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Arkabutla, Tunica, Hernando, Senatobia


We finally made another Tiny Travels trip! Guest travelers Meredith Black and Kay Collins came along for the ride as we explored northwest Mississippi.

ARKABUTLA

We started our trip by heading west, toward Arkabutla. The area is well known for its lake of the same name, which is reportedly the windiest lake south of Chicago, making it really popular with folks who sail or windsurf. But our interest lay in the town itself. Arkabutla is the birthplace of James Earl Jones, surely one of the most famous of the almost infinite number of famous people from our fair state. So, we cruised the main street – or what seemed like the main street – looking for a sign pointing to his birthplace or mentioning that he was from here. We didn't see anything, so Marian went into a post office and then a store and asked a few locals about his birthplace. The first person she asked was a young man in his twenties, feeling sure he could tell us exactly where “Darth Vader” was born. No such luck – with him or anyone else. We couldn't believe it!

TUNICA

We toured the more famous spots around Tunica and the upper Delta in 2009, but I was traveling with a broken ankle then, so we missed a lot. One of the things we missed was downtown Tunica. Someone has – many someones have – been hard at work...it's a lovely little downtown. There is a beautiful park-like median, complete with a playground, and the storefronts have been painted cheerful colors. 

Downtown Tunica -- clock centerpiece of the downtown park.

Downtown Tunica

We drove around the pretty little town, did a little shopping, and then headed out for an early lunch.

Whoa!  What is this?  Car 54?  Remember that song and television program from the old days?
Downtown Tunica right next to the police department - that is where Car 54 is!  
We discussed several possible places to eat, but there simply aren't words to express how grateful we are that we settled on the Blue and White Restaurant. Housed in an old service station on the corner of US 64 and MS 4, it's been around since 1937 and is famous for its Southern food. What is wonderful about it is that it actually lives up to its reputation. So often that's just not the case.
This is a must-stop if you are in the area. Southern cooking at its best!

We opted for the lunch buffet rather than ordering off the menu, but there's probably no way to go wrong at the Blue and White. We piled our plates full...well, more than full. No prissy Southern Belles here – we love food and we don't care who knows it. (Really we do care, but we were unlikely to see anyone we know so we all felt free to chow down.) We were beyond overjoyed to find that their mashed potatoes are made from real potatoes. That's almost never the case on a buffet. The sweet potatoes were the best ever. The mac and cheese? Heavenly. Same for the green beans, etc. The food was wonderful, just wonderful. But, it paled in comparison to the homemade rolls. First, they are huge, as big as softballs...and they're still not big enough – you want more. Seriously, all four of us come from families of great cooks, and that bread threw us all for a loop. In fact, when the waitress took dessert orders, I asked for another roll rather than cake. They're not sugary or anything, they're just that good.

We saw on the menu that they make their own doughnuts fresh every morning. It only makes sense that the bread dough and the doughnut dough are, if not one and the same, very closely related, so they must be wonderful. Our next trip to northwest Mississippi will include an early trip to Tunica's Blue and White for breakfast, then some nearby touring, and a return in time for lunch or dinner. This is a place worth the trouble of backtracking.

HERNANDO

Hernando is a pretty little town featuring the stunning DeSoto County Court House. We passed up the opportunity to go inside and see the murals that depict Hernando de Soto's life from his voyage to America to his death and burial (in the Mississippi River). The murals date to 1902 and are worth the better part of a million dollars, so we really should have had a look. However, we were all but comatose from our giant lunches and the weather was threatening, so we took the easy way out.


The courthouse is huge!



Downtown Hernando

We also took the easy way out when it came to the Historic DeSoto Museum. We passed right by it and the old log cabin once used as a field hospital during the Civil War. They both  looked interesting, and any other time we would have been eager to explore, but we just weren't in the mood. We'll be back.


The clock tower is really very pretty.  You can see the clouds
coming at us in the background. The deluge began very soon after this picture was taken.

There is, however, no need for us to revisit the many antique stores in the area. Like the consummate antiquers we are, we bravely summoned the strength to climb out of the car and spend hours strolling through room after room after room of old interesting stuff. And yes, we do realize that sounds a lot like what we would have done had we visited the courthouse, museum, and log cabin.


What a collection of stuff...all in the hands of someone who can weld!  
The gate was a collection of metal wheels!




