A Natchez woman has been hosting tours of her antebellum home for 60 years

Published 12:57 pm Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Jeanette Feltus looks inside her home at Linden Saturday in Natchez. (Nicole Hester, The Natchez Democrat)

Originally from Oxford and a proud graduate of Millsaps College in Jackson, Jeanette Feltus has been hosting tours at antebellum Linden in Natchez for approximately 60 years.

Coming from a family of educators, Feltus said she was always in the library when she was in college.

“I studied hard,” Feltus said. “I took pre-law there, but girls didn’t go to law school when I wanted to go.”

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Feltus came to Natchez to work at Braden Elementary School. Feltus said she loved teaching, she had wonderful students, and it was always a challenge.

What Feltus said she hated, however, was having a class the last period of the day. She said everyone including the teachers were counting down the minutes and wondering what they were doing there.

“I thought if there was something that would interest them, besides sitting in a classroom then maybe we could learn more,” Feltus said.

Feltus said she made a deal with her class that if everyone had kept up with their lessons and had good discussions for four days out of five, she would take them to get ice cream next door and have class outside. All or nothing, she said. If any one of them didn’t keep up with their lessons it would result in everyone missing out.

Feltus said soon she had parents coming up to her asking what she was doing, because their children had never studied so hard.

“I told them they could thank their classmates,” Feltus said. “If one student didn’t do it, there was no ice cream. They all got punished.”

Eventually, she said, the principal of the school called her up and said she couldn’t take her class to go get ice cream, because she was taking them off campus.

“I said, ‘You can’t imagine how this ice cream is teaching them history,’” Feltus said.

She soon found a workaround. Feltus said she started walking her students to the fence, right to the edge of where the campus meets the parking lot of The Malt Shop on Homochitto Street.

Then, she would leave campus to make orders for her class, so she could continue to give them ice cream as a reward for them doing their work.

Her teaching career lasted only a couple years, she said, but to this day her former students will see her downtown and start quoting the Gettysburg Address and reminisce about being in her classroom.

She was in her second year of teaching when she met her future husband, Richard. Feltus said she had wanted to earn a doctorate degree but got married and had two daughters instead, a decision she said she does not regret.

“Everyone has to live their life that means the most to them,” Feltus said. “I’m very fortunate, I have a nice life and wonderful family.”

Jeanette Feltus stands in front of her home at Linden Saturday in Natchez. (Nicole Hester, The Natchez Democrat)

Feltus said when she first moved in to Linden, she would take the children to school, and borrow a pile of books from the library to learn about the Federal period, the period in which the Linden house was built and the era of the furnishings she used in the house.

“Even today I like to read and come up with true knowledge,” Feltus said.

As she sat in the drawing room, Feltus began pointing to different pieces of furniture and discussing what each feature meant. How it was specific to a certain era, a technique, marking or carving, something that would be missed by the untrained eye, something akin to studying a dying language that takes research, understanding of the past and paying attention to detail.

Feltus said she loves the antiques forum in New Orleans and still goes every year. Even before she was married she said she attended antique forums.

“I don’t do as much research as I used to,” she said. “I play more bridge.”

Now Feltus said she enjoys sharing her knowledge of her house and everything in it during Pilgrimage. After 60 or so years of presenting at Linden, Feltus said, she still appreciates getting to know the people who stay at her bed and breakfast.

“I enjoy meeting people from other parts of the world and especially the United States,” she said. “And getting their reaction to our Southern town, which is unique.”

She said people love Natchez’s houses, and the Southern hospitality. Feltus said she tells them you’ll never meet a stranger in the South.

“Anyone who comes,” she said, “offers something to our country or to our society, to our way of living, to our world. It takes all of us doing a little something to get to something greater down the road. I just think, you know, thank you, Lord for letting me get to 85 and come up with this attitude, that we all offer something, good, bad or indifferent but because we do we are a better world.”