Philadelphia, Louisville, Moscow, Neshoba County Fair

Philadelphia, Louisville, Moscow – Marian and I did some world-class traveling this time around, all to impress Guest Traveler Karen Deickmann. Like us, Karen has never passed a road she didn’t want to turn down and, like us, she’s willing to eat anywhere, and since that pretty much sums up our Guest Traveler requirements, we invited her along. Marian and I like to think of ourselves as easy-going people, but we simply won’t tolerate dieting fussbudgets.
If our trips had themes, the theme of this one would be “surprises.” We took the Trace south out of Tupelo, a lovely if somewhat leafless drive this time of year. An hour or so later, we exited onto Highway 15 South, through the communities of Mathiston, Sherwood, and Reform, where we suddenly found ourselves in the mountains. Or, Mississippi-style mountains anyway, big hills with beautiful overlooks. Incredibly, just moments earlier, we had commented on the view straight ahead of us: a long, flat, empty ribbon of highway stretching as far as the eye could see. Then, suddenly, we’re looking down on things and the GPS is telling us we’re at 684’. That’s only about a hundred feet shorter than Woodall Mountain, Mississippi’s highest point.
Just as an aside, later we passed through High Point, Mississippi, which is south of Ackerman, just before Louisville. But by the time we got to High Point, the land was flat again.
Ackerman, Mississippi, for everyone who doesn’t know (and that would be virtually everyone) is home to Camp Woodmen, a camp sponsored by Woodmen of the World. Yes, we know, yawn. But here’s what’s interesting: They have an adult camp too! Really, 55+, the “young at hearts,” they advertise. Ever sit around, reminiscing and longing for the fun you had at camp? Well, here’s your chance!
Actually, the camp folks might want to work on their advertising. Their website notes that the young (8-15) campers can partake of archery, swimming, a ropes course, talent show and a dance, among other things. The 55+ camp lists the following activities: coffee, snacks, friendship, fellowship, and a one-day field trip.
Worse still is the memorial plaque on the Senior Camp website. I feel it’s almost as big a downer as the activity list. They show a close-up of the plaque, which cites the donation of an Automatic External Defibrillator to honor the memory of Murphy Watson and Eugene Alexander. It’s a little off-putting and personally, we have concerns about their bunk beds, too.


Our next stop was Louisville, pronounced Lewis-vul, for those of you who aren’t from Mississippi. And, no, it’s not a mistake. The town wasn’t named for the French king, it was named for Mr. Louis Winston, the Anglo-Saxon who founded the town. (I can’t explain why “ville” is pronounced “vul,” but hey, it sounds fine to me.)
Louisville is a small town, maybe six or seven thousand people, but it was full of surprises, the main surprise being that we expected a tiny, sad-sack sort of town and found a real jewel.
We were greeted by a succession of welcome signs as we approached town, which is always nice, and then we spied a small man-made lake just off the highway. On the lake sat a small glass “lake house,” and alongside it, a huge water wheel turned.

This is all in a large field that is otherwise empty and open except for a big, beautiful statue of a black stallion. Upon close inspection, the stallion is made of strips of metal that look like black ribbons.

This stallion was probably 9-10 feet tall -- a beautiful depiction of strength and artistry.
That odd finish became less perplexing when we realized we were on private property belonging to Taylor Metalworks, a huge company headquartered in Louisville. A giant industry like that probably explains why the whole town looks so prosperous and upscale. The grounds, which we heard the company uses for picnics and the like, were well-maintained, and the drive onto the property was lined with eye-catching bushes – short, full, mini-trees with what appeared to be tomatoes growing on them. Specifically, they appeared to be Bradley tomatoes. Marian, our resident naturalist, ID’ed them as persimmons. Now, how often does one run into a persimmon tree?
Newly refurbished and waiting to become the Welcome Center of Louisville.

As we drove into the downtown area, there were other pleasant surprises awaiting us, beginning with a little red caboose sitting on a tiny strip of train track – their new, soon-to-open visitors’ center. Then we hit the downtown area, which is the standard Mississippi small town: two blocks of stores lining either side of Main Street. But these buildings have had their facades painted and spruced up to the point of resembling a movie set.

A downtown building....decorated for Christmas..

