a 19th century farm home.

“From the conceptual ideas of the building, I wanted something that would reflect early buildings or houses in the Clinton area,” said Clinton Mayor Rosemary Aultman.

She added, “Belinda Stewart, the architect, studied numerous photos and early documents of early dwellings in this area. She then incorporated elements of those designs into the building [porches and terraces, shutters and high ceilings].

“Interestingly enough, many of the early buildings in the area were made of brick, which, of course, was done in a wood mold. Since we were trying to emulate early dwellings, the reproduction wood mold brick was chosen. I think the finished product is quite stunning and gives the building a solid, purposeful appearance,” said Aultman.

Clayton Plunkett of Clinton, who has been supervising construction for Barnard, said the project is different than many other projects he has worked on because of “the quality of the craftsmanship.”

“We have used more master craftsmen,” he said. “There is a lot of fine work in the visitors’ center.”

Clinton formerly was named Mt. Salus. Trace travelers would visit the area and stop for water. The Mt. Salus community became well known to travelers along the Trace for its healthful springs.

Clinton city engineer Richard Broome said the center was designed with “a sense of what older homes would have looked like.”

The city obtained 80 percent funding for the center through the Mississippi Department of Transportation MDOT, because it is associated with a historic roadway.

The remainder of the funding was budgeted for by the city.

An exterior feature of the center is Old Carolina brick, which is created by hand. It has been used on numerous historical restorations, such as Thomas Jefferson’s home, or Monticello, in Virginia; in historical Williamsburg, VA, and Charleston, SC; and at George Washington’s home, known as Mount Vernon.

The bricks are hand molded and fired with coal to provide bisques and colors identical to those seen in brick made more than 200 years ago.

Additional exterior features include wide steps, a bay window, copper flashing, copper gutters, a medallion made from cobblestones and a fountain at the front of the center. Plunkett said Martin windows were used for construction.

The exterior also includes exposed Cypress posts and beams salvaged from a sugar mill plantation being torn down in New Orleans. The wood is approximately 100 years old. Plunkett noted a salvage company helped find the timbers.

Plunkett said between eight and 10 subcontractors were involved with the project.

A variety of equipment was and is being used on the project, including a Case 580M backhoe, which installed a sewer lift.

Barnard & Sons Construction is licensed to work in Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida and Louisiana. The company is 12 years old.

City officials are pleased with the quality work done by Barnard and its subcontractors.

“We plan on the center being here 100 years,” said Broome.

Photo: A Case 580M backhoe loader was used in digging a sewer lift station at the Natchez Trace Visitors’ Center.