The welder used his fun side to create a dinosaur to pull the hearse.

We drove north out of Hernando, toward Nesbitt. Like everywhere else in Mississippi, small country lanes and old highways wind through the area's soybean fields and kudzu-covered forests. We had plenty of these roads to choose from, so we picked the one that would lead us to Jerry Lee Lewis's house! What's more, we think we may actually have seen The Killer himself!

There we were, sitting in his driveway taking pictures of the pianos on his gates and listening to his kinda frightening dogs bark, when we saw a man heading down the driveway with a couple dogs on leashes. And what did we do? We panicked and took off! But, as we were leaving, we noticed that the man with the dogs looked for all the world like Jerry Lee. Once safely away, we collected ourselves and thought, “Why did we do that? He probably just wanted to talk to us.” So, we turned around and went back, only to find he was gone. No man, no dogs. We'd been silly and probably missed a golden opportunity. This is Mississippi, after all; people speak to strangers here. We should have known better. 1595 Malone Road, Nesbitt, MS; just south of Horn Lake

Jerry Lee Lewis's ranch.  We panicked big time when we saw 
Jerry Lee and his dogs coming toward the gate.
A real junior high flashback - we jumped back into the car.  
What we would give to have waited and talked to him!  Bummer!

Speaking of country roads, ten miles northwest of Hernando is a sight that is a wonder to behold. As we drove through northeast Mississippi's rolling hills, thick with trees, we didn't realize that our whole perception of heights and depths had become skewed. When we reached our destination – a certain point on the aptly named Delta View Road – it took our breath away. We'd been driving along, thinking we were on just another Mississippi back road, when we suddenly found that we were actually on a high bluff and that, just a few feet away, the ground had dropped off into the flatest landscape imaginable.

It's the great alluvial plain, otherwise known as the  Mississippi River Delta, and from the edge of that bluff it appears to be endless, Our pictures don't do it justice because the drop off is so sudden that it photographs as though it were completely flat. But trust us, the view is stunning. It's hard to wrap your mind around the fact that, although you are looking down on it, you aren't actually all that high. The Delta is just that low.
See those "little" trees?  They are 30-40' tall.  The green in the foreground is a deep, lush carpet of kudzu that covers everything that is not moving. (Check out the big leaves in the lower left corner.) The brown strip is an open field, ready for planting...the plowed rows can't be seen because the field is so far away. The dramatic transition between flat delta and rolling hills must be seen to be believed.  

When we poked around stores in Hernando and Tunica, we spotted some beautiful Joseph Eckles Stoneware. So, we decided to pay a visit to the birthplace of these beauties. It's located at 2650 Scott Road in Hernando, but the address is a little deceptive. It is – or at least, it appears to be – in the country (sometimes it's hard to tell “country” from “town”). It is set way back from the road, hidden from view down a long driveway. As we drove down the driveway (it's a little road really), we all looked at each other, as in, “Should we be here?” There was nothing threatening about the big industrial-looking buildings we found, but we had begun to feel like we might be lost and trespassing...and that can be dangerous. We finally spotted a small sign saying “Eckles Pottery” though, and were we ever glad! 
Just one of our selections from Joseph Eckles Pottery.  

Sadly, Joseph Eckles was not there; he had packed up and headed off to a show. But David, a talented potter in his own right, was home and there was still a ton of pottery on the shelves. We got a great tour of the studio, met the resident cat, and then we oohed and aahed over (and touched!) every single piece of pottery he had. He didn't seem a bit put out that we were getting it all out of order. It was all beautiful, which really made it hard to choose, but we finally managed to decide on a few pieces and everyone left happy.

SENATOBIA

What a surprise! Senatobia is a town of about 8,000 people, and we expected to find another attractive small town, albeit one with a community college. It is lovely, but we also found that it is a vibrant place – with an absolutely beautiful college.

Senatobia is home to the main campus of Northwest Mississippi Community College, which looks for all the world like a major university. Really lovely. We drove through campus and were amazed at how large the school is. Beautiful buildings and well-kept grounds. 
Northwest Mississippi Community College


The buildings on this campus are beautiful.  

We made it a point to drive through a second campus as well: The BaddourCenter. An outreach of the Methodist church, it serves as a home for adults with mild/moderate intellectual disabilities. There are fourteen group homes and four apartment units (among other buildings), and it is an absolutely stunning campus, full of activity! (It looks like an upscale gated retirement community.)

