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A Southern jewel:2017 Pilgrimage has so far attracted more than 1,000 people from all over the world

The Commercial Dispatch

As sunlight beat down over the magnolias in Clay County Wednesday afternoon, visitors wandered up a gravel road to Waverley Mansion. Kristie Hover -- in her first year every hosting -- greeted them while wearing a flowing red 19th-century style gown, pointing them toward the 200 plus-year-old magnolia tree in front of the mansion and telling them about the ghost who haunts the three-story antebellum home. 

It was halfway through the 77th annual Columbus Pilgrimage, which began March 30, which includes tours at 14 pre-Civil War dwellings -- all but Waverley located in Lowndes County. 

Hover has dressed up and served as hostess at Waverly twice so far, and once each at Temple Heights, Rosewood and Rosedale, all in Columbus. She's met people from as far away as Washington and Arizona. 

"I've had the best time interacting with them and welcoming them out here," she said. "This is just a beautiful neighborhood." 

Since Pilgrimage started with a the first home tours and a kickoff party last Thursday, visitors from nearly 40 states and several foreign countries have toured antebellum homes, taken carriage rides, attended events like Catfish in the Alley or the Mayor's Unity Picnic or strolled through Friendship Cemetery during the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science-led Tales from the Crypt, which had more than 700 visitors its opening night alone.  

Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau, which organizes Pilgrimage, has sold more than 1,000 tickets to home tours, according to CEO Nancy Carpenter. 

"It has really been beyond what we expected," Carpenter said. 

Bad weather sent the kickoff party into the Elks Lodge downtown on Fifth Street, but that didn't stop the 400-plus guests from eating more than 600 pounds of crawfish and 200 pounds of shrimp, along with potatoes, corn and other side dishes, Carpenter said. 

Even more people poured in on Saturday for an early marathon, which hosted 341 runners, followed by food and music at Catfish in the Alley and more food and fellowship at the Mayor's Unity Picnic. 

 

International travelers 

Natella Boulton arrived in Columbus in the middle of Catfish in the Alley with her mother, her two daughters and a slew of other Jackson residents involved in International Friends, a social organization for people who moved to Jackson from other parts of the world. Boulton -- who left Russia to attend Mississippi University for Women and has lived in Mississippi ever since -- headed up a day trip with some of the other members, who came from India, the Philippines, Nepal, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Mexico. 

"We ate at the Jones Cafe -- tried their world-famous catfish -- and then we hopped on a double-decker bus and toured some of the homes," Boulton said. 

Boulton was impressed by the period-specific furnishings and decor of Ole Magnolia, by the historic preservation of Rosedale and by the stories of families who've owned Temple Heights through its history, she said. Her group was pleasantly surprised by a handful of international decorations at Ole Magnolia and was impressed that so many homeowners choose to take the time to spruce up and show off their homes every year. 

"I think it's the people that make it so special, the fact that all of these hosts just open their homes," Boulton said. "This is where they live. ... These are actual homes where people reside and that they open them up for a period of a week a year to treat visitors from all over to the history." 

 

Homeowners 

One such homeowner is Bonnie Hill, who has owned Colonnade Gardens since 2010 and had it on the Pilgrimage since 2011. She doesn't open her home, a house built on Second Street South in 1860, because she has small children, but visitors every year tour the famous gardens out back. It takes her and her husband at least two months every year to prepare the gardens for Pilgrimage, she said. 

"It's gotten a little bit easier every year because there was more work to be done when we first got it," she said Wednesday, standing in the main garden in a pink antebellum dress and lofting a parasol to block the sun while visitors sat on her porch drinking lemonade. "Now we stay on top of it. You're always weeding, you're always fertilizing, you're always putting in something and taking out something that didn't work." 

And those are just gardens. For homeowners showing the interior of their homes, Pilgrimage can take months of preparation. But the homes are one of the things that make Pilgrimage -- and Columbus -- special, Hill said. 

"I just love that we have this history here, that we keep it going and that we continue to attract people who are interested in this," she said. "And that's the only way we'll be able to preserve what's here. I wish more people from Columbus would participate. I want them to be prideful that we have this, because it is a great little jewel for our town." 

 

Pilgrimage events 

Tales from the Crypt 

■ Students from the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science bring Columbus's history to life in Tales from the Crypt. Visitors can take a walk through Friendship Cemetery meeting students performing as real-life figures from the city's past. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for students. The final performance will be Friday, 7-9 p.m. 

 

Pilgrimage Home Tours 

Thursday, April 6 

■ 9 a.m.-noon. The Amzi Love Home at 305 Seventh St. S.; Stephen D. Lee Home/Museum at 316 Seventh St. N.; Whitehall at 607 Third St. S. 

■ 2-5 p.m. White Arches at 122 Seventh Ave. S.; Rosewood Manor Gardens, Chapel and Gazebo at 719 Seventh St. N.; Baskerville Manor at 905 Third Ave. N. 

■ 7-10 p.m. Shadowlawn at 1024 College St.; Errolton at 216 Third Ave. S. 

 

Friday, April 7 

■ 9 a.m.-noon. Rosedale at 1523 Ninth St. S.; Temple Heights and Gardens at 515 Ninth St. N.; Ole Magnolia at 1219 Third Ave. N. 

■ 2-5 p.m. Waverly Mansion Home and Gardens at 1852 Waverly Mansion Road; Colonnade Garden at 620 Second St. S.; Bryn Bella at 1822 Stinson Creek Road 

 

Saturday, April 8 

■ 9 a.m.-noon. White Arches at 122 Seventh Ave. S.; Rosewood Manor Gardens, Chapel and Gazebo at 719 Seventh St. N.; Baskerville Manor at 905 Third Ave. N. 

■ 2-5 p.m. The Amzi Love Home at 305 Seventh St. S.; Stephen D. Lee Home/Museum at 316 Seventh St. N.; Whitehall at 607 Third St. S. 

■ 7-10 p.m. Shadowlawn at 1024 College St.; Errolton at 216 Third Ave. S. 

 

Other events 

■ Carriages rides beginning 9 a.m. every day 

■ Garden party Saturday, 3 p.m.-6 p.m.

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