|Jeanette Feltus in Linden House, Natchez, Mississippi|
|View from Veranda of Linden House|
“Howdy Do”, Jeanette Feltus called out with a bright morning lilt, taking time out from instructions to the gardener on the need for more moth balls to distract deer from the shrubs. “How ya’ doin?” she asked in her bright yellow pants suit, flowered jacket and large costume earrings. She hadn’t slowed since we met the night before when she dealt out opinions on food, drink and which plantations to visit in Natchez, Mississippi on a limited schedule. Jeannette represents the sixth generation of the O’Connor family living in Linden House and has been instrumental in its survival.
|Grounds of Linden House in Natchez, Mississippi|
Natchez lies on a bluff above the Mississippi River contributing to its reputation as a healthy locale where almost all large 19th century cotton plantations owners in Mississippi built majestic homes for their families. With the largest number of millionaires per capita in the United States at the time, Natchez was the place to be in the 1800s. Surprisingly, it voted not to secede from the Union. When the Blue Army arrived from New Orleans, locals chose not to resist strongly, saving itself from the torched remains of other cities. Today, the largest array of pre-civil war antebellum homes in the South has found new life with tours and bed and breakfast offerings, including our Linden House.
Breakfast was served promptly at 8:30 a.m. Around the extended dining room table were three Australian women, two Dutch men, an English couple and a sweet young couple from nearby Ferriday, probably celebrating a wedding anniversary. I was surprised at the heavy foreign presence, especially in a small town losing population and off the beaten path. One Australian woman confided they were fascinated by Southern traditions and BBQ and thought its people like our innkeeper were charmingly different.
|Jeanette Feltus giving tour of Linden House|
After breakfast, Jeanette gave a free tour of the house built in 1790 and owned by the O’Connor family since 1829. According to family lore, the first Mrs. O’Connor faced down Union soldiers, threatening to destroy her furniture before giving it over. Jeanette’s husband, Rufus Feltus, was really the descendant and after buying out four other heirs, the couple restored the home and added air conditioning. The exterior was just as one would imagine for a southern plantation. It was the model for Percy Faith’s album cover featuring Tara’s theme song from Gone With The Wind (minus the cobwebs, Jeanette added).
|High bed in Dick’s Room|
Inside the house, Mrs. Feltus had a running commentary on each item. An old coffee maker that works like a still – “I wouldn’t know”. Painting of an ancestor – “Beautiful painting but ugly subject.” Genealogy book that traces family back to Alfred the Great – “So they say. I don’t know.” There were beautiful oil portraits of her daughters as young women and of her husband but none of her. Unhappy with the results of her own likeness, she relegated the painting to a closet. Some rooms had special histories. Ours was Dick’s Room, named after her father-in-law who was born in that space and stayed there always when visiting.
|Veranda at Linden House, Natchez, Mississippi|
Ahead of her time, Jeanette had wanted to be a lawyer but agreed to try teaching history in Natchez first. Her husband’s family owned successful hardware stores in several states. Based on that introduction, Jeanette was welcomed into Natchez society. But she was no idle Southern Belle. Her home was the center of their children’s social life including ping pong on the veranda. She participated in the active Garden Club that started the preservation of homes in Natchez. And she helped organize the Annual Antique Forum now in its 38th year and was quick to point out this is not an antique fair. Speakers from across the country lecture on sophisticated subjects. In 2015, participants will investigate the relationship between the American South and the cultural phenomenon of the European Grand Tour.
Mrs. Feltus candidly admitted concern for the future of the home. Her daughters were on the “dark side of 50” with no descendants. Maybe a cousin would step in. Maybe a foundation could be formed. This is not an isolated problem for Natchez plantation owners. With the cost of maintenance and upkeep so high, only six bed and breakfast homes still remain in “the family”. But I have no doubt Jeanette Feltus will find a solution. She has the grit of Scarlett O’Hara and the humor of Dolly Parton – a charming combination that guarantees success. Natchez’ inventory of plantations will need more people like her to survive.