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/

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


On our way home from the Canton Flea Market, we passed right by Kosciusko and thought – Why not? After all, we’ve been loyal Oprah followers for years and it is her hometown. Turns out, there is a lot more to Kosciusko – it’s a beautiful little town. We pulled off the Trace at the Kosciusko Museum and Information Center, a lovely modern building with friendly, knowledgeable staff and a really clean bathroom. Among their many exhibits on display is a collection of artwork by the late folk artist, L.V. Hull. People used to come from all over to see – and purchase items from – Mrs. Hull in her stuffed-to-the-gills-with-her-artwork little house at 132 Allen Street. Her yard was full, too. Mrs. Hull’s preferred medium was, to put it politely, “salvaged junkyard artifacts,” and there was no paint too bright for her taste. Yet, there is something really fetching about her work’s honesty and integrity. We can only imagine that Kosciusko was a brighter place when she was alive, and a quick google of her name will convince you too!

From the Museum/Information Center, we drove around the town square to admire their gorgeous courthouse. We found a lot of nice stores operating on the square, and far fewer empty storefronts than many other small Mississippi towns.

The brickwork on this building had been blasted and cleaned.

The beautiful courthouse in Kosciusko's square.
A block or so off the square is Redbud Springs Park, a pretty little “pocket park” similar to those found in large cities. It’s beautifully landscaped and features a statue of General Thaddeus Kosciuszko, the man Kosciusko is named for. The town had originally been called Redbud Springs, but it was renamed in the late 1830s and it happened that the person in charge of renaming the town had heard his relatives talk about General Kosciuszko. A Polish engineer, Kosciuszko served under George Washington during the Revolutionary War. Afterward, he went home to fight the Russians for Poland’s independence which, sadly, he didn’t live to see.

General Thaddeus Kosciuszko in Redbud Springs Park
Kosciuszko never set foot in Mississippi, much less in the town that bears his name – without the Z. And he certainly wasn’t brought back from Poland to be buried in Kosciusko. He rests in Krakow, but dirt from his grave was brought over and used in the park’s landscaping. How cool is that?

Personally, we’re glad that Thaddeus Kosciuszko’s name was chosen to grace this pretty little town because it resulted in there being a statue of him, and that statue reveals that he was one handsome man. Really handsome. As in, if you look that good in bronze, what must you have looked like in person handsome?!?

The statue of the handsome Kosciuszko whetted our appetite for more statues, so off we went to the Kosciusko City Cemetery on Huntington Street. Our first stop was at the statue of the lovely Laura Kelly, a woman who was truly beloved – and we really mean beloved. When she died in 1890, her distraught husband, C. Clay Kelly, sent an Italian sculptor her photograph and either her favorite dress or her wedding dress (there are conflicting accounts) so that he could recreate her in as much detail as possible. Consequently, the statue is stunning. It’s also positioned – on a pedestal no less and we don’t think that’s just a coincidence – so that it appears to be presiding over not just the Kelly family plot, but their whole side of the cemetery. Driving into the cemetery and seeing Laura standing there is really an enchanting sight.

Laura Kelly -- Kosciusko City Cemetery -- missing her right hand and walking stick. In February 2011, the historic statue was broken by someone -- probably trying to climb onto the pedestal. Parts of the statue remained missing until Sunday, September 11, 2011. Locals are currently raising money to finance the repair.
The Kellys were building a home at the time of her death, and her forlorn husband had a third floor added so that he could see her monument from the comfort of his home. True love. The house still stands, by the way, at 309 East Jefferson Street. It’s now known as the Kelly-Jones-Ivy House, but unfortunately, the grave can no longer be seen from the house.

Mrs. Laura Mitchell Kelly, preserved in marble by an Italian sculptor.
Update: we revisited Kosciusko on May 10, 2012, and Laura's hand and walking stick have been replaced, beautifully.

We visited another grave too, a very large grave that is the final resting place of the late Mr. and Mrs. W.E. Burdine. Her name is listed as Mrs. I.G., there’s no first name engraved on her stone. It seems that the Burdines were really, truly in love, too. Or something, because they had nineteen children. I.G. bore children regularly for an astounding twenty-nine years. Twenty-nine years! Apparently number nineteen was the straw that broke the camel’s back, however, because she died shortly after that birth. W.E. lived and, we assume, parented, for another thirteen years. All those children are almost too much to comprehend nowadays, but this was apparently a source of great pride for them, as they had it engraved on their headstones.

Nineteen Burdine children
Sadly, not all of the children lived. Consequently, several did not receive names (we imagine the Burdines were running out of names they could agree on). Three are listed only as Baby Boy or Infant Son. Then apparently they ran out of non-names too, as witnessed by the name of their seventeenth child, Seventeen. Seriously. They named their baby that. We are only assuming that he/she was stillborn and that – surely – no one had to go through life with that moniker, but who knows? Someone may have. Once you get over the shock of the name, however, it does seem rather practical, and practicality is probably a necessary trait for anyone with nineteen kids.

Update: We got busy on ancestry.com and learned that I.G.'s real name was Ida Gertrude; W.E.'s was William Earl, and he was one super handsome man. Seventeen (a male) did indeed live a long, and we hope happy, life answering to Seventeen; he passed away in 1998.

Yet another update! We've been contacted by several Burdine descendants, including child number 15, Delores Burdine (Haley). And it seems that the family was truly as happy as these lovely headstones indicate. Mr. and Mrs. Burdine married in 1906 and were truly in love; each child was wanted. Mr. Burdine worked 12-hour days at the textile mill and Mrs. Burdine's job is obvious. After Mrs. Burdine died of blood poisoning following the birth of her nineteenth child, Mr. Burdine never remarried. He did not want another woman raising their children - even the family members that offered to take in some of the children. He said he would raise the rest of his and Gertie's children at home, like the others. I'm sure he had some help here and there from the grown children, but the fact that he readily shouldered the responsibility for his children is really heartwarming! 

Mrs. Haley also mentioned that the Burdines did not name Seventeen - the doctor who delivered him did! A few friends called Seventeen Buddy, but the family and everyone else always called him Seventeen and I bet he had a good time with that. 

The children listed as Baby Boy and Infant Son were indeed stillbirths. Apparently, at that time it was not the custom to name stillborn babies, and in fact you do occasionally still see that in local obituaries. 

As an interesting aside, she also mentioned that Mrs. Burdine had brassy red hair (brassy is her word, not mine!!!). Mrs. Burdine's mother and five of her brothers also had red hair, but not one of the Burdine children had red hair and there were no blonds either. Mr. Burdine was of Spanish, English and Indian extraction, and all of the children got their coloring from him. (We can only hope at least some were as good looking!)

The Burdines' grave is well known among local travelers and makes for an interesting stop for someone touring Kosciusko. But, to learn about this wonderful family adds so much to