Red Bay, Jacinto

We had only a few hours free on Friday, so we decided to take a little side trip we had been talking about for some time, despite the fact that it’s not in Mississippi. (Turns out, that’s not always a bad thing!) We went to Red Bay, Alabama to see “the house” or, more accurately, “the yard,” Mecca for concrete and plaster of Paris dealers the world over.

The house, which sits on Highway 23, merely yards from the Mississippi/Alabama border, is a brick ranch style in a nice neighborhood. It’s tidy enough, but the front yard is a virtual savannah of wildlife…and other things. Mercifully, much of it is white. The very idea of such a gathering being every hue of the rainbow doesn’t bear thinking about.

Although we took plenty of pictures, it’s hard to get close enough to get really clear shots with a point and shoot camera, and we’re not quite brazen enough to nose around someone’s yard given all the gun owners in Mississippi and Alabama. It's impossible to get the full impact in a photo, so let us help you. There are planters, carousel horses, jockeys (with horses and without), baskets, dogs, lions, geese, swans, ducks, wagon wheels, and elephants – and there are multiples of all of these, especially the elephants (more on that later). And, when we say multiples, we don’t necessarily mean just two. There’s also a stagecoach, a well, a chimenea, a windmill, a liberty bell, Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, a large plastic or metal dump truck (?), and, lucky us, they were drying the floor mats from their cars/trucks, so they were draped over the porch railing. It was a nice touch.

Presiding over this menagerie, front and center, are the Statue of Liberty, Mary, and Jesus. Mind you, they are all 4-8 feet tall. You can’t miss them. And, should any of the lesser ornamentals get out of sorts, there’s an eight-foot grizzly guarding the front door to keep order. Those dogs, lions, geese, swans, ducks, horses, and elephants must be terrified! I know it scared us.

Yep, Bama fans.

We couldn’t see the back yard. Okay, we didn’t really want to, but we noted that, on the side of the yard near the driveway, they have constructed a gazebo with lounge chairs and all. It looks like a nice place to relax, although I can’t imagine the owners would want to be in the front yard with so many people driving by – all of whom must have a thousand questions for them. At any rate, it’s there and decorated (almost solely) with elephants. Turns out they’re big Bama fans. And they’re dedicated – they must have at least twenty elephants.

Anyone who does business in/travels through Red Bay seems to know about “the yard” and, incredibly, we hear that things have actually been tidied up and that much has been removed. This seems difficult to believe, but there were open places on the lawn and these are credible folk saying these things, so….

Red Bay, birthplace of Tammy Wynette, seems like a nice enough little town. They have a fine old downtown hotel that’s being fixed up, there are some other cute buildings, some laudable attempts at murals on downtown buildings, etc., but we were not there to tour Alabama, so we scampered back to TMI Sales in Belmont, Mississippi for a little shopping and accidentally stumbled upon Golden, Mississippi. We had tried to find Golden years ago and couldn’t, so we had thought it was another one of those “map dot only” places, but no…it’s real (small but real), and we were happy to find it. Then we set out for another of our “Bucket List” sites. We went to Jacinto Courthouse.

For decades now, Marian and I have been intrigued by the sign on Highway 45 directing folks to Jacinto Courthouse, and we always planned to visit it “someday.” Turns out May 20, 2011 was the day. For the record, it’s pronounced JUH-sin-toe (or, JUH-sinter), despite the fact that the town was named after the battle of San Jacinto.
Jacinto Courthouse
Cupola of the Jacinto Courthouse

As I sneaked around the exterior of the building taking pictures, I saw the 'ghost'" that I was expecting....see his back? See his coat? Hear me scream? I'm sure it's still hanging in the air around Jacinto.

Yeah, he was a mannequin as you can plainly see, but, from the window behind him he was much scarier...
Jacinto Courthouse is in the middle of nowhere. Well, not really. It’s located in Alcorn County, just off Highway 356 on County Road 367, east of Rienzi and south of Corinth. This is remarkable since it was built in Tishomingo County and has never been moved. (Tishomingo County was huge back then and was later divided up into Tishomingo, Alcorn, and Prentiss Counties.) The courthouse dates from 1854 and is made of hand-quarried foundation stones and handmade bricks. It was a courthouse until 1870, then a school till 1908. From 1908-1960 it was a Methodist church. But the not-so-prescient town fathers had opted out of being on the railroad line along about the turn of the century, so by mid-century Jacinto was almost a ghost town, down to a store or two and a few houses. The Methodist congregation, which had dwindled and virtually disbanded, was offered $600 for the bricks and it seemed a good deal so they agreed. Thankfully, local residents stepped in and set about trying to stave off this impending catastrophe. They succeeded, thanks to a doctor in West Point who wrote a check for $2000 to buy back the building and then set up a foundation to watch over it. Whew. That was close. Really – it’s one of the finest (and one of the few) local examples of Federal style architecture left, given Mississippi’s history of tornadoes and poverty. Although it was closed when we got there, we peeped into windows and supposedly the courtroom is almost intact; other rooms have been furnished to the period – enhanced by the original brick or wood floors. It’s a beautiful structure and well worth a visit.