We were happy to note that the good folks of Louisville had the foresight to save their town’s theater, The Strand (of course!). A town that saves things like glorious old pre-war theaters seems to do other things well too. It’s part of a pattern.

Louisville, Mississippi

The only place we could see where Louisvillians slipped up was in the “statue placement” department. The town has a lovely statue to honor Winston County’s support for the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and WWI. It’s a tall – maybe thirty or forty feet tall – marble or limestone statue at the intersection of Main Street and Columbus Avenue. Let me re-phrase that: it’s not at the intersection, it’s actually in the intersection. Right in the middle of the road(s). And it’s not standing atop any sort of huge base or in the middle of a patch of chained-off grass or anything else that would qualify it as a roundabout or town square or someplace people would obviously circle around in the course of a normal outing – the statue just sits in the middle of the road. It’s doubtlessly been there some time, and people must know to avoid it, but a stranger driving through town at night is in for quite a shock.
We missed the antique railway museum and didn’t take the time to visit the family-owned (yea!) resort Lake Tiak-O’Kahta, which we’ll check out when the weather is warmer. Still, we came away from Louisville very impressed and figuring that it would be the highlight of our trip. But there were more surprises in store.

Smallwood Hills?

After Louisville, we decided to make a short trek down Highway 25 South to Smallwood Hills, altitude 718 feet. Now, folks in the Rocky Mountain States may scoff at that, but in Mississippi we are talking about competition for the “state’s highest peak” status, and that’s no small matter.
Unfortunately, we seemed to have missed Smallwood’s hills, due to what we like to think of as a “map irregularity.” It seems that a cruel mapmaker put “Smallwood Hills 718 ft.” on one side of the highway and the little teeny tiny, itty bitty marker indicating where Smallwood Hills actually is on the other side of the highway and we didn’t look on the correct side. Marian had pointed out some pretty hills in the area though, and that’ll just have to do. There should be a law.


We had several things of interest on our list for Philadelphia, but Peggy’s restaurant was first and foremost in our minds. Peggy’s is old (about forty years old), established, and very famous for their fried chicken. They’ve actually won numerous chicken-frying awards. Mississippi magazine declared it had the “Best Fried Chicken” for two years running, and it is known far and wide for its ability to flour and fry. We pulled up in the parking lot, got out, and I said, “Gee, I don’t smell fried chicken.”
Peggy’s is located in an old white house. That isn’t to say that it is in an old white house that has been converted into a restaurant, only that the restaurant is in a house. They didn’t reconfigure the house in any way; it’s just a house with only tables and chairs for furniture. We ate in the living room. Someone (Peggy? Peggy Jr.?) greeted us, told us to sit wherever we wanted, and pointed to the buffet in the hall. On the way to the buffet, we passed several framed fried chicken awards. Then we picked up a plate and helped ourselves to garden salad, limas, green beans, cheesy mashed potatoes, deviled eggs, chicken and dumplings, and country ham. We searched the table thoroughly, but we didn’t see any fried chicken. We didn’t smell any fried chicken either, and chicken can’t be fried surreptitiously. People know when you’ve been in the kitchen frying chicken, and it was becoming painfully obvious that no one had been doing that.
Now seriously, if you were known – if you were actually famous – for your fried chicken, shouldn’t you be serving it every day? Especially if you offer two meats a day! Really. We had come a long way and it was hugely disappointing. Marian and I pride ourselves on trying local dishes, even when those local dishes are inedibles like slugburgers, and all three of us were bummed about not being able to try the chicken.
Marty Stuart grew up in Philadelphia, MS
Peyton and Eli like Peggy's
Luckily, being bummed out doesn’t affect our appetites, and Peggy is quite the cook. Everything was delicious, including the rolls, cornbread, and slices of lemon ice-box pie we found on the table when we got back from the buffet. People say that eating at Peggy’s is like eating at your grandmother’s, and they’re right. We stuffed ourselves and enjoyed every bite of it. Then we went back for more and enjoyed that too. Then we ate dessert. Then it was time to pay, so we asked for a check. “Peggy” told us they operated on the honor system – that there was a basket on the table in the living room, lunch was $9, and we could make change from the basket if we needed to. Now, that was a nice surprise.
Train Depot Museum and Welcome Center of Philadelphia, MS
Marty Stuart's guitar in the Train Depot.
From Peggy’s we visited the railway depot, which has been revived as a museum. It’s tidy and well-kept, and it seems to be totally original. The floors are especially notable – wide old boards that have probably seen tens of thousands of feet over the years. The depot is manned by a nice woman named Kay who was full of friendly chitchat and loaded us up with maps showing how to get to the places we wanted to see.
We had actually had some trepidation about going to Philadelphia – the murders of the three civil rights workers in 1964 still casts quite a pall over the place – but we were all glad we went. We visited the memorial to the men (Men! They were just boys!), a well-tended monument that resembles a gravesite on the grounds of Mt. Nebo United Methodist Church. As I understand it, the two white workers (Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner) had come to Philadelphia in response to the burning of a black church – Mt. Zion United Methodist Church, which is out of town a ways. Mt. Nebo, where Dr. King preached at the height of the trouble, is in town and was the only church in Philadelphia that was integrated in the 1960s, so we’re assuming that was why they put the monument there, although I do believe there may be some sort of marker at Mt. Zion, too.

