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Preserving History: Natchez Board Hears About Old River Toll Booth and Historic Homes

By John Mott Coffey, with News Mississippi affiliate WQNZ

NATCHEZ, Miss.–The Natchez Board of Aldermen on Wednesday awarded Thompson Tree and Spraying Service a $430,000 contract to reconstruct the historic Colonnades at the Natchez Visitors Center.

The 1940 structure was once the toll booth plaza people drove through to get to the Mississippi River bridge. The wood columns are rotting and need to be replaced.

About $500,000 in state funds are earmarked for the project with $32,000 in city funds set aside as a local match if needed.

Dick Thompson’s company – part of his Live Oak nursery and construction businesses in Natchez – was by far the lowest of two bidders for the Colonnades restoration. Dozer of Natchez bid $1.1 million to do the work. Dozer is erecting the Bridge of Sighs that will cross over Roth Hill Road at the bluffs.

At its meeting Wednesday, the Board of Aldermen also heard City Judge Tony Heidelberg report that the owner of Arlington is making progress repairing the dilapidated antebellum mansion as ordered by the court. While it’ll be difficult to fully restore the historic landmark into pristine, livable condition, Tom Vaughan is trying to make it look better, Heidelberg said. Graffiti is being spray-blasted off the house and a gate has been placed at the entrance to the John Quitman Parkway estate.

“We’re working with him to get things done,” the judge said.

The city took Vaughan to municipal court for violating ordinances requiring properties be kept up. While fines have been assessed against him for neglecting the mansion, Vaughan has not been required to pay the penalties as he makes strides fixing the house, Heidelberg said.

“As long as he’s making progress, there is no reason to fine him,” he said.

The mansion was built around 1818 and has been designated a national historic landmark. Long vacant, the house was seriously damaged by fire several years ago. Vaughan does not want to sell the house that’s been in his family for many years, said Heidelberg, who noted he meets regularly with Vaughan to review what’s being done to upgrade the property.

Natchez Fire Department Chief Oliver Stewart reported to the Board of Aldermen that the Fridayafternoon fire at Darby’s store on Main Street was caused by a top-floor ceiling chandelier’s electrical wire shorting out and igniting Christmas decorations in storage. As NFD firefighters are being praised for their work quelling the fire, Steward noted how difficult it was to contain the flames to Darby’s upper floor and keep it from spreading to adjacent Main Street buildings.

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