Growing up, Stratton Hall hated her name. “I was supposed to be a boy, but when I was born, my grandfather said, ‘Still looks like a Stratton to me,’ so it stuck,” she says. The Natchez, Mississippi, native envied the Sandras and Amandas, her friends who could always find barrettes or stickers bearing their names. But her name came with a positive too—at least for Natchez visitors.
“In the early nineties, people would call 411 to get the number for Stanton Hall and end up with my number,” she says. Tourists were looking for information on one of the Bluff City’s antebellum house museums. “I’d give them the basic rundown for the house and then recommendations on what else to see and where to eat,” Hall says. If they left a voicemail, she’d call them back. “I didn’t want them to think folks in Natchez were rude.”
The ease of those conversations pointed to her later career path: She owned a travel agency before working for the City of Natchez’s office of tourism management. “I traveled all over the world to talk about Natchez,” she says. “I can do that until I’m blue in the face—or people walk away from me.” She’d tout the small city’s large collection of well-preserved antebellum architecture (it surrendered to Union forces during the Civil War), and its prominence along the Mississippi Blues Trail. She’d also point to the city’s all-inclusive welcome. “Natchez has always been accepting of all kinds of people. I know all Southern cities brag on their hospitality, but it’s genuine here.”
Today, the born-and-raised Natcheezian (who notes those who pick Natchez for their home are, in contrast, Natchoozians) is spreading affection for her hometown as the marketing director for the actor and director Tate Taylor’s Natchez-based Crooked Letter Picture Company. “Tate is as passionate about Natchez as I am, and the company’s efforts are focused on supporting entrepreneurs, especially in storytelling and film; the goal is to make Natchez and the rest of Mississippi the film capital of the South,” she says. “I’m just happy to be a part of it.”
Here’s how she describes the perfect day in Natchez:
Rise late and you can still tuck into a hearty morning meal at The Little Easy. “It serves brunch daily until 2 p.m., and there’re lunch options too, but I’m always going with breakfast,” Hall says. The buttermilk-brined fried chicken with a hot-honey drizzle atop waffles is one of her favorites.
Natchez has more than 1,000 structures on The National Register of Historic Places, including multiple column-fronted mansions. But if you only see one, Hall labels Longwood a “can’t miss” for its ornate exterior and bare-bones interior. “It’s the country’s only octagonal mansion and its inside was never finished; the Civil War halted construction.” The site Forks of the Road is the former location of one of the largest slave markets in the South. “It’s a sobering experience everyone should have,” Hall says. A larger interpretive center is in the works. “That will give this spot the emphasis it’s due.”
“The Mississippi River has shaped this area since before Natchez was founded,” Hall says. Exploring it tops her outdoor adventure list. “OutsideIN MS leads kayak tours on the tributaries for wildlife watching,” she says. “Sunsets on the river—the vibrant pink, purple, and orange reflecting off the water—are magical,” She recommends the riverside Bluff Park for soaking in the day’s disappearance; it’s where her boss Taylor is opening the Beti, an indoor/outdoor eatery and bar in an old train depot, scheduled to open in early 2023.
“Sometimes, I just pop in to smell stuff,” Hall says of Mother’s Natchez, a boutique brimming with aromatic and Southern-made items including all-natural candles, bath products, and herbal teas. “Everything is focused on nurturing yourself.”
Find local creativity at the ArtsNatchez gallery. “From pottery to watercolors, it’s all made by Natchez people.”
The 20,000 square feet of Darby’s Famous Fudge & Gifts sells goods from baby clothes and handbags to Christmas ornaments and birthday cards. “It’s everything you can imagine, plus fudge.”
For dinner, Hall says the Castle Restaurant—once a carriage house—at the Dunleith Historic Inn, reigns. “The Godchaux salad is loaded with crab meat, boiled shrimp, capers, and boiled egg, and covered in remoulade. It’s a meal.” At Smoot’s Grocery Blues Lounge juke joint, enjoy “cold drinks and good bands—blues to country—with a friendly vibe.”