Nettleton, Aberdeen, Amory, Mantachie

A couple years ago we took a quick trip through Amory on the tail end of a day-long zip around North Mississippi. We arrived late in the day and everything was closed, so our visit didn’t amount to much more than a fine home-cooked dinner at Wilson’s Family Restaurant and a drive through downtown. We were impressed by what we saw though and made plans to return to see the Amory Regional Museum and eat at Bill’s Hamburgers.

We opted for the old route out of Tupelo (two-lane Highway 45) because we wanted to have a look around Nettleton on the way. Neither of us has ever spent time there, but it isn’t exactly uncharted territory either. Marian’s mother used to teach there and I used to pass through on my frequent trips to Aberdeen in the ‘60s. It had grown a bit and there had been some laudable attempts to spruce things up/gentrify the downtown area with cute storefronts.

Downtown Nettleton -- south side of the street -- Holland Funeral Home

On to Aberdeen, a beautiful old town that has seen some hard times but appears to be on its way up. Aberdeen is on the Tombigbee River, a fact that is much more important than it seems at first glance. Before there were interstates, before there were highways, before there were railroads, everything was shipped by boat and those boats had to dock and load/unload somewhere. Consequently, port towns were prosperous places inhabited by important people: shipping magnates, bankers, store owners, etc. Such affluence tends to leave a legacy of beautiful buildings and fine houses and, judging by the number of gorgeous historic homes – many of them antebellum – Aberdeen must have been a prosperous town indeed. There are over 200, an incredible number given the size of Aberdeen.

Aberdeen Court House

We made our requisite stop at Monogram Magic on the way into town – it’s one of our very favorite places (seriously, google this place, it's great!) – and left with shopping bags overflowing with shoes, purses, earrings, candles…and fudge! Then we drove around and looked at the beautiful homes.

Aberdeen hosts a Pilgrimage every April, although it’s overshadowed by the one in nearby Columbus, only thirty miles away. Columbus has a much larger to-do, but while Aberdeen can’t build more antebellum homes, they can fix up the plethora of historic homes they do have and they seem to be very busy doing just that. Aberdeen native Billy Brasfield is generally credited with putting this gentrification into motion, and that may well be true.

Billy Brasfield completed this clapboard renovation.

Billy, who grew up in Aberdeen and then moved to New York and became a makeup artist, remodeled one of Aberdeen’s smaller old houses a few years back, and now many people seem to have jumped on the revitalization bandwagon. It sure makes for a jaw-dropping drive.

Beautiful old home in Aberdeen

We zipped over to Amory next, to Bill’s Hamburgers. It may seem silly to make such a big deal over a burger, but our theory is that any restaurant that can last 80+ years – even with changes of ownership – deserves a visit. Not to mention that we like to eat. Bill’s is famous for its burgers; it is one of two Mississippi restaurants mentioned in the Hamburger America book (Phillips Grocery in Holly Springs is the other). It’s a step back in time to visit Bill’s, but we’re comfortable stepping back in time – we've already been there; it’s familiar to us – so we plopped down at the counter and ordered off the menu, a plastic sign on the wall. We had our choice between burgers with onions and burgers without onions. Things used to be so much simpler. The burgers tasted just like Mom used to make, and the total tab for a burger, fries and an iced tea was $4.85.

Burgers aren’t all there is to Amory though. Amory is a railroad town, or used to be back when railroads wielded life or death powers. Actually, Amory is the state’s first planned community, established because the railroad needed a stopping point between Memphis and Birmingham back in the late 1800s. It’s even named for one of the railroad bigwigs and there’s still a certain “railroadiness” about the town in things like its motto, “A Community on the Right Track,” and its downtown park, Frisco Park, a beautiful expanse of green where they hold their annual Railroad Festival every April.

Engine 1529 is said to have been the last steam engine to pull a passenger train on the Frisco line. The engine is displayed at the Amory Museum.

After Bill’s, we dropped by the Amory Regional Museum, an interesting collection of photos and exhibits covering a variety of topics relating to Amory. There are Indian relics, military paraphernalia, and antique medical instruments among the displays and, amazingly, it’s free. It’s a good little museum, but we were more interested in the building it’s in, a beautiful old house that once served as Amory’s sanitarium/hospital. We were also taken with the train car attached to the back of the museum. It’s a passenger coach, the Frisco’s Pasadena Hills No. 1251 for you train buffs, and it houses railroad memorabilia. There is a little log cabin, circa 1850, behind the museum too, an interesting place to snoop around.

Amory Park Hotel -- the ground floor is the restaurant.

We’d been real excited about seeing Amory’s Park Hotel because we have a soft spot for old hotels and towns that have the foresight to preserve them. We’re hoping the Park is as nice on the inside as it is on the outside, but we don’t know because it was locked up tight as a drum. Even the restaurant – where we had been planning to enjoy a little ice cream. Granted, it was Wednesday afternoon and several things were closed, so we’re hoping that was all it was and that the hotel will be around a long time, but it’s worrisome.

We still had a couple hours of daylight left, so we headed north out of Amory and about forty-five minutes later we were greeted by a sign welcoming us to Itawamba County: “Native American Name, Classic American Community.” Our destination was Mantachie, which is much larger than we had thought it would be and much nicer. There’s even a sign posted along the highway into town noting, “Deaf Child Area,” which makes Mantachie seem like a very thoughtful community too.

Welcome to Mantachie
Jim "Buck" Murphy Store -- now an antique store in a quiet setting

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