Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

One Day In Vicksburg Mississippi – River Town On The Bluff

Balfour House, Vicksburg Mississippi: Built mid-1830s. Home of Emma Balfour, noted diarist of the Siege. Site of 1862 Christmas ball interrupted by arrival of Federal fleet. Following surrender, July 4, 1863, was HQ. Of Maj. Gen. JB McPherson.

Balfour House, Vicksburg Mississippi: Built mid-1830s. Home of Emma Balfour, noted diarist of the Siege. Site of 1862 Christmas ball interrupted by arrival of Federal fleet. Following surrender, July 4, 1863, was HQ. Of Maj. Gen. JB McPherson.

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 is located 234 miles northwest of New Orleans on the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers, and 40 miles due west of Jackson, the state capital.

Vicksburg Mississippi is located 234 miles northwest of New Orleans on the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers, and 40 miles due west of Jackson, the state capital.

The Old Court House, built in 1858, stands today as Vicksburg’s most historic structure.

The Old Court House, built in 1858, stands today as Vicksburg’s most historic structure.

Vicksburg Mississippi, 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 Mississippi

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.

Vicksburg Sheriff's Department cruiser.

Vicksburg Sheriff’s Department 6-pack cruiser.

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!

Church of the Holy Trinity on South Street.

Church of the Holy Trinity on South Street.

Vicksburg’s position on the Mississippi River allowed it to become a major cotton trading town during the 19th century.

Vicksburg’s position on the Mississippi River allowed it to become a major cotton trading town during the 19th century.

The memorial on the corner of Monroe and South Street. Inscription reads: Vicksburg-Warren County Memorial. Let us hold in honoured memory those who died for their country in the World War 1917-1918.

The memorial on the corner of Monroe and South Street. Inscription reads: Vicksburg-Warren County Memorial. Let us hold in honoured memory those who died for their country in the World War 1917-1918.

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.”

The Methodist Church (left) and St Paul's Catholic Church, in Vicksburg.

The Methodist Church (left) and St Paul’s Catholic Church, in Vicksburg.

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.

A very empty and quiet looking Vicksburg.

A very empty and quiet looking Vicksburg.

Properties for rent or sale are everywhere along Washington Street.

Properties for rent or sale are everywhere along Washington Street, Vicksburg Mississippi.

One sight on the mostly empty roads that caught our attention was this biker with his dog perched high on the luggage box behind him. The things you see!

One sight on the mostly empty roads that caught our attention was this biker waiting at a stop sign with his dog perched high on the luggage box behind him. The things you see!

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 burnt out El Rio Mexican Restaurant on Washington Street.

The burnt out El Rio Mexican Restaurant on Washington Street, Vicksburg Mississippi.

The Biedenham Coca-Cola Museum is on Washington Street

The Biedenham Coca-Cola Museum is on Washington Street.

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.

Naval gun.

This naval gun was designed in the early 1840s and cast in 1862. Of the 1,185 produced, only 48 are known to exist. It weighs 9,200 pounds and took a crew of 16 to man it.

Katherine (left) and Pam from Vicksburg.

Katherine (left) and Pam from Vicksburg.

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.

Catfish Row Art Park. Vicksburg Mississippi.

Catfish Row Art Park. Vicksburg Mississippi.

The Riverfront Murals programme was undertaken by a team of artists, led by Robert Dafford, from Louisiana. The project took seven years and was completed in 2009.

The Riverfront Murals programme was undertaken by a team of artists, led by Robert Dafford, from Louisiana. The project took seven years and was completed in 2009.

Teddy Roosevelt Bear Hunt. On November 12th, 1902, the Washington Post reported that President Theodore Roosevelt was headed to Smedes, Mississippi, 25 miles north of Vicksburg, for a 4-day bear hunt. The article said the president “did not anticipate the pleasure of killing a bear so much as the pleasure of a few days complete recreation in the woods.” The guide for the hunt was Holt Collier, a scout during the Civil War and later a guide for Gen Wade Hampton. Collier had helped kill 1,000 bears, nearly 150 in a single season. On November 14, the hounds cornered a 235 pound bear. Collier tied it to a tree and called for the president. When Roosevelt arrived, he would not shoot the bear. Political cartoonist Clifford Berryman drew Roosevelt with a little bear tied to a tree with the caption “Drawing the Line in Mississippi.” Soon toy manufacturers were producing “Teddy’s Bears,” later called Teddy Bears.

Teddy Roosevelt Bear Hunt (first mural on the right). On November 12th, 1902, the Washington Post reported that President Theodore Roosevelt was headed to Smedes, Mississippi, 25 miles north of Vicksburg, for a 4-day bear hunt. The article said the president “did not anticipate the pleasure of killing a bear so much as the pleasure of a few days complete recreation in the woods.” The guide for the hunt was Holt Collier, a scout during the Civil War and later a guide for Gen Wade Hampton. Collier had helped kill 1,000 bears, nearly 150 in a single season. On November 14, the hounds cornered a 235 pound bear. Collier tied it to a tree and called for the president. When Roosevelt arrived, he would not shoot the bear. Political cartoonist Clifford Berryman drew Roosevelt with a little bear tied to a tree with the caption “Drawing the Line in Mississippi.” Soon toy manufacturers were producing “Teddy’s Bears,” later called Teddy Bears. From the mural plaque.

Vicksburg Waterfront Circa 1907. The river determined the location of Vicksburg to be on the hills above the Mississippi, safe from floods. The river was the highway of Mid-America, the lifeblood of the town and a haven for flatboats, barges, snag boats, dredges, steamboats and towboats. Taken from the mural info sign.

Vicksburg Waterfront Circa 1907. The river determined the location of Vicksburg to be on the hills above the Mississippi, safe from floods. The river was the highway of Mid-America, the lifeblood of the town and a haven for flatboats, barges, snag boats, dredges, steamboats and towboats. Taken from the mural plaque.

The mighty Mississippi River.

The mighty Mississippi River.

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.

Highway 61 Coffee Shop in Vicksburg.

Highway 61 Coffee Shop in Vicksburg Mississippi.

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.

Vicksburg Mississippi: Founded 1820 and named for the Rev. Newitt Vick. Was originally site of Spanish Ft. Nogales. Later was US Ft. McHenry. On July 4, 1863 the city surrendered to Gen. Grant.

Vicksburg Mississippi: Founded 1820 and named for the Rev. Newitt Vick. Was originally site of Spanish Ft. Nogales. Later was US Ft. McHenry. On July 4, 1863 the city surrendered to Gen. Grant.

COMMENTS

  • Dotti McInnis

    August 9, 2016

    Your information is incorrect. John C. Pemberton was the civil war general. John S. Pemberton invented Coca-Cola. Vicksburg is NOT a deserted town, as you implied. We are a flourishing, yet sleepy town. Trust me, Wahington Street is very busy at times. Sorry you were disappointed by our town. It’s residents are very proud of it.

POST A COMMENT