When we left, we made a detour through Como, mainly because Marian and I love Como, but also because Meredith had never been there. We drove down the main street and were sad to see that the green grocer's has closed. Nothing else seems to have changed though, so we showed Meredith the beautiful little Episcopal church and then drove through the neighborhood near downtown. Once again, we were impressed with how beautiful and well kept the homes and yards are. 

As usual, we came home through Oxford. We always try to swing by on the way to or from nearby Tiny Travels, and really, it only made sense this time. All our favorite antique places had closed by the time we got there, so there wasn't much to do other than drive over to Eli Manning's house and admire it. (It's very homey and very, very beautiful, by the way.) 

It was dinner time, but none of us could even think of eating dinner after that huge lunch. We could, however, think of eating ice cream, so we stopped at Yaya's on the Square. If you've never been, it's one of those places where you help yourself to ice cream and toppings and then pay based on the weight of your dish. Kay, Marian, and Meredith went prissy, spending three or so dollars on dainty little dishes with sprinklings of toppings. My dish came in just under $9 and I ate every bit of it.



Watervalley, Charleston, Tutwiler and Beyond!



At long last, we’re back. It seems like forever since we last went exploring – life has been more than enough of an adventure these last twelve months. But, things are looking up and there is no better way to celebrate than by doing our favorite thing: snooping Mississippi. 
Guest traveler Kay Collins joined us on a lovely September Monday. We had few specifics on our agenda, just a loose plan to work our way over to Charleston and see what Highway 32 had to offer. 

We made Water Valley our first stop because we like the place and we hadn’t been there in a while. First stop was Turnage Drug Store to see their legendary soda fountain. While it serves up old fashioned ice cream dishes nowadays, this beauty used to serve something much stronger – it’s rumored to have begun life as the bar in an 1800’s saloon. Whatever it’s serving, it is a beautiful addition to this lovely town. 
 
Turnage Drugs Lunch counter / soda fountain.  



A small portion of the downtown area of Water Valley.


We also paid a visit to BTC, the fresh food market/bakery/restaurant. It’s in a wonderful old building on the corner of Main Street, across from the park. We snarfed up some delicious homemade pastries and hoop cheese to hold us until lunch and generally just enjoyed sitting around in a place that has seen so much history. They have refurbished, but they had the foresight to leave old signs and old brick and all the other things that lend soul to a place.   


Beautiful old building which now houses BTC in Water Valley
BTC  interior
Too early for bologna for us but the hoop cheese was awesome
The rear portion of BTC has exposed brick.
This is one of the eating areas -- seating available seven or eight --   complete with a
beautiful old back door, a window and an antique Coca Cola sign.
What a sign it is!

Leaving Water Valley, we got sidetracked by an antique store – something that happens quite frequently – so it was almost noon before we found ourselves skirting Enid Lake and approaching Charleston: Gateway to the Delta. It’s a delightful little town (population around 2,100) with lovely homes and a beautiful town square and court house.

 Tallahatchie County courthouse.  Located in Charleston, MS.
Charleston is one of the two county seats of Tallahatchie County; Sumner is the other 

We enjoyed a quick lunch and a bit of shopping at the China Cabinet and set off to see Charleston. 

Located just of the square, Harrison House 1902
The first thing we saw was the Bank of Charleston building with its homage to three famous native sons: actor Morgan Freeman, jazz and blues legend Mose Allison, and beloved Bluesman Sonny Boy Williamson. 
Left to right -- Morgan Freeman, Mose Allison, and Sonny Boy Williamson.  
(Okay, Allison is actually from Tippo and Williamson is from Glendora, but they’re all from Tallahatchie county and Charleston is one of the county seats.) Morgan has a large ranch just outside town, but we were told we wouldn’t be able to see anything from the highway. It’s interesting that he chose to live here (he also has a home in New York), but it’s not surprising since he grew up in Charleston.

But the Charlestonian that really caught our attention was the late – and apparently great – hog, Scissors. Scissors was a Duroc-Jersey breed, for those who know their swine, and a real prize winner: World Champion at both the 1917 and 1918 Omaha Livestock Shows. He was also huge! And by huge, we mean massive; guestimates range around the “one ton of pig” mark. 

