|Heart of Mississippi tour|
|Follow this guide to sample central Mississippi on a multi-region trip
|Published: Jan/Feb 2003
|By Darlene P. Copp|
This tour follows a pie-shaped, 284-mile route formed by U.S. Highway 82 on the northern edge, U.S. Highway 49 on the western side and the Natchez Trace Parkway to the east. At the southern tip, where U.S. Highway 49 angles toward the Parkway, is the state's biggest metropolis, Jackson, offering a variety of museums, festivals and other sights.
Interstate 55 is a natural jumping-off point for this slice of Mississippi, whether you start at its northern edge or southern tip. Many sites along the route are also easily accessible from I-55 if you prefer to zigzag between points of greatest interest to you. To illustrate one way of touring the heart of Mississippi, start by heading west along U.S. Highway 82 into the legendary Delta.
Just a half-hour from I-55, Greenwood could be a half-world away, so distinctive is the agricultural domain of which it is a part. This broad, fertile region known as the Delta owes its evolution to ages of flooding by the Mississippi River and the backbreaking work of 19th-century slaves. In late summer, you can see how rows of cotton plants burst open their fluffy white bolls, filling the landscape with snowy-white expanses. Soon after, harvesting activity makes a lively backdrop for touring the Delta.
Two Greenwood museums showcase how agriculture rules in the Delta. Pre-eminent for its authenticity, Florewood River Plantation is an 1850s living history experience. Spread over 100 acres, the re-created plantation has 26 buildings, including the mansion, cook's house, slave housing, blacksmith shop, gristmill, sawmill, cotton gin and demonstration crops. Visitors are welcome to pick cotton during harvest. Plantation tours run March through November.
Robin Person, executive director of the Cottonlandia Museum, said the museum covers more than cotton. There are exhibits about art, agriculture, archaeology, antiques and animals.
The Agricultural Hall illuminates the process of Delta cotton farming, but just as intriguing are a mastodon skeleton of local origin, a diorama of Delta life before the swamps were drained, and furnishings from Malmaison, antebellum home of Choctaw Chief Greenwood Leflore.
Because there's more growing in the Delta than cotton, consider picking up U.S. Highway 49W at Indianola to visit Belzoni (pronounced belzona), the catfish capital of the world. Located in a renovated depot, the Catfish Capitol salutes the farm-raised catfish industry that spurred the local economy. Exhibits reveal what's going on in those rectangular ponds that contribute upwards of 70 percent of all catfish consumed in the United States. Indoor displays and outdoor sculptures crafted by Mississippi artisans make this capitol as entertaining as it is informative.
On April 5, Belzoni holds its annual World Catfish Festival, featuring the world's largest fish fry.
At the intersection of U.S. Highway 49W and 49E, the flat Delta meets a hilly countryside inside Yazoo County, Mississippi's largest county and No. 1 cotton producer. Yazoo City nurtured an impressive number of celebrities, including Good Old Boy author Willie Morris, actress Stella Stevens, motivational speaker Zig Ziglar and several famed blues men.
Famous citizens, Yazoos role in the Civil War, slavery artifacts and the 1904 fire that devastated the town are all depicted in the Triangle Cultural Center's historical museum, scheduled to reopen in June 2003 after extensive renovation.
An African-American Cultural Center is unfolding within the stunning Oakes House, donated by a prominent African-American family who owned it for 125 years.
U.S. Highway 49 rolls from Yazoo City into Jackson, Mississippi's largest city. A day in Jackson should include visiting some of the top-notch museums. In the handsome Old Capitol Museum, the seat of government from 1839 to 1903, exhibits address topics such as the population decline among Native Americans after European arrival, the roots of secession, the aftermath of Reconstruc-tion and the multicultural development of the Delta. Its Civil Rights room weaves the thoughts of homegrown activists and authors into the first permanent exhibit on Civil Rights in the United States.
After reviewing Mississippi's past, look inside the present statehouse, which is patterned after the U.S. Capitol, or take a guided tour of the elegant governor's mansion, the second-oldest continuously occupied gubernatorial residence in the country.
Let your individual interests guide you to additional museums, selecting among the Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center, which portrays the African-American experience in Mississippi; the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science; the Agriculture and Forestry Museum/National Agricultural Aviation Museum; or the interactive Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. Of singular interest, the Gothic-Revival Manship House Museum holds stories of its extensive ornamental painting, its meticulous restoration and Charles Henry Manship, who served as Jackson's mayor during the Civil War.
Natchez Trace scenes
The Natchez Trace Parkway winds gracefully between Natchez, Miss., and Nashville, Tenn., preserving 423 miles of pristine scenery and numerous opportunities to bone up on American history. The 113-mile stretch between Jackson and U.S. Highway 82 is rich with history. Walk fragments of the original footpath, appreciate burial mounds built 1,000 years ago, follow a trail through a cypress swamp or learn about the Choctaw Indians and frontiersmen who trod the original Natchez Trace 200 years ago. Three communities along this stretch beckon longer stops.
At Ridgeland, the Mississippi Crafts Center offers finely crafted items like Choctaw baskets and hand-carved bowls. As a sales outlet for the Craftsmen's Guild of Mississippi, it is the site for artisan demonstrations on the weekends.
Koscuiszko, a central Mississippi town, is named after a Polish patriot from the American Revolution, Tadeusz Koscuiszko. Hospitality is a hallmark here, especially in the comfortable Koscuiszko Museum and Information Center. Peruse exhibits on Gen. Tadeusz Koscuiszko, ask how to find Oprah Winfreys childhood church or just rock a spell on the porch.
And if it's April 26, you can relish the music, food, 200 arts and crafts exhibitors and classic car displays at the 33rd annual Natchez Trace Festival.
More hospitality awaits at French Camp, Milepost 181. Built on the site of an early 1800s inn, French Camp Academy has converted historic buildings to offer parkway travelers a bed-and-breakfast inn, crafts shop and craft demonstrations.
A tour through the heart of Mississippi will familiarize you with a broad range of the state's history and culture.
|Darlene P. Copp is a contributor from Oxford, Miss.|