Downtown Philadelphia and the historic sign for Marty Stuart

After a quick trip through the historic district – they have some nice old homes – we set off for Williams’ Store, one of the reasons we chose Philadelphia for a Tiny Travels tour, although Williams’ store is technically in Williamsville – and no, we feel sure that’s not just a coincidence. And, by the way, there are two Williamsvilles in Mississippi; this one and a second just south of Kosciusko, some 30-40 miles away.

Williams' General Store
General Store area of Williams'

Nice artwork? Sign on store front window.
Williams’ General Store

Williams’ is a hundred-plus-year-old general store, owned and operated by the Williams family. As in Olivia Williams Manning, wife of Archie and mother of Peyton and Eli (and Cooper too, to be fair). The three Manning boys used to spend part of their summers with their grandparents, working at the store. There are Peyton and Eli jerseys for sale, but the store doesn’t play on the relationship. They don’t need to. Williams’ is a force in its own right.
No matter how many general stores one has visited, no one can go to Williams’ and walk away saying that it was just another general store. It’s not, and because it is so singular, it’s hard to describe. It’s huge and red and its stock is varied: groceries, clothing, shoes, saddles, feed – you name it. But, it’s the quality and diversity of their stock that boggles the mind. Think Red Wing work boots and Spanx. There’s a room just for saddles, bridles, and assorted horse gear. There are two or three huge rooms of shoes – men’s and women’s, everything from heels to Rockport to Merrell to Tom’s to rain boots to cowboy boots. You name it, they’ve got it.
The clothing selection was a shocker too. They’ve got farm duds and flannel nightgowns with eyelet trim, but they also carry Polo and a lot of other name brands. And not just one or two “leader” items – rack after rack of them. These people deal in volume. That’s what was so staggering about the place (aside from its sheer size). They seem to carry some of everything. And whether the item is expensive or inexpensive, the prices are fair and reasonable.
Now, I’m sure they own the building and the land, and that keeps costs down to some extent, but it also looks like they employ everyone who lives within five-miles of the place. You’ve never seen so many (helpful) employees. We all just marveled at everything about Williams’. Marian -- I will never forget the numbers of shoppers....this place was BUSY...selling groceries, bacon, cheese, sorghum molasses, boots (under $100 to over $300 a pair), clothes (RL polo shirts were about $5- $8 cheaper than Belks), shoes, on and on and on and on...... One other thing...DO NOT believe the map information that you get on the internet... Once again, our trip attested to the fact that the rest of the world would be lost in Mississippi using GPS devices or internet maps.

