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Showcase for Antebellum Homes Displays Their Finery. But What About the History?

U.S.Showcase for Antebellum Homes Displays Their Finery. But What About the History?

Each spring, Columbus, Miss., has opened its Civil War-era homes to visitors. Some say the event should reflect more the oppression behind the architecture, and how the city has changed since.

WHY WE’RE HERE

We’re exploring how America defines itself one place at a time. In Mississippi, a tradition of house tours is about more than architecture. It’s a window into how a city sees its past and its ambitions for the future.


Reporting from Columbus, Miss.

Women in hoop dresses ushered visitors one April morning into the grand old house known as Riverview, showing off the hand-carved wooden chairs, oil paintings, tapestries and gilded mirrors brought from around the world to the estate in Mississippi.

The house stood as a testament to the prosperity that had flowed before the Civil War in Southern cities like Columbus, just over the border from Alabama, as fertile soil and the labor of enslaved workers built fortunes.

It was also a highlight of the longstanding tradition known as Pilgrimage. Every spring, the city’s finest antebellum homes are opened to the public for a few weeks, inviting people in to marvel at the craftsmanship and the opulence.

The event took its name from the belief among its organizers that Pilgrimage was just that — a journey to houses whose grandeur, scale and history represent something sacred for Mississippi and all of the South. Homeowners and docents often dress in period clothing to facilitate the time travel.

“We have a culture here that is something to be admired and respected,” said Dick Leike, the owner of Riverview. “This is a prime example of it.”

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