Vicksburg On The Bluff: Tales Of A Mississippi River Town
A DAY OUT IN VICKSBURG, MS | Darrin Henry
Armed with our tourist map (plus Google Maps) and bottles of water strapped to our backpacks, we lock the car and set off to “do Vicksburg” with surprising enthusiasm for 7am.
We decided to make an early start this morning, beat the rush hour traffic. The summer sun is already punching its way across the town’s buildings and the sky is promising a clear day. Excellent!
Vicksburg, first impressions, is a beautiful town built on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers with architecture just begging to be photographed. Beautiful wooden town houses, majestic churches with tall stretching spires and grand official brick buildings.
Native American History In Vicksburg
We are criss-crossing the street at will as they are virtually deserted. Just the odd vehicle rolling by us with that throaty growl that American cars with their automatic gearboxes make. We expect it will get busy soon enough.
By 7.30 we have already covered a lot of ground. Interesting street names like Cherry St, China St and Crawford St. Near the Warren County Jail we photographed police vehicles; we’ve been doing this throughout our road trip and I’m always surprised the police – or cops as I should say here – haven’t queried why we’re doing it yet!
Population of Vicksburg is approximately 26,000 (2010 census). The town is relatively new, established around 225 years ago. Before that this area of the Mississippi was home to the Natchez and Choctaw Native Americans. As a consequence of fighting with early French settlers and then US government pressure, both Native American tribes were basically “removed.”
During the American Civil War the town surrendered to Union troops after enduring a 47 day siege, a key turning point in the war. In the racial unrest that followed the Civil War, Vicksburg and Mississippi wrote its fair share into this sorry chapter of American history.
What We Saw In Washington Street
But today the peaceful nature of the streets is more eerie than anything. I had expected the first office workers to be arriving for work by now but traffic flow is a dribble at best and pedestrians? – well – Sharon and I are it.
We navigate our way to Washington Street. Our map indicates this is effectively the Main Street, where we should find shops and activity, but we are struck by how empty Washington Street looks. Most of the street front businesses have either been boarded up or are for sale. There’s an air of desperateness. Speaking of which, I’m craving a caffeine fix but we have yet to come across a coffee shop or cafe, or anywhere that is open.
The El Rio Mexican Restaurant stands forlornly ahead of us with burnt out windows on the upper floors and closed off street front. A notice explains the place was ravaged by a fire on 14 March and has been closed since. It doesn’t say what year, presumably it was 2015.
The Biedenham Coca-Cola Museum is on Washington Street, but having already visited the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta, this one doesn’t tempt us today. In 1894 the soft drink was bottled for the first time right here in Vicksburg. In fact it was the same John Pemberton, who surrendered the town after the Civil War siege, who then went on to invent Coca-Cola.
Meeting Vicksburg People
Unable to find a coffee shop we decide to head toward the Riverfront. It’s now 9am and really heating up. The 1840’s naval gun displayed on the corner of China Street, overlooking the river distracts us for a bit to take pictures.
To say we stick out like a sore thumb would not be an exaggeration; not just because of the camera and city map, but because there simply isn’t anyone else around. So it’s a nice surprise when two ladies out for their morning exercise walk/run, spot us and come over to say hello. Katherine and Pam are quick to suggest attractions we should try to see such as the Tomato Place, Port Gibson and the Windsor Ruins. Katherine is new to Vicksburg having only moved here two weeks ago. Pam’s lived here for a year. As we chat I gently try to ascertain whether the ladies think the town is quiet but it doesn’t appear that they do. However, they do tell us where we can find a coffee shop before they head off.
But we still want to check out the Riverfront first.
The Vicksburg Riverfront Murals
The Riverfront area looks superb with just one thing missing – people! Catfish Row Art Park is at the bottom of the hill complete with a multi-jet water fountain and a large scale model catfish. Across the road are the stunning Vicksburg Riverfront Murals, result of a seven year project to decorate the floodwalls with illustrations of key historic events in the area. There are one or two workmen around but otherwise it’s just Sharon and me.
We go right down to the river to gaze at the brown flow of the Mississippi. The current looks really powerful; would hate to fall in here.
Right! Coffee time. We head back across the road and through the park and are surprised to see a bus load of primary aged school kids have arrived since we walked through earlier. The water jet fountain has been turned on and the kids are screaming with delight playing in the water. It’s fantastic to see people at last. We sit in the shade to watch for bit and enjoy the sounds of laughter, before climbing back up the hill to Washington Street.
Highway 61 Coffee and Free Wi-Fi
The Highway 61 Coffee Shop is right where Pam and Katherine had told us it would be and it is delightful. The coffee is really welcome as is the air conditioned relief from the sun. The free wi-fi means we can check in on the inter-world for a bit. And there are a few customers in the place.
We are starting to notice a trend with these deserted towns during our road trip. Vicksburg is certainly not alone in that regard. So far we’ve been travelling through the southern states of America and the empty streets and boarded up businesses are far more common than we would have expected.
There’s an art gallery upstairs. We’ll check that out after our coffee.