Belmont - Woodall Mountain - Iuka - Corinth - Blue Mountain March 26, 2009

Marian and I started our adventure in Belmont, where we planned to have breakfast at the Belmont Hotel. Unfortunately, the hotel wasn’t open, which is a shame because it looked charming (which was our whole reason for wanting to go there for breakfast). It has only about 15 rooms, and operates more as a B and B than a standard hotel. If they don’t have any guests, it probably functions just as the owners’ home – supposedly he is a local pastor. We had planned to try to visit again during Belmont’s “high season,” when there would be a better chance of it being open, but since then I’ve read online reviews that mention something about there being Pop-tarts for breakfast, so…maybe not. 

We don’t care for Pop-tarts. I don’t know if it’s because we think of them as a processed food product rather than as real food, or if it’s because they taste bad, but regardless, we don’t care for Pop-tarts and certainly don’t plan to drive all the way to Belmont to eat one. At any rate, the hotel is an old beauty built around 1924, when there was real craftsmanship involved in building. A peek through the windows showed a very elegantly decorated interior.
Downtown Belmont is only a block or two – a tiny town, but pretty. Once we got over our disappointment about the hotel being closed, we moved on to our second (and really, only) choice for breakfast: Sparks’ Restaurant. We knew it would be good when we saw that it was where the town’s old men gather every morning to drink coffee, smoke cigarettes and exaggerate past accomplishments. Marian and I each had a scrambled egg and bacon biscuit and a bowl of grits – all homemade, all delicious, all served by women who called us “Hon.” Bliss.

From Belmont we headed to Golden and ended up at TMI, a warehouse full of "items" made in China. But there are two small rooms full of really cool paper products where we spent a good half hour ooohing and aaahing over diaries and stationary. 

Next stop was Woodall Mountain – the highest point in Mississippi. We like visiting the highest points in various states. They’re all different, but Woodall has to be one of the very few that is in a neighborhood, or rather, that has had a neighborhood grow up around it. Usually a state’s highest point is in a national park, or at least a state park. But here, you drive out in the country and turn right by somebody’s house in a subdivision and head uphill. 

The brochure put out by the Tishomingo county Visitor’s Bureau refers to it as a “scenic gravel road,” but I believe all of us who were raised in Mississippi have a good idea how that translates in real life. The “mountain” is forested, and as you drive downhill and see the treed hillside dropping away, you do get some sense of being on a mountain. Driving uphill, your ears pop, but that’s about it. 

This was my third trip to Woodall, and Marian’s second. This was due to the fact that we couldn’t seem to get there before the sun set, no matter how hard we tried. Poor planning, we suppose, but we were determined to see it. It turns out that the darkness had been a blessing, and that the top of Woodall Mountain is best seen in total darkness. 

To say that it is “not scenic” borders on shameless praise coming from women who have no real interest in propane tanks, cinderblock storage buildings, or radio towers. That’s what greets visitors at the top of Woodall Mountain. Well, that, a sprinkling of litter, and a small cement table with benches (one’s broken). There’s a bronze marker too, telling you that it’s the highest point in Mississippi at 806’; but Marian’s GPS said 819’ and we're going with the satellite. 

Bear in mind that the lovely marker pictured here is the most beautiful thing on Woodall’s summit! There is one place that offers a narrow vista of the surrounding area; elsewhere, you’re just looking at trees with ugly propane tanks and buildings in front of them.

For history buffs, Woodall is known (although we don’t know by whom) as America’s bloodiest high point. That's because of the Battle of Iuka in 1862. That’s an honor no other state will try to snatch from Mississippi’s grasp!
After Woodall, we went to Iuka, a town I had never even thought about visiting. Interestingly enough, there once was a person named Iuka, a Chickasaw Indian chief. 

What a lovely little town! It’s a genteel Southern town with beautiful old houses and a nice little downtown. There’s also a park – Mineral Springs Park – that is very old and very charming. Iuka’s spring water won the 1902 World’s Fair prize for best mineral water, by the way. 

