Last Fall, I had the opportunity to ride my bike along the Southern portion of the Natchez Trace Parkway, a 444 mile long National Park that stretches from Nashville, Tennessee, across the northwest corner of Alabama, and down to Natchez, Mississippi.
My ride on the Natchez Trace did not actually start in Natchez, at the beginning of the 444 mile stretch of road. It actually began just south of mile marker nine at Brandon Hall Plantation, where I had spent the night. The morning of the “big ride” I sat down to a lovely breakfast with the owner of Brandon Hall, located just a few yards off the Trace.
Kaiser Harriss, after a few years working in finance, decided he wanted to slow down and returned to his home town of Natchez and bought Brandon Hall with his wife Ashley two years ago. They both live on the property and are committed into maintaining its status as one of the premier wedding and bed and breakfast venues not just in Natchez, but in all of Mississippi.
The history of the property goes back to 1788, when it first passed into private ownership when the then King of Spain granted nearly 800 acres to an American, Frederick Calvit. Over the next three quarters of a century, the property changed hands several times until acquired through inheritance by Gerard and Charlotte Brandon in 1853, and they immediately began construction of Brandon Hall.
Gerard Brandon III was the oldest son of one of Mississippi’s first governors, and the house was designed as a political entertainment home, boasting one of the largest ballrooms in a private dwelling in the state. The property at the time was close to 48,000 acres (although not contiguous) and included nearly 700 slaves, many of whom built the house.
Although the house was built as a “plantation house” there were no crops in the immediate vicinity, but Brandon had land throughout the state as well as considerable holdings in neighboring Louisiana.
After Brandon and his wife died, the property changed hand numerous times, and with each sale, the vast acreage diminished. By 1983, only 40 acres remained and the house had fallen into disrepair. The Defenthal family, who purchased the estate that year, undertook a massive renovation, giving the house and remaining land a much needed facelift as well as addressing many of the structural issues that had arisen after decades of neglect.
Like the city of Natchez, according to Kaiser, Brandon Hall had “focused on the pretty but now seeking a balance between the pretty and the past.” There is the Concord Tour in Natchez that visits some of the slaves quarters in town, and there are two cottages at Brandon Hall that were constructed during the ’80s renovation, that were built to resemble what would have been slave housing before the Civil War.
After a delightful chat with Kaiser, it was time to hop on my bike–I had 100 miles of riding along the Natchez Trace ahead of me. It had been a while since I had ridden that kind of distance, but after a restful stay at Brandon Hall, I could not have been more ready.
Walking the grounds for a bit before I set off on my ride, there was both a sense of serenity from the beauty of the landscape and a solemnity given its history. Brandon Hall embraces both aspects of its divergent personality, rendering a visit there impactful.
As I made my way down the gravel drive and to the Trace, Kaiser was busy preparing for a 100 person or so wedding, but he paused and gave a friendly wave with a toothy smile as I imagine many of the inhabitants of Brandon Hall have provided for their departing guests.
For more information on Brandon Hall, visit Brandonhallplantation.com