A DAY OUT IN VICKSBURG, MS | Darrin Henry
Our road trip, following maps of the Mississippi River bank route, has brought us to downtown Vicksburg. First impressions, it’s a beautiful town built on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers. The population of Vicksburg Mississippi is approximately 26,000 (2010 census).
US culture attractions in the town include the Biedenharn Coca-Cola museum. Vicksburg also sits on the blues Highway 61 map, which makes it an ideal stop for those music lovers following that trail.
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 day of clear weather for Vicksburg Mississippi. Excellent!
Armed with our paper city map, plus Google Maps and bottles of water strapped to our backpacks, we lock the car and set off to explore Vicksburg with surprising enthusiasm for 7am.
The architecture here is just begging to be photographed. Beautiful wooden town houses, majestic churches with tall stretching spires and grand official brick buildings.
From Cherry Street to the Warren County Jail
We are criss-crossing the streets 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 photograph 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!
Native American History Of Vicksburg Mississippi
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.
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.
What We Saw In Washington Street
The Biedenharn Coca-Cola Museum Vicksburg, is on Washington Street. But, having recently visited the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta, this one doesn’t tempt us to go inside today. The soft drink was first bottled here in Vicksburg from around 1939 by Joseph Biedenharn and the Biedenharn family.
Article Update September 2018 – In the original post for this article I had mistakenly attributed the bottling of Coca-Cola in Vicksburg to John Pemberton, who is connected with Vicksburg as a Civil War general. This inaccuracy was highlighted by Vicksburg resident, Dotti McInnis. My thanks and apologies to Dotti.
Our map indicates Washington Street is effectively the Main Street, where we should find shops and activity, but we are struck by how empty it 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.
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 Vicksburg MS 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 Shop Vicksburg 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.