|Published May/June 2007
As coastal Mississippi continues its recovery, these sparkling attractions are sure to put a gleam in your eye.
By Darlene P. Copp
|The numbers tell the story for Mississippi’s gulf coast: $30 billion in public and private money for reconstruction following Hurricane Katrina. This slice of Highway 90, before the country’s worst natural disaster, accounted for a third of Mississippi’s tourism revenues of about $6 billion in 2005.
Mississippi’s coast has made progress in recovery efforts and is welcoming guests back to its shores with about 10,000 available hotel rooms, roughly 57 percent of pre-Katrina inventory. While coastal tourism continues to revive after Hurricane Katrina, Mississippi also offers travelers gems throughout the state to spark interest. Here are 10 great places and attractions to visit one at a time or string several together for a stellar summer road trip.
Hill Country treasures
The Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center, 501 W. Linden St., a unit of Shiloh National Military Park in Tennessee, is about 45 minutes away from Shiloh Battlefield. The center presents the violent struggle in 1862 to control the strategic rail crossing in the northern Mississippi town of Corinth.
The center employs creative media, interactive exhibits and a full-scale model of a field fortification. Artistic embellishments include bronze castings of battlefield debris embedded in the walkway and a life-sized bas-relief panel of soldiers on the march at the entry.
Admission to the center is free. The entrance fee for Shiloh battlefield, which hosts living history programs in April and throughout the summer, is $5 per family vehicle. For information, visit www.nps.gov/shil or call (662) 287-9273.
During the 1862 Union occupation of Holly Springs in northern Mississippi, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant selected Walter Place Estate for suitable living quarters for his wife and son. Grant used Airliewood across town for his headquarters, where he planned the invasion of Vicksburg.
Walter Place, located at 300 W. Chulahoma Ave., was constructed in 1859 and has a unique architectural design with its massive Gothic towers at each end of a classic Greek Revival structure. Even Grant couldn’t miss its significance.
The estate also has two raised-basement guest cottages dating from the early 1900s, as well as 15 acres. Landscaping plans from 1903, featuring waterfalls and fishponds, are currently being implemented in three phases.
Tickets to tour the mansion, cottages and gardens are available for $20. For information, visit online at www.walterplace.com or call (662) 252-2515.
The charm and sophistication of Oxford attracts visitors from around the world. They seek out Rowan Oak off Old Taylor Road, the home of Nobel laureate William Faulkner, plus other historic sites like the Oxford Courthouse Square. This historic district remains much as it was when Faulkner drew inspiration from it. However, today’s visitors will find upscale dining and shopping venues. Nearby, the University of MississippiOle Misscampus has been rated one of America’s most beautiful. The university in October 2006 dedicated a Civil Rights monument honoring James Meredith, the school’s first black student to be admitted in 1962.
A good time to visit is during the annual Double Decker Arts Festival, April 28. Art, music, food and a children’s fair will be part of the big day. For information on visiting Oxford, click on www.oxfordcvb.com or call (800) 758-9177.
From the 1886 Benz to the 1994 Dodge Viper, 100 years of automotive technology fills 120,000 square feet at the Tupelo Automobile Museum, located on Otis Boulevard, just off the Main Street exit of U.S. Highway 45. The arrangement of the collection’s 100 vehicles clearly traces the evolution of the automobile. Even if you’re not a car nut, you’re sure to find many famous or nostalgic cars to admire. There’s the bright yellow 1921 Wasp, one of only 14 built, and a mint-condition 1927 Ford “T.” Elvis fans can see the 1976 Lincoln Mark IV that Presley gave to his friend and Denver police captain, Jerry Kennedy.
Admission to the museum is $10 for adults, $8 for AAA members or seniors, $5 for children 512. For information, click on www.tupeloautomobilemuseum.com or call (662) 842-4242.
The Delta region
Tunica RiverPark, One River Park Drive, is a world-class attraction that brings together outstanding vantage points for viewing the Mississippi River with exhibits that showcase every aspect of the river’s history and culture. Catch a cruise on the Tunica Queen riverboat.
Set within 130 pristine acres of Delta riverside forest, a stunning and modern visitor center houses the museum, four large aquariums and a gift shop. To complete the experience, walk the ecology trail that winds through a wetlands forest. But for simple contemplation of this great river, rocking chairs on a broad covered porch beckon.
Admission to the center is $5 for adults, $4 for children and senior citizens. Riverboat tickets are $7$39.50. For details, click on www.tunicariverpark.com or call (866) 517-4837.
Among the many beautifully renovated buildings in downtown Greenwood, the boutique AAA four Diamond Alluvian Hotel, 318 Howard St., offers décor and amenities equal to small luxury properties found worldwide. Coupled with Greenwood’s traditional fine dining and classes at Viking Cooking School, a stay at The Alluvian is an exceptional Mississippi Delta escape. For details, visit online at www.thealluvian.com or call (866) 600-5201.
Vicksburg National Military Park, established in 1899, ranks among the most visited of all national battlefields. Civil War history buffs will want to take a full day to trace the battle along a 16-mile route, see the two museums and appreciate the monuments, which are considered some of the finest outdoor art in the southeast.
The U.S.S. Cairo, raised from its watery grave and reconstructed for display, is the last surviving ironclad gunboat built to regain control of the lower Mississippi. Licensed tour guides, a park tradition for more than 50 years, may be reserved in advance.
Park admission is $8 per vehicle. Licensed park guides that ride with you in your vehicle for a two-hour tour can be reserved for $35. Visit online at www.nps.gov/vick or call (601) 636-0583 for more information.
Ever since the first Natchez Pilgrimage in 1932, the architectural treasures of this Mississippi River city have captivated a worldwide audience. Of more than 500 antebellum buildings, an exceptional number are well-preserved mansions built for the cotton-era aristocracy. Nine of these mansions offer tours year-round; some also function as elegant bed-and-breakfast inns.
Natchez National Park, located in the visitor center, sells tickets for tours of the exquisite Melrose plantation home. At a downtown unit of the park, the restored William Johnson townhouse tells the story of a freed black businessman during antebellum times. Click on www.visitnatchez.com or call 1-800-647-6724 for more information.
Milepost 0 marks the historic starting point along the scenic 444-mile Natchez Trace Parkway. Between 1800-1825, the wilderness road was the busiest route in the South, trod by more than 10,000 hardy souls in 1810.
From Natchez, the recreational drive (no stoplights and no commercial vehicles allowed) traverses Mississippi from the southwest to the northeast corners, with dozens of stops for roadside exhibits and trails, before continuing on to Nashville. In Tupelo, the National Park Service visitor center, 2680 Natchez Trace Parkway, recently unveiled a $500,000 renovation of its exhibits on the history of the Old Trace. For details, visit online at www.nps.gov/natr or call 1-800-305-7417.
The redesigned Beau Rivage Resort & Casino, 875 Beach Blvd., reopened one year after Hurricane Katrina’s tidal surge devastated its interiors. Considered the crown jewel of the Mississippi Gulf Coast before Katrina, the fresh new Beau marks the resurgence of coastal tourism with a contemporary décor and many added amenities.
As before, the 1,740 luxurious guest rooms boast original artwork, Grecian marble bathroom floors and views of either the Mississippi Gulf or the Back Bay. The new Fallen Oak golf course is 15 miles inland. Getaway seekers at this AAA four Diamond resort will find seven restaurants, as well as headliner entertainment including the Beach Boys who will perform May 26 and 27.
AAA members receive room discounts. For details click on www.beaurivage.com or call (888) 567-6667.
The Beau Rivage is one of 10 casinos open on the coast. For updates on these and other attractions, contact the Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau at www.gulfcoast.org or call (888) 467-4853.
Darlene Copp is a contributor from Oxford, Miss.
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