The park has, among many other offerings, a dogtrot log cabin that dates to 1879, and a covered bridge! The covered bridge is so small, pretty, and well-kept that we were afraid to drive through it – we thought it might be there just for show – but we decided to go for it and our reward was getting to see the beautiful old homes on the other side of the creek.

There are many unique things about Iuka, but one that I thought was especially interesting was that there’s a beautifully maintained old apartment building downtown (brick, two or three stories, circa 1930 maybe?). Think about it. Small Southern towns aren’t known for having desirable old downtown apartment buildings. If it was in most any city, it would be a much sought-after place to live, and we hope it is in Iuka. 

Downtown Iuka also has a real keeper of a church, the Church of our Savior. Pictured here, it’s an “1873 board and batten Carpenter Gothic Episcopal Church” according to the brochure, and it was purchased and restored by local citizens in 1985. God bless them for doing it; it’s a really charming and picturesque place that can be rented for weddings. 

Iuka is the only place we have ever visited that has a museum devoted to aprons. Yes, just aprons. A disturbingly large proportion of those aprons depict Aunt Jemima or one of her relations. We can’t believe people ever did that! There are also aprons depicting various states – souvenirs of 1950's travel – as well as new aprons and beautifully well-preserved handmade antique aprons. The lady who owns the store (there are aprons and knick-knacks for sale, so it’s a store/museum) is very nice, and it turns out that she hadn’t intended to open an apron museum at all. She had planned to open an antique book store. I had a bit of trouble following her story from books to aprons, but somehow it happened and now she has a store that’s almost totally devoted to aprons.
Downtown Iuka has been/is being gentrified/spruced up, and  they’re doing a fine job of it. We went to one of their restaurants; it was full of interesting old photos, antique clothing and other historical-type decorations, but we were  more interested in the other people in the restaurant. It was a very “citified” crowd: men in business suits and women in stylish attire. It’s funny how towns are like that, how one town can be so different from the towns around it. At any rate, our impression of Iuka was that it was sophisticated and upscale – a really nice place to visit.

From Iuka, we zipped up to Corinth. We were working against the clock there, as we were determined to try the famous Corinth slugburger and we had to get there before the store closed at 3 or 4:00. We wanted to do it right, so we went to the home of the slugburger, Borroum’s Drug Store. What a delightfully charming place Borroum’s is. The building was built in 1873, and it exudes character. The drugstore was founded in 1865 by Dr. Borroum, a Confederate surgeon, and it’s still family run. In fact, there are several large family portraits hanging in the drugstore, and one of them is Dr. Borroum. The drugstore also has a real old-fashioned soda fountain that serves vanilla phosphates, no less. 

The unappealing name slugburger comes from its original price, which was a nickel, AKA, a slug. The burger (and I’m using the word very loosely here), was a product of the depression, a way to stretch meat by adding fillers. Sadly, this is a textbook case of over-achievement. A standard slugburger which, by the way, is dropped into a vat of hot grease and deep-fried, comes with mustard, pickle and onions to disguise the taste. Marian liked hers, but I am getting a little queasy just writing about slugburgers. It sat in my stomach like a brick. As it turns out, the people behind the counter admitted that they “replace” slugburgers with real burgers if asked. That’s very telling and I wish I had listened. 

After the slugburgers, we went for tamales. No, we weren’t hungry; Marian was full and I was nauseous, but Corinth is famous for its tamales too and we didn’t want to miss anything. Again, we searched for the original – Dilworth’s Drive Through – and I have to say, they were delicious. Neither of us could finish even one of the tiny tamales, but they were really good and I’m glad we tried them. As for the rest of Corinth, there is so much to see around there that we will make it a trip in itself. We were just trying their local foods this trip.

From Corinth we headed to Blue Mountain to spend the night. I had an aunt who went to Blue Mountain College, and both Marian and I had grandmothers who went there, so we have heard about the place all our lives. Weeks earlier, we had gotten in touch with BMC’s director of Alumni Affairs and booked a room in Stewart Hall. It seems that the college rents out rooms for alums or “friends” of the college; a double with bathroom goes for $25. No kidding. Anyway, we got to Blue Mountain about dusk, checked in, and got a wonderful night's sleep - with the window open to let the quiet in!

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