Hours: May-September: Tuesday-Friday, Sunday – 1-5 pm. Saturday – 10 am - 5 pm April, October, November – Saturday 10-5, Sunday 1-5 It’s free, but they appreciate donations. We can’t give a first-person recommendation for the July 4 celebration at Jacinto, but it’s supposed to be a lot of fun – music, crafts, etc.

When we left Jacinto we were delighted to see signs for Hickory Flat. (Marian --No, this isn't the Hickory Flat that we all know exists on Highway 78 just outside of New Albany. This is another Hickory Flat.) We thought it would make an interesting side trip, but we couldn’t find it. We found other signs directing us to Cairo, however. We had tried (unsuccessfully) to find Cairo just the day before, but this was a different Cairo. Like so many places in Mississippi, there are multiples. We have concluded that surely only one can qualify as a town and the other must be a community. That’s what we think anyway.

Rienzi, however, is real and we found it a little farther down Highway 356. We just drove through, but it appears to be the quintessential small Mississippi town and may be worth another visit. There was even an auction going on! We wanted to stop and check it out, but we ran out of time. Well, really we were hungry so we swung by Booneville and stopped at Fisher’s Family Restaurant. Lucky us – it was catfish buffet night! And it was delicious.

Blue Springs, New Albany

New Albany and Corinth were on our agenda when we left Tupelo on Thursday morning, May 19. We had done a quick run-through of Corinth years ago, with the intention of returning and checking out the area’s rich history when we could devote a full day to it – there’s a lot to see. That was our plan and, by golly, it’s still our plan because we got sidetracked. Getting sidetracked is fun.

New Albany is some twenty-seven miles northwest of Tupelo on Highway 78, but we hopped over to Highway 9 at Blue Springs to check out the new Toyota plant. It seems that Pontotoc, Union, and Lee counties banded together to bring this industry (and a ton of jobs) to Mississippi, where they will be making Priuses. Ginormous hardly begins to describe the place – a massive, cream-colored three-story building with a loading dock that seems to go on forever. There’s nothing around it except empty land (and the brand new “Magnolia Way” exit from Highway 78!), yet security is tight – fences, cameras, gates.

After a quick look around, we decided to see if there really is a Blue Springs or if it is one of those places we find on maps but can’t find in person. Turns out it’s real. It’s a tiny town – population 144 – that dates to 1888, with tidy houses and a pretty town hall. It bills itself as “One of the last true villages in America.” Only later did we learn that some of those 144 people are artists, so we’ll be back to check out Pinion Pottery. As long as we were in the area, we thought we’d scope out the surrounding towns of Ellistown and Fairfield too, but we couldn’t find them.

This happens pretty regularly. Sometimes we mess up and turn the wrong way or don’t drive far enough or something like that, but most of the time there is just nothing to find, they’re communities rather than real towns with stores, fire stations, etc. Invariably there seems to be a Baptist (and it is almost always Baptist) church that bears the community’s name, and when we see a sign for “___ Baptist Church,” we just naturally assume there is a “___.” Although this is almost never the case, we fall for it every time. We see the town on the map and the town’s name on the church sign and set off on a fruitless search for the town itself. What we found this time is that while there is a Fairfield Baptist Church, there is no Fairfield. At least none we could see, so we gave up and headed back to Highway 78.

For many decades, two-lane Highway 78 took you from Tupelo to Memphis and you were lucky if you made it. It was one dangerous highway. Now Highway 78 is a much safer new four-lane, but the original (now not so dangerous) 78 is still there so we went that way for old time’s sake. As is often the case when a highway bypasses a place, all growth had stopped. Seriously, they were the same houses, same businesses, and same kudzu-covered trees we remembered from 1965. Check out the picture of the full-fledged kudzu forest in New Harmony, Mississippi.
Kudzu already reaching for the tops of the trees in May. The extra rain has been excellent for the crop

Speaking of New Harmony, we never actually found it despite the church sign, but the houses we passed as we hunted for “downtown New Harmony” are fairly upscale and neatly tended. There is also a strikingly pretty mauve house that sits near the highway. As if a mauve house wouldn’t be striking enough, this one is very European looking – German or Swiss, maybe. With the kudzu forest looming behind it, it looks like a scene out of some sort of twisted Hansel and Gretel book.