Neshoba County Fairgrounds

Still, we left the store without partaking of the two things they are most famous for (besides Peyton and Eli): hoop cheese and bacon sliced on the spot. We watched them cut slices for other people, but a long car trip with cheese and bacon isn’t enticing, so we passed up that opportunity and drove out to the Neshoba County Fairgrounds. The Neshoba County Fair is inarguably the most well-known in the state, and Philadelphia seems very proud of it – welcome signs refer to the town as “Our Fair City” – and the fair is known as “Mississippi’s Giant Houseparty.” But what do those things really mean? A fair’s a fair, right?
No, no it isn’t. In Philadelphia, a general store isn’t just a general store and a fair isn’t just a fair.
The first clue is the fact that the fair has been on the National Register of Historic Places for thirty years. (The fair itself dates to 1889 or so.) The second clue was the distance from town to the fairgrounds. It’s really only about seven miles from town on Highway 21 South, but it’s in the middle of nowhere so it seems farther – far enough to make us wonder if we’d missed a turn somewhere. We finally got there though, and right inside the gate we found just what we were looking for: The fair houses (cabins, I think they’re called locally) that are so often pictured in Southern Living and Mississippi magazines. The magazines always show a strip of colorfully decorated houses and people partying to beat the band. But, like Williams’ General Store, it was the scale that left us stunned.

Just a sample of the hundreds of "cabins" at the Fair.

Even a Post Office!

These houses were everywhere on the Fair Grounds!
 The magazines always make it look like there are two or three or maybe even four rows of fun-houses. In truth, there are hundreds. And, by hundreds, I mean six hundred. They go on and on and on.
Now, it may be a stretch to call some of these places houses, but I must because there is no such thing as multi-story sheds. And believe me when I say that they are photogenic beyond all reason. In the magazines, the rows of houses with their front porches, their flags proclaiming Ole Miss or State, and their cute, cleaver signs, look a little like Seaside. In person, they don’t. At all. In truth, 90% of them are one coat of cheerful pastel paint away from qualifying as a ghetto. Seriously, take away the pretty pinks and yellows, the cute signs and decorations, and no magazine would be down there taking pictures.
First of all, the construction could best be described as haphazard. (Think plywood and particle board exteriors on many of them.) Some lean. Some lean a lot. Some front doors sit so crooked in the frame that there are two-inch gaps in the upper right-hand corners. Some are much nicer than others, of course, and there are some that really look nice. The houses on the racetrack are especially attractive – like a modern, yuppie version of Gunsmoke’s main drag or something.
But, here’s the thing – even on a cold December day, when the place was deserted save for a few maintenance workers, those houses reeked of fun and good times. In some quirky, inexplicable way, the whole thing comes together in a way that works. You can only envy the people who own them and can spend a week or so every summer hanging out at the fair with their friends, and we were told that people often gather for weekends at the fairgrounds in pleasant weather. And be honest…it’s making you smile just to see the pictures, isn’t it? You can’t look at pictures of those funky houses and not feel upbeat. But what a surprise; we were absolutely blown away.
The Choctaw Indian reservation
The Choctaw Indian reservation was next on our list, and we were greeted by the requisite casinos. Silver Star and Golden Moon front the entrance to the res, which covers some 35,000 square miles. Needless to say, we didn’t try to take in the whole thing – time constraints kept us near the entrance, where we noted a nice array of tribal governance buildings and a high school whose athletes are known as “the Warriors.”
We visited the museum, which displays a pictorial history, along with bead work, ceremonial dress, basketry, etc. It was run by a really nice lady, but then, everyone we met on the trip was nice, leading us to conclude that Mississippians are just nice.
We didn’t have time to really see the reservation, but for some interesting info on the Mississippi Band of Choctaw, check out http://www.choctaw.org/ and click on Tribal Profile. It’s a good read, and certainly enlightening.

From the reservation we headed to Nanih Waiya historical site to see the Indian mounds. Unfortunately, the road to them is blocked off for some sort of excavation, so it was a wasted trip. Then, after a quick dip south off Highway 16 to check out Moscow (Sorry, nothing to report.), we motored on in to Scooba. We couldn’t resist going by the little strip that is the former downtown Scooba, just to see if it had improved since our last visit. It has not. It’s sad because there is some charm there, or was at one time.
We picked up Highway 45 North there, the state’s most boring (but drivable) highway. Still full from lunch, nobody wanted to stop for dinner (that’s a first), but we’d covered a lot of territory and it was long after dark before we pulled into Tupelo. A wonderful, fun, totally exhausting day.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, it was a fun trip full of surprises! Thanks for including me! Karen
    P. S. For any philanthropic investors reading the blog,there's a fabulous old hotel for sale in downtown Ackerman. It needs a million dollars worth of renovation, but what a great place it would be restored!