Natchez's Eola Hotel
Story and photographs by Kathleen Walls - American Roads Magazine
Natchez was a city born of the river. It’s very existence came about because of its proximity to the “Old Man River.” Inhabited by the last great mound builders in America, They built the Grand Village of the Natchez, which today is preserved as a national historic site.
Then in the 1690s, the French realizing that whoever controlled the river controled the entire continent, established Fort Rosalie on the bluff overlooking the river at the place we call Natchez today. They were followed by the English (1763), the Spanish (1779), and finally the Americans (1797) .To each of these ethnic groups, it was always The River that made Natchez such a prized piece of real estate.
When cotton became king in Mississippi prior to the War Between the States, Natchez was at its zenith. Again the river can be credited. Planters all over the delta switched from tobacco and indigo to the more profitable cotton. They developed vast holding there but the inland delta was low and swampy. The plantations were miles apart with no easy access for socializing. Natchez became the sun about which the wealthiest planters revolved. They built graceful homes there and remained for much of the year, visiting the overseer run plantation when necessary. Natchez became the glittering social hub rivaled only by New Orleans. In the 1800’s Natchez had a larger percent of millionaires than any other American city
Naturally, the War Between the States changed Natchez forever but because of its river location and port facilities, it recovered much better than the rest of the south.
The 1900s saw Natchez once again as a glittering playground for wealthier visitors. One entrepreneur, a Mr. Isodore Levy, saw the need for a great hotel similar to those in Europe here in Natchez. He called in the prestigious firm of Weiss, Dreyfous, and Seiferth. Charles E Weiss designed the building to last for the ages. He made seven stories, the tallest building in Natchez-it still is. He gave it a European opulence it still maintains. No expense was spared. When it was completed it was named in “Eola” in memory of the Levy’s pretty 16-year-old daughter who did not live to see her magnificence namesake. In July 1927, The Natchez Eola opened to rave reviews in local and out of town newspapers.
By 1932, it was made the headquarters for the Natchez Spring Pilgrimage. The Pilgrimage is the city’s premier event that sees thousands of visitors flock to Natchez to visit the magnificent Antebellum and Victorian homes that open to the public during this event. Then as now, the Eola with her graceful interior, arched doorways, antique furnishings, marble trim, stately columns and New Orleans style courtyard was the place to stay.
Time as always took her toll on the opulent hotel. By the 1960s, the old hotel was showing her age badly. It closed in 1974. Then, in 1978, new owners who appreciated the faded beauty bought the Eola. They spent six and a half million dollars restoring it to its former magnificence. It was money well spent. Today, from the moment you enter the lobby you are enveloped in old-world luxury.
One thing did not change over the years: Mr. Levy seems to still be firmly in place keeping “his” hotel functioning well. The staff is aware he is there checking. Patti Jenkins, hotel business manager, told me of one staff encounters with the former owner.
“Several years ago, lounge was still on 7th floor. An elderly white-haired gentleman stepped up to the bar and ordered a drink. The bartender, a new employer, turned around to mix it. When she returned to face the bar, the customer was gone. She called downstairs in case he had gone there to let him know the drink was ready but no one there had ordered it. That night as she left the hotel, she noticed a portrait hanging in the lobby. ‘That’s him. That’s the man who ordered the drink,’ she stated.
The older employers informed her that was a portrait of Mr. Levy.”
Other employees have reported seeing a man resembling the portrait around the hotel at various times. However, the former owner is not the only member of his family still in residence.
Young Eola, even though she never lived in the hotel seems to be cavorting around her namesake hotel. She has been seen around the hotel and in the dining room. Although, Patti has never actually seen Eola, she has caught Eola rearranging things in her office. Now, just anyone can’t access Patti’s office. Only she and the manager, Ron Brumfield, have a key to it. However she found that often when she had locked her office someone had still gotten in and played around with papers and items there. It wasn’t Ron so that left Eola. She had that confirmed one day when she was working in the office and suddenly the fax machine came on without anyone touching it.
Perhaps the novelty appeals to the spirit to a young girl.
If you found this interesting, you will want to read my upcoming book, Hosts With Ghosts, due out in mid-2007.