It was right around New Harmony that we saw a truck tethered to a tree. It’s hard to see in the photo, but the truck is tied to the tree as though it’s a horse. Don’t know why. Don’t know if the person who did it knows why. It was so odd that we had to circle around and go back to get a picture but we had to be quick about it. It was in the yard of a fairly uninviting trailer and, after all, these people tied their truck to a tree.
Look at the front ... in the middle of the front bumper... nope, this little truck doesn't look like a mustang.

And now for New Albany. It’s worth remembering here – as in so many other places – that “functional” was the name of the game for our forefathers. While we’re all grateful to them for braving the hardships of settling the new territory that eventually became Mississippi, it would have been nice if they had talked an architect or two into making the trek with them.

New Albany, MS

New Albany, MS

But, busy with the more pressing issue of survival, they overlooked such sissy things and just built what they needed where they needed it. Consequently, like so many other small Mississippi towns, downtown New Albany can’t really be described as visually charming, and certainly not as cute. It has "good bones” though. There are some very nice buildings, including one recently remodeled building that looks very New Orleansish and an Art Deco bank. They’ve also preserved two huge old Coke murals on the sides of buildings. They did a good job of redoing one; the other hasn’t been touched yet.

This Coca Cola add dates circa 1905 per Tommy Sappington. It was covered up when a building was built over it. The building burned several years ago, uncovering this treasure. Sometime around the turn of the century, Coca-Cola had cocaine in it...thus the "Relieves Fatigue" slogan. Mr. Sappington had this sign reconditioned.

Overall, New Albany is an attractive little town with a lot to offer and is well on its way to becoming more so. They’re serious about their refurbishments and seem to have a high regard for historical integrity. When all’s said and done, they’re going to have one of the finer looking towns around. Maybe even on par with Louisville, and that’s saying something.
First National Bank of New Albany
Yep, a railroad track is right in the middle of one of the crossroads in Downtown New Albany. One of the roads parallels the tracks.

We went into Sappington’s, a nice store that has been around forever. They have an old Coke machine sitting near the front of the store that Mr. Sappington bought new in 1956. It’s only about six feet high and maybe two feet across – the smallest (and coolest) machine ever.

This machine has never been reconditioned -- originally purchased for around $20.
It’s in almost mint condition and still has the sign on it saying 10 cents. This started a conversation with “young” Mr. Tommy Sappington (age 56) about when Cokes went from six cents to ten, which morphed into an overview of the historic work going on in New Albany (he worked on restoring the Coke mural), which shops we should check out, and where to eat. He didn’t steer us wrong either, especially with his advice to eat at Tallahatchie Gourmet.
Not a fitting picture - it's the side of the Tallahatchie Gourmet, I took this to help my geriatric memory. The place was quite crowded by 12 -- they have meat and three or specialty salads.

One of my favorite things at the great little shop, Redesigning Women, located across from the Tallahatchie Gourmet. This place had some of the neatest eclectic collections of new and old decorating pieces, jewelry, and furniture.

Another mural, another Coca Cola advertisement -- this one needs a sponsor to recondition it.

We enjoyed New Albany so much that we stayed for hours. Lunch was delicious and the shopping was great. We hadn’t planned on a day of shopping, it just happened, but we enjoyed it and then we walked around New Albany checking out what’s what. It was mid afternoon before we had seen all we wanted to see and since it was too late to go to Corinth, we headed toward Pontotoc on Highway 15 – which for some reason has a plethora of mansions lining it. Real mansions sitting on thirty- to fifty-acre lots…out in the middle of nowhere.

We were driving along admiring the mansions when we spied a sign for the Cairo Baptist Church. Incredibly, we fell for this again and set off to find Cairo. There is no Cairo of course, but it took us a while – and a long drive down a country road – to accept that. We consoled ourselves with a side trip to Ecru. Ashley Furniture has a huge huge huge factory there.

After Ecru, we moseyed over to check out Hurricane, Mississippi. That’s H-U-R-R-I-C-A-N-E, pronounced “Herkin.” We never found it.

The lemons to lemonade award for the trip goes to Sela Baptist Church (yea for us, we didn’t go searching for Sela!). A tree in the church’s front yard died and they cut it down about ten feet off the ground and then carved an eight-foot cross out of the tall stump, similar to the hurricane damaged palms on the Mississippi coast that were carved into all sorts of animals. Brilliant.

We came home via Pontotoc, taking time to snoop around an antique store and eat dinner. Then we unloaded all our loot from the day-long shopping trip, poured a couple glasses of wine, and planned the next day’s trip.