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Soulful city
The spirit of Mississippi’s Delta sings in Greenville

By Don Redman
Associate Editor

Published: Jan/Feb 2002

If the heart of Mississippi lies in the delta’s fertile soil, its soul can be found in Greenville.

Located on the banks of the Mississippi River, Greenville is the cradle of the delta’s creative spirit, and it is here among the fruitful fields that many of the nation’s most gifted musicians and authors took root.

Greenville is located roughly 90 miles north of Vicksburg and is the state’s largest city on the Mississippi between Memphis and Baton Rouge. While offering the conveniences of a big city, Greenville also provides a rich combination of culture, history and entertainment that add up to a truly unforgettable getaway weekend.

Our trip began in Vicksburg, Miss., on U.S. Highway 61, the Blues Highway. The journey winds along endless miles of cotton crops, interspersed with catfish farms and small hamlets with names like Rolling Fork, Panther Burn and Nitta Yuma. While most of these communities are mere blips on the map, one such whistle-stop worth noting is Onward, located roughly 30 miles north of Vicksburg.

A rustic roadhouse, named The Onward Store, sits at the intersection of state Route 1 and Highway 61, just feet from a historical marker recounting President Theodore Roosevelt’s infamous bear hunt. It was near this location in 1902 that Roosevelt, guided by the Delta’s greatest bear tracker, Holt Collier, refused to shoot a trapped bear. The story soon spread across the nation and shortly thereafter, a toy maker named his stuffed creations “teddy bears.”

Unfortunately, there are no teddy bears for sale inside the Onward Store, but there are a few neat reproductions of photographs on display of Roosevelt, Collier and other local notables who joined him on the bear hunt. Before leaving the store, try a sample of the pickled pork. It’s a real delight.

From Onward, there are two routes to Greenville, Route 1 and Highway 61. However, Route 1 winds through rural, sparse territory with very limited opportunities to refuel, and the area is also a dead zone for most wireless telephones.

Wonderful inn, interesting eateries

Linden-on-the-Lake is a wonderful bed-and-breakfast inn overlooking Lake Washington, about 30 miles south of Greenville in Glen Allan. The two-story mansion is an excellent example of early 20th-century Colonial revival architecture, and hosts John and Nancy Bridges are as entertaining as they are gracious. As Nancy Bridges, a descendent of the original owners, is quick to note, Linden is a bit off the beaten track, but it is easily accessible to Highway 61 from state Route 436. Linden is also a favorite among out-of-town hunters, so you may want to reserve a room well in advance.

Once in Greenville, most tourists are steered to Doe’s Eat Place, but this is one restaurant that lives up to the hype. Located in downtown Greenville in a mean-looking neighborhood, Doe’s could easily be mistaken as a hole-in-the-wall dive, but one step into the restaurant and you know you’re home.

The entrance, guarded by an armed security officer, leads directly into the kitchen. On the night I visited, Doe Signa was working feverishly over an open flame, turning and basting thick steaks, each the size of a serving platter. According to Doe, the restaurant serves up an average of 170 pounds of beef a week.

There are three dining areas, two branch off from the kitchen, but the best spot is at a table in the kitchen where guests soak in the whole experience and eavesdrop on the friendly banter between the waitresses and cooks. A few of the tables in the kitchen have a severe downward slope, so severe, in fact, knives are wedged under bowls of gumbo to keep them from spilling.

There are other great dining experiences to be had in Greenville. Jim’s Café on Washington Avenue is a local favorite (and so is its hot sauce). For folks searching for good Southern cuisine and authentic soul food, try the Lakefront Restaurant, also located on Washington Avenue. The Sandbar, located on trendy Walnut Street, is another local favorite, offering what many swear are the world’s best hamburgers.

Downtown’s revival

The heart of Greenville is still its downtown area. There is a renaissance occurring downtown, particularly along Walnut Street, and some of the credit should be directed toward the riverboat casinos located across the levee on Lake Ferguson.

One historic building directly benefiting from the gaming industry is the former levee board complex. Originally constructed in 1883, the complex was recently purchased by a casino interest and was completely renovated and converted into a hotel at a cost of nearly $3 million. Today, the Greenville Inn & Suites occupies the former levee board facility and offers visitors excellent accommodations at very reasonable rates.

Perhaps any tour of Greenville should begin at the levee, for it is the key to the Delta’s past and future. In 1927, the levee broke just north of Greenville, flooding hundreds of thousands of acres of rich delta farmland and drowning hundreds of families. The Great Flood of 1927 forever altered the Delta, the South and the nation.

Greenville once hosted a museum dedicated to that flood, but it has since closed down; however, a great companion book to read and take along on the trip is “Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America,” by John M. Barry.

A walking tour of downtown Greenville offers a great glimpse into the soul of Greenville, its history and its architecture. Highlights include the old newspaper offices of the “Delta Democrat Times” (across the street from Greenville Inn & Suites), First National Bank (now the Greenville Municipal Court) and the Washington County Courthouse, with its macabre tower from which criminals were hung and kept on public display for days.

The walking tour should also include the St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church, the Hebrew Union Temple and the William Alexander Percy Memorial Library and Greenville Writers’ Exhibit.

Another notable site worth exploring while in the area is the Winterville Indian Mounds and Museum, one of North America’s most significant pre-Columbian archaeological sites, just north of Greenville.

Leland, Miss., located approximately seven miles east of Greenville along U.S. Highway 82, will soon house a blues museum, which is slated to open in March 2002. Leland is also the birthplace of Kermit the Frog. Muppets creator Jim Henson, who was born in Greenville, grew up in nearby Stoneville. There is a small, free museum dedicated to the memory of Henson and his creations.

More information: Additional points of interest in Greenville

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