Highway 61 in Mississippi may be called the Blues Highway, but there is much more to it than the Blues. After my first long drive from Kentucky to Vicksburg, I woke up early the next day to visit the Vicksburg National Military Park before heading south on Highway 61.
The park preserves the site of the American Civil War Battle of Vicksburg, waged from May 18 to July 4, 1863 and also commemorates the greater Vicksburg Campaign, which preceded the battle. The expansive park includes 1,340 historic monuments and markers, 20 miles of historic trenches and earthworks, a 16-mile tour road, 144 emplaced cannons, a restored gunboat (the USS Cairo which sunk on December 12, 1862, on the Yazoo River, recovered successfully in 1964), and more. The Illinois State Memorial has 47 steps, one for every day Vicksburg was besieged.
Nearly 95% of the 1,340 monuments, markers, tablets and plaques, were erected prior to 1917.
I drove a good part of the main road through the park and didn’t have lots of time to stop and look at all of the monuments, plaques and other items. I kind of just shot those that struck me as unique or interesting. Following are a few more
One of the most visited locations on the property appears to be the Illinois Memorial. It was dedicated on October 26, 1906. There are forty-seven steps in the long stairway, one for each day of the Siege of Vicksburg. Modeled after the Roman Pantheon, the monument has sixty unique bronze tablets lining its interior walls, naming all 36,325 Illinois soldiers who participated in the Vicksburg Campaign.
There are apparently 144 cannon emplaced throughout the grounds. These were placed strategically such that one can envision what it may have been like during the war.
A few other scenes from Vicksburg’s Military Park
Indeed, an entire day could be spent visiting the numerous monuments, historical sites and cemeteries at Vicksburg. Further, a complete blog post could be dedicated to this powerful Civil War park. But, there is more in Vicksburg than just this park.
One usually thinks Atlanta when thinking about Coca Cola. But, not too far removed from the National Military Park is the Biedenharn Coca Cola Museum. The museum houses a wide variety of exhibits interpreting the beginnings of Coca-Cola, the history of the Biedenharn family, the process used to first bottle Coca-Cola, a reproduction of the equipment first used to bottle Coke, the history of Coca-Cola advertising, and Coca-Cola memorabilia from past to present.
As with my many other trips, I am always on the lookout for wall murals. There are a number along a wall that parallels the train tracks. Hard to get to from my location that day, I snapped a few shots through the fence. Not my favorite way to do things….
And finally…something to smile about….beautiful tree flowers on a tree in Vicksburg
After the lovely morning spent in Vicksburg it was time to continue south on US Hwy 61. The drive from Vicksburg south had many more trees and was more scenic than the northern Mississippi section of US Hwy 61.
The next stop along the way was the scenic little town of Port Gibson, MS. The town has some lavish 19th century homes and some unique places as well.
Many of the town’s historic buildings survived the Civil War because Grant proclaimed the city to be “too beautiful to burn.” These words appear on the town’s welcome signs, as shown above. Historic buildings in the city include the Windsor Ruins, which have been shown in several motion pictures. Unfortunately, they were quite a drive out of town and my scheduled didn’t allow for me to take that detour.
Perhaps one of the most unique things I saw in Port Gibson was the steeple of the First Presbyterian Church. It is definitely a one of a kind steeple!
The “Hand Pointing to Heaven” is the unique feature of this Romanesque Revival style edifice. The first hand was carved from wood by Daniel Foley, a young local craftsman. The ravages of time, however, destroyed it; and around 1901, the present hand was commissioned and installed. It was taken down in 1989 to be repaired and replated. It was raised again in 1990 and placed atop a newly re-enforced steeple.
Of course, like many of the Hwy 61 towns, Port Gibson is steeped in Blues Music tradition. The Rabbit’s Foot Company (also known as the Rabbit’s Foot Minstrels) was established in 1900 by Pat Chappelle, an African-American theatre owner in Tampa, Florida, who owned the leading travelling vaudeville show, with an all-black cast of singers, musicians, comedians and entertainers in the southern states. After his death in 1911, the company was taken over by Fred Swift Wolcott (1882-1967), a white farmer, who based the touring company in Port Gibson after 1918 and continued to run it until 1950. The Rabbit’s Foot Company remained popular, but was no longer considered “authentic.” A historic marker on the Mississippi Blues Trail has been placed by the Mississippi Blues Commission in Port Gibson, commemorating the contribution that The Rabbit’s Foot Company made to the development of the blues in Mississippi.
There are other remnants of the past that can be seen in this little town on the Mississippi.
Used as a movie theater in the past, it was closed but in the 1980s the ‘WestSide TheAter” served as a night club and entertainment spot, even as late as 2011 (according to Facebook).
This old relic of a neon sign above is actually more than it shows. In fact, it is also a relic of the early 1900s Jewish heritage that once thrived in Port Gibson, MS. According to a 1991 article in the New York Times, “The first Jews came to Port Gibson in the 1840’s from German states and Alsace-Lorraine. They were itinerant peddlers, carrying their wares in 75-pound packs on their backs. Then, as Port Gibson began competing with Vicksburg and Natchez in both commerce and the glory of its antebellum homes, the Jewish community became a bulwark of the town’s economy, and newspaper advertisements were filled with names like Bernheimer, Marx, Meyer, Cahn, Traxler and Ullman.” The old neon sign reading H. Frishman-Red Goose Shoes is all that remains on a building now occupied by Mississippi: Cultural Crossroads, a community center mostly serving the town’s predominantly black youth. The only other remnant of the once thriving Jewish heritage is the old synagogue with a Moorish Dome, which was restored in 1991.
Today, Port Gibson appears to be predominantly black in population. Most, if not all, of the Jews moved away years ago. Scenes like the man on the porch below were quite common on my trip. It was obvious that poverty thrives in these small Mississippi towns.
After my long visit to Port Gibson, I was back on US 61 heading south towards Natchez, MS. On the way I stopped by the “Old Country Store” in Lorman…more for a look see than to stop and eat (mainly because I had plans to stop at another cool place to eat just down the road — see below!). They claim to have the “World’s Best Fried Chicken.”
Though I honestly missed out due to schedule, I did learn that people travel for hours to partake of Mr “D”s ‘Heavenly Fried Chicken’. On their menu: An all-you-can-eat lunch buffet is served from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. seven days a week. The buffet includes fried chicken and other meats (sometimes catfish and ribs), tossed salad, cucumber/tomato salad, potato salad, coleslaw, mac & cheese, corn on the cob, green beans, turnip greens, dirty rice, field peas, sweet potatoes, dressing and cornbread. All for about $10. And owner Arthur Davis (Mr. “D”) entertains diners by singing a song about his Grand Mama’s cornbread. Sounds fun and too bad I didn’t have the time!
A visit into Natchez was really not meant to be, so I continued south of of town to the Mammy’s Cupboard Cafe….the epitome of vintage novelty architecture.
Built in the 1940s, this unique place is a MUST SEE and MUST STOP destination if anywhere close.
The woman’s skirt holds a dining room and a gift shop. The skirt is made out of bricks, and the earrings are horseshoes. She is holding a serving tray while smiling. Mammy’s Cupboard has been through several renovations, the exterior has been repaired and the interior refurbished.
All of the food is home made. I had a nice sandwich with their wonderful homemade bread. But their homemade cake was to die for!! I couldn’t resist….
From Natchez I finished the last leg of the Mississippi portion of US 61 through Woodville and into Louisiana.
And into Louisiana….
From the Louisiana/Mississippi border I continued south towards Baton Rouge. From the highway the tallest State Capitol Building in the US can be plainly seen.
I continued past Baton Rouge into Plaquemine, LA, where I would finally leave Hwy 61 and get on Louisiana Hwy 1. Another town worth a visit, no time on this trip to explore.
As I noted above, I didn’t have time to visit Plaquemine because I had another objective on this portion of the trip. First off, I exited onto Louisiana Hwy 1, the longest numbered highway of any class in Louisiana. This is a scenic byway along the Mississippi River, which I took into White Castle, Louisiana before heading south into bayou country on the back roads.
White Castle, the town, was carved out of the George Wailes Plantation “White Castle”. The 1883 Charles H. Dickinson Survey of several parishes of Louisiana shows the “White Castle” Plantation property. Nearby is the plantation property of John H. Randolph called “Nottaway”.
In White Castle I turned south on Louisiana 69 which enters the Atchafalaya Swamp, the largest wetland and swamp in the United States. Ultimately, my goal was to go hunting for “Swamp People.” It is an interesting story and I actually created a full post on it HERE. Once Hwy 69 hits Hwy 70 I took that south into the small bayou town of Pierre Part, LA. The town was founded by Acadian French (Cajun) settlers around 1755, during which much of the French population of Acadia was expelled by its British conquerors. The town remained isolated from most of the world, since it is surrounded by water and was inaccessible by land until the mid-twentieth century. Before the Great Depression, the inhabitants of Pierre Part were fishermen. Very few people continue the traditional ways of fishing and living off the land with each generation, but one that does is the Landry family (including Troy, who is noted in my previous post.)
As noted, my hope was to track down and meet Troy Landry…the whole purpose for going through Pierre Part. I found him at the family bait shop/gas station (Duffy’s Shell on LA 70). The whole story is on my “Swamp People” post. But here is a photo of me with Troy…a bucket list item now checked off.
After my short visit there, I made my way down a back road just a tad south of Duffy’s. Once I got to Shell Beach Road, I detoured to head towards P’Maws Bait Shack, a really offbeat and fun place. This place is the site of the Animal Channel’s SWAMP’D Reality TV Show (which I have never seen). I had hoped to meet P’maw as well, but he wasn’t there. This place is open 24 hours. There is a fun video of P’Maw giving a fishing report:
Of course, I have photos of the place too!
One thing I had hoped to see in Pierre Part was a live gator. No luck…and I drove along a good part of the swamp. Oh well, off to Galveston. I continued south on LA 70 to Morgan City and US 90. I then headed west on US 90, passing by New Iberia (I had hoped to visit the Tabasco plant but it was too late). I continued northwest towards Lafayette, LA and just kept rolling in order to get to Galveston at a decent hour.
By this time it was nearing 7 PM and I still had a ways to go, so I jumped on I-10 west towards Lake Charles, LA and Beaumont, TX, since it would be the fastest. Once in Beaumont, I continued southwest towards Winnie, TX. I then headed south on TX 124 with the intention of driving along the Gulf Coast on the Bolivar Peninsula.
I finally hit the Gulf around 9 PM and the sunset was amazing. Pelicans flew overhead and I could smell the salt in the air as I drove along with my window open to hear the waves crashing a few yards to my left.
The road ends at Port Bolivar where you need to drive on to a Ferry to cross the inlet to Galveston Bay.
I got into Galveston late, but much of the family was still out and about. My next post will be about my visit to the wonderful island of Galveston, TX.