Natchhez Trace Parkway – Day 3

Natchez Trace – Bike for the Cure – Day 3 – Tupelo to French Camp MS

We drove back to the Natchez Trace Visitor Center to start our ride this morning. Sherri took off first and rode about 10 miles while Mary Ann moved the car ahead. We saw several historical points of interest today.

First we saw the site of a Chickasaw Village showing the typical layout, with a round building built for warmth in the winter and a long building that would be cooler in summer. They shifted their settlement location as needed, often for better defense, gaining a reputation as unconquerable.

Then the area where Hernando de Soto, a Spanish explorer crossed the animal paths that later became the Natchez Trace. De Soto is credited with discovering the Mississippi River south of Memphis, TN in 1541. There was an overlook onto the Black Belt Prairie, an area that was once under the ocean, deposits of shells and marine organisms formed limestone, which gradually changed into a heavy fertile black soil.

Tockshish, a community of Indians and white men, was established by British agent John McIntosh prior to 1770. It became the second Post Office between Nashville and Natchez, where post riders exchanged horses after riding for five days, it would take them another seven to reach Natchez.

We continued alternating riding and driving until about 2:00 p.m. when we went off the Parkway to find a bite to eat. The most accessible place appeared to be Mathison, just .8 miles off the Parkway. It turned out to be the perfect choice, as we found the 3 Star Restaurant right away and met some friendly folks who recommended we stay in the Bed and Breakfast in French Camp, about 25 miles down the Natchez Trace. They were curious about our bike ride so I gave them a flyer, coincidentally, they knew a family in French Camp affected by Huntington’s Disease. We talked in the parking lot for so long, we almost missed out, as the restaurant closed at 3:00 p.m. and we walked through the door at 2:40 p.m. We had a delicious lunch, splitting a catfish platter complete with hush puppies! Oh, and they gave us 2 apples a piece, for our bike ride. Mary Ann said they had short changed themselves and should have called it the Five Star Restaurant!

We got back on the Trace and tried to ride to French Camp, but sure enough, 3 miles down the road it started to seriously thunder, so we loaded up and drove the rest of the way to French Camp, an historical village and the home of the French Camp Academy, a non-profit Christian boarding school for students who are in need of a stable home environment. We met the proprietor Cissy, at the B & B. Our friends from the restaurant had secured a room for us. She was so gracious, after we unloaded our bikes in the pouring rain, she insisted we bring them in, dripping wet, and take them through the lobby area out to the covered front porch. Word had gotten around and the gentleman who had lost family members to Huntington’s stopped by to visit. We had a nice visit and exchanged email addresses. A young lady from Lodi, CA, who had been bicycling the Trace came in to change clothes. She had had 3 flat tires and decided to cut her losses and head back home. Before she headed home to California, she donated her bicycle to the French Camp Academy. A friend of Cissy had rescued her from the Natchez Trace and was giving her a ride to Jackson. Talk about Southern hospitality!!

Sherri and Mary Ann

What a great day Sherri and Mary Ann had! Finding the French Camp Academy must have been one of their highlights of the ride. Here is a bit more about the Academy. In 1885, a group of Scot-Irish immigrants founded the French Camp Academy as a boarding school for boys. Today, this coed facility is a not-for-profit boarding school for children in need of a ”stable home environment where they are loved and wanted.” Besides a rigorous academic program, students are exposed to a curriculum ranging from farming to computer skills. The restored 1846 Drane House immediately greets visitors as they walk onto the academy grounds from the Parkway. The rooms are furnished with period furniture. The Huffman Log Cabin (1840) was relocated to this site and currently houses a gift shop and restaurant. This log cabin restaurant is locally famous for its potato soup, plus their homemade bread. How special it was that Sherri and Mary Ann found their way to this place!

From the home front, Marie