Scissors’ owner, Col. Tom Griffin James, took great pride in the porcine that brought such honor upon him. He pampered Scissors to the point of building him a special house on his Pine Crest Farm, although it’s hard to say whether James was being kind or cautious. Scissors’ size may have necessitated a place of his own just to protect the other pigs. If the photos on Scissors’ Facebook page are any indication, this was one gigantic, and gentle, hog. His house is actually quite homey, by the way, more reminiscent of a swanky modern-day chicken coop than a pig sty(click here to open a new page to see the Facebook page of Scissors) 

Located on Highway 32, approximately 3 miles east of Charleston.
Susan and Kay in front of Scissors' house 
A small, but more than adequate, house for a pig.

We had originally thought we might head north out of Charleston, up I-55 to Batesville, stopping anywhere that looked interesting. But so many places are closed on Mondays that we decided to hop on Highway 49 toward Tutwiler and loosely follow part of the Blues Trail through the Delta. Although we aren't die-hard blues fans, it’s a fascinating part of our state’s history and we’d never been to many of those small towns.  

The site of the old Tutwiler train station is now a small park with Blues Trail markers telling the story of W.C. Handy coming to town and hearing the blues for the first time. 

Marker in Tutwiler explaining the beginning of the blues by W.C. Handy.
Blues Trail marker for W.C. Handy

The park also has a military monument and a platform (A stage? The old railway platform?) painted to look like a quilt. Tutwiler is known and recognized for its beautiful quilts (which can be ordered through www.tutwilerquilters.org). Across the street from the park stands an old brick building whose wall displays lovely murals depicting Tutwiler’s history.  
Quilt platform



Murals on the building next to the park

Since Kay, Marian and I are all Ole Miss grads, it should come as no surprise that we made a pass through Drew – we were kinda sorta in the neighborhood anyway. We looked a while, hoping to spot a shrine of some sort, but we came up empty, so we went on to pretty little Ruleville, home of blues great Jimmy Rogers and the world’s shortest stop sign.

Ruleville downtown.
Jimmy Rogers Blues Marker
  Does this mean you should "stop shortly", or "stop short", or perform a brief stop?
There appeared to be a nice selection of stores and such downtown, but we didn’t spend any time there because we wanted to get to Mound Bayou before Peter’s Pottery closed. Kay had been before, but it was a first for Marian and me and we weren’t disappointed – beautiful pottery!

Mount Bayou, the oldest U. S. all black municipality.
Peter's Pottery




                         
When we were finally able to drag ourselves away from all the pretty pottery, we continued up Highway 61, making it a point to note Hushpuckena when we passed just so we could say we saw it. And we drove through Alligator too, because who can resist a town named Alligator? 


Actually, it seems that Alligator is categorized as a village rather than a town – there are only about 220 people who call the place home. One of their former residents, Fred Coe, went on to make quite a name for himself as a television and film producer, a real pioneer in those early days of the industry. 

Fred Coe Blues Marker

Locals are rightly proud of where they live, as evidenced by the decorative murals someone was kind enough to paint (although we do wish they had welcomed more than just the one tourist).





As anyone who follows the Blues Trail knows, at some point you must go to the Mecca of the Blues: The Crossroads. 

The Crossroads -- intersection of Highways 49 and 61
Supposedly, it was here, at the intersection of Highways 49 and 61, where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil in exchange for instant mastery of the guitar. Few facts about Robert Johnson’s life are not up for debate, so there are multiple opinions about which crossroads Johnson was referring to when he claimed to have had this meeting…but 49/61 is the most well known version and really, we were on 61 anyway so we’ll accept that and move on.

Since Morgan Freeman was on our mind and we had been stymied from actually seeing his house, we did the next best thing and drove into Clarksdale in hopes of having dinner with him at Ground Zero, the blues club he owns. Marian and I ate there years ago and the food is great! It’s a unique place, to say the least, given the writing on the walls and windows and ceilings and doors and tables and mirrors and framed photos and….We wrote our names on the wall too, something neither of us had ever done and something we still don’t feel good about to this day. Unfortunately, GZ was closed (and we couldn't go back and erase our names). Big disappointment. Monday travel is tricky.


The I-55 Corridor: Grenada, Tillatoba, Courtland, Batesville, Sardis


 Our trip down the I-55 corridor was an eye opener – we were taken aback by the beauty of Mississippi’s great outdoors. But between stops at various lakes and campgrounds, we paid visits to a few towns. We didn’t have time to really examine any town in-depth, but we enjoyed getting even a glimpse of places we’ve always heard about.

We made our first stop in Grenada – at Jake and Rip’s, a barbeque restaurant we read about in Mississippi Magazine. WOW! We expected good barbeque, but we were blown away by how good everything we ordered was. The menu piqued our interest with its fried okra appetizer. An okra appetizer. Who thought of that? Whoever it was, we love them. But mostly we love whoever cooked our personal plate of okra – the closest to homemade we’ve ever had in a restaurant. No pre-frozen, thickly-floured, industrial-flavored puff balls here; Jake and Rip’s okra tasted fresh and came coated in cornmeal and fried like Mama used to.

Okay, we’re not sure Jake and Rip’s could even find fresh okra in April, so maybe theirs did come out of a freezer…we don’t know. What we do know is that if they can buy frozen okra and turn it into what we ate, they have magical powers. And by the way, their catfish is outstanding.
The front door of Jake and Rip's takes you to some fine cooking.
When we finally finished eating – and it took a while – we waddled off toward downtown Grenada. It’s a pretty little town of about 15,000 and it’s done a lot of historic preservation work. There’s a beautiful town square with a gazebo, some well-restored storefronts, and a couple of lovely murals. They also have an extensive (35 properties) Historical Walking and Driving Tour – go to http://www.grenadams.com/ for a brochure.

The John Moore house c. 1856, 201 Margin Street

The John Lake House c. 1880, 425 Margin Street
The Golladay House -- said to be haunted -- c 1850, 501 Margin Street
The First Presbyterian Church, established 1838.


One of the two murals in downtown Grenada depicting its history.
 It’s a great tour, but we recommend walking parts of it if possible, especially the eleven or so stops on South Main Street. A lot of homes are close together, necessitating a really slow drive – much slower than the cars behind you want to go – to really see and enjoy them. Plus, we found it difficult to maneuver the one-way streets and remain oriented to the tour.(Marian --hey folks...I don't think I've ever been as confused by one-way streets in a town. They all seemed to lead away from the square.  Honestly, walking would have really been the very best way to make this tour.)
The town square in Grenada has a clock tower, statue and gazebo.




Full disclosure here: Although we were touring the I-55 corridor, we didn’t actually take I-55. We don’t like interstates. Oh, we use them when we need them, but we prefer not to so we stayed with Highway 51 – a fine road that runs right alongside the interstate – and we’re glad we did. If we’d been on the interstate, we would have missed the tiny hamlet of Tillatoba. There are only something like 100 Tillatobans, and we actually spotted one. He waved. And, had we been on the interstate, we would have missed the little town of Oakland, and the beautiful house whose owner spied us as she was leaving and told us to come back anytime and she would show us around inside. We wouldn't have seen Courtland, either, and its pretty United Methodist Church. What a charming little church and what beautiful stained glass windows.
Courtland United Methodist Church


This beautiful early 1900 mansion in Oakland has been lovingly restored. 

Turn around in their driveway and you'll get a bouncy barky greeting, too...had to share.

Batesville’s really been busy renovating their downtown, sprucing up buildings and painting murals. They’ve also done a beautiful job of hardscaping and landscaping their (courthouse-free) town square. It’s really lovely – an open and airy park, very green, with gazebo-like structures that have a “railroad depot” vibe. 
Town square in Batesville.
 
 Actually, Batesville has a railroad history – it owes its initial growth to the Illinois Central Railroad that once came through town en route from Memphis to New Orleans. And by “came through town” we mean just that; the railroad tracks run right through downtown!  That’s only fitting for a town named for a railroad man: Mr. Jim Bates, a conductor on the Illinois Central’s predecessor, the Mississippi and Tennessee Railroad.   http://www.cityofbatesvillems.com/

Yep -- Susan got the camera and took a decent picture of me in the square in Batesville. 

Sardis’s tiny downtown has a lot of potential, and revamping seems to have gotten underway recently. Some of the original brick facades have been uncovered already and it’s looking good.

The Panola Playhouse

Sardis is home to the Panola Playhouse, “A Historic Community Theater.” It’s a live theater company that has been around about fifty years – remarkable for a town of some 2,000 people.  http://www.panolaplayhouse.com/