Driving tour around this eclectic Southern city reveals treasures
Story and photos
During the Golden Age of Columbus, Miss., (1835-1860) planters outdid one another by incorporating favorite architectural featuresGreek Revival, Federal, Italianate, Gothic, and in later years, Victorian gingerbreadinto their residences. This unusual mix of styles has been described as "Columbus eclectic."
Eclectic also is a good way to describe the region surrounding Columbus. Northeast Mississippi and neighboring Alabama offer a diverse collection of towns and attractions, ranging from pygmy goats to pastries, from river locks to a library, from mansions to the making of cheese.
Follow this tour through the countryside and towns around Columbus and choose from a menu of history, delicious food, rare attractions and striking sights.
Because Columbus was not a strategic target during the Civil War, it was spared the destruction suffered by many other towns. In fact, Union forces never attacked Columbus. As a result, many of its historic homes survive today. Several welcome bed-and-breakfast guests or can be toured throughout the year. All can be seen during a self-guided driving tour.
Pick up a driving tour brochure from the visitors bureau, located in the Victorian birthplace of playwright Tennessee Williams at 300 Main St. Tour signs direct drivers past dozens of historical homes such as Errolton, which stands behind its original cast iron fence. Temple Heights, built on a hill, is four stories high, yet each floor has only two rooms divided by a hallway. Shadowlawn blends Greek Revival with Gothic details. Snowdoun hosted Confederate President Jefferson Davis when he campaigned for the U.S. Senate.
Along country lanes
From Columbus, venture north on U.S. Highway 45 to State Route 50 west. After crossing the bridge, follow signs to Old Waverley mansion, built in 1852.
Melanie Snow was 7 years old when she and her family first saw Waverly, which has an octagonal observatory crowning the winged pavilion-style home.
"When we walked over the hill we could see parts of the octagon," Snow recalled. "The woods had grown up around the house, and all the outside animals had moved in. The porch had rotted and trees had grown through. It was a magnificent mess. The house had been vacant 50 years and there was writing on all the walls. (From the writing) we knew about every love affair in the area for the past 50 years."
The Snow family moved in and the bats, opossums and squirrels moved out. In a labor of love, the mansion was completely restored and furnished with antiques. From the central octagonal hallway, twin circular cantilever staircases rise three floors to the observatory. On each floor, two rooms flank both sides of the central hall. Waverley hours: daily 9 a.m. until dusk; (662) 494-7399.
Rejoin state Route 50 west to West Point, where the U.S. Womens Open was played at Old Waverly golf course last year. This pretty antebellum prairie town has an active downtown with boutiques for antiques, a clock tower on the city hall and a gazebo on the town green.
A year after the tracks for the Mobile & Gulf Railway were laid, the town moved from a corner of Clay County to meet the railroad at its present location. Continue on the tour and take Alt. Highway 45 south to U.S. Highway 82 west into Starkville, home of Mississippi State University (MSU).
Smile and say cheese
By calling (662) 325-8317 a week in advance, a free tour can be arranged at Mississippis only cheese-making facility in MSUS Herzer Dairy Science Building (across from the football stadium). Second floor windows overlook the processing area where cheddar and Edam cheeses are made year-round. Retired professor Dr. Joe Cardwell tailors the tour to his audience.
"Some kids have never seen a cow," said Cardwell, who begins with a slide show and humorously demonstrates the dairyman handshake, which mimics milking a cow. Ice cream-making facilities in the same area churn out vanilla, chocolate, butter pecan and the university’s signature Muscadine Ripple flavors. Purchases can be made at a store on the ground level.
West of Starkville via Highway 82, families will enjoy the petting zoo at Pinedale Farm.
My husband (Doss) likes the big animals, said Martha Brodnax, citing the Belgian horses, donkeys, mules, and cows on the farm. I like the little animals.
These include pygmy goats, pot bellied pigs, ducks, rabbits and sheepsome 37 species in all. More unusual pets in their menagerie are emus, Larry the Llama who demonstrates the term spitting mad, and two baseball-sized baby hedgehogs. Most have names and would never end up on someones dinner table.
Antique implements displayed in a rustic cabin serve as educational tools. Picnic tables invite visitors to pack a lunch and linger awhile. In fall, a hay maze adds to the amusement. Future plans are to display antique farm implements in a museum and to build a country store. Call (601) 323-9543 for reservations, fees and directions.
Leave Starkville via Highway 82 east and Alt. Highway 45 south to Brooksville. At the juncture where Highway 45 splits, the Ole Country Bakery serves pastries baked fresh that morning or sandwiches using newly baked breads. A sign on the door of this Mennonite bakery reads, We knead your dough. The lunch crowd runs the gamut of businessmen in suits, farm workers, families with babies and ladies lunching. A window separates the baking area from the dining room, but youll have to arrive before dawn to catch the ovens in action. Bakery hours: 6 a.m.5 p.m., TuesdayFriday; 6 a.m.2 p.m. Saturday. Call (662) 738-5795.
Go directly to jail
Continue along Highway 45 south to Macon, where you can have your photo taken for $2 (free if you bring your camera) handcuffed and behind bars in the Noxubee County Library. Built as a jail in 1907, this building on the National Register of Historic Places won design awards for its adaptive restoration as a library.
"There are always 13 steps to a gallows," said director Beth Freshour. She pointed out the eyelet from which the hangman’s noose once hung from the third floor ceiling, and the trap doors beneath.
When asked about ghosts, Freshour told the story of Si Conner, Noxubee Countys Dante, who decapitated his wife in 1907.
"A couple of weeks before the execution he got religion. He said Christ had visited him that night and took him to hell and heaven. He said the gates really do have pearls in them," she said. He was nevertheless hung by public execution.
The 1852 Goodwin Harris house, 1844 Belle Oakes and 1867 Church of the Nativity still stand along Jefferson Street in Macon.
Library hours: 8 a.m.6 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday; closed Wednesdays and weekends. Call (601) 726-5461.
Return to Highway 45 north and go two miles to the Prairie Point road. Following side roads east and north on Deerbrook Road (past the 1842 X-Prairie United Methodist Church), youll see a variety of agricultural enterprises: catfish farms, cattle ranches, cotton fields, rows of corn and a hog farm. State Route 388 east leads to Pickensville, Ala., site of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterways Tom Bevill Visitor Center.
Boats and barges
Opened to river traffic in 1985, the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway is considered the most ambitious project of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This 234-mile-long waterway connects 16,000 miles of inland waterways with the Gulf of Mexico via Mobile, Ala.
The antebellum-styled visitors center borrowed architectural details from three historic homes: Waverley near Columbus, Rosemont (Alabamas Greene County), and Kirkwood (Greene County). The rooftop cupola or second floor balcony are ideal spots to watch the boats and barges that pass through these locks year-round.
"There can be anywhere from one to 10 come through in daylight hours," said ranger Tonya Nguyen. "The locks operate 24 hours."
Dont worry if theres no river traffic in sight. Displays include models of the waterway and the operation of locks, interactive computer games, exhibits on native fauna, and images of historic steamboats. You can also see the snagboat Montgomery moored outside. It was once used to keep navigation channels clear of stumps and trees. Return to Columbus via State Route 14/69 (same road, but the numbers change as you cross the Alabama-Mississippi state line).
Try this easy loop tour and sample local history, offbeat attractions, plus favored fare for yourself.
Carolyn Thornton is a contributor from Purvis, Miss.
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