There are a lot of framed pictures and articles on the walls at Under-The-Hill-Saloon. This article isn't dated and doesn’t say who wrote it, but it has been hanging by the saloon’s front door for years.
With the sudden influx of Spanish-milled dollars, things changed around Natchez Under-the-Hill. The swift rise in trade with Mexico and the Spanish West Indies brought strange craft to Natchez. Under the hill suddenly became a place where adventurers flocked to seek easy fortunes. It underwent a mushroom growth. Flatboats, Kentucky Arks, and un-seaworthy sailing vessels that transported farm produce from up river were purchased, quickly dismantled and taken onshore to be raised on brick bases. Thus, seasoned timber from the upper reaches of the river was utilized in building America’s first pre-fabricated homes.
The main streets of this old town, under-the-hill, were three in number and each was considerably more than a mile long. They formed tiers or terraces running parallel with the river and each sloped at a sharp angle to make a hairpin loop. Innumerable little cross streets zigzagged up and down the hill. There was absolutely no attempt at beauty. The lowest of these was known as Water Street. As its name implies, this narrow street was bounded on the west by the Mississippi River and on the east by a towering bluff. The warehouses, wharves, and main shops on Water Street stood on pilings. In the rear they jutted far out over the murky, lapping waters of the Mississippi. Many were legitimate business establishments, but others were dens of vice. In the back rooms of the latter were trap doors, presumably for the disposal of garbage, but Natchez eventually learned to her sorrow that they had other more sinister uses.
Natchez under-the-hill owed its early wealth and prestige to river commerce, as newcomers arrived by nearly every boat. It soon became good judgment to ask no questions. An inquisitive remark or ill-considered jest might bring sudden death.
Above the Hill Description
The upper street, called Silver, was lined with buildings of a better and more permanent sort. Structures on its outer rim were usually two or more stories high. They fitted into the bluff, one floor flush with Middle or Royal Street and the upper and more pretentious ones opening on Silver. The Kentucky Tavern, The Natchez Hotel and later The Steamboat Hotel were buildings of this type.
Houses on the inner side of this street burrowed against an almost perpendicular bluff of brittle loess soil. Tales are still rife of the cavernous chambers secretly excavated behind many of these buildings. Designed to conceal contraband goods, they later figured in many bloody crimes and caused landslides in several instances.
Landslides and Earthquakes
Almost from the beginning of time, Natchez under-the-hill suffered from gradual erosion and recurrent landslides. As early as 1797, Andrew A. Ellicott, the noted surveyor, stated that the Mississippi River was gradually moving eastward and for that reason, no map of the front of Natchez could long remain accurate. Old maps and deeds show that more than one hundred and sixty acres have caved off the front of Natchez since the upper town was laid out.
The first and most frightful disaster of which we have knowledge came in the winter of 1811. It was an earthquake of such intensity and vastness that it changed the bed of the Mississippi River in many places.
Natchez was at the extreme southern edge of the disturbance. Violent swells, sudden slides, floating trees, and recurrent tremors made life hideous. Boat after boat came sailing crazily past the landing without a man aboard. Bales of fur, barrels of flour and whiskey and rafts loaded with hardwoods were there for the picking. Reelfoot Lake in Tennessee is a memento of this awful year when all nature seemed to go on the rampage.
Natchez under the hill bore the brunt of all the treacherous eddies, swollen currents and tidal wave visitations. Subterranean thunderings loosened pilings and sent houses tumbling into the rushing water. One night a huge bluff broke loose and crashed down with the roar of a cataract. It carried trees and buried a number of buildings in an avalanche of silt.
Other accounts have been written telling of landslides. In 1858, The Natchez Courier carried a news item of a landslide and on March 31, 1949, The Natchez Democrat carried one.
Today all that remains of Natchez under the hill is Silver Street and a few buildings staring across the restless ramblings of the muddy Mississippi. Today only The Silver Street, Ltd., a saloon, The River Boat Gift Shop, The Cock-of-the-Walk and the Natchez Landing are doing business at Natchez under-the-hill.
Since this article was written there have been some more changes. As for businesses under-the-hill:
the saloon, Silver Street, Ltd., (Under-The-Hill-Saloon) is still opened 7 days a week
The River Boat Gift Shop is open for business
But the Cock-of-the-Walk has moved to the top of the hill
And the Natchez Landing restaurant is only opened a couple of days a week.
A newer business is the Isle of Capri casino that is docked at the old boat landing and its offices occupy several buildings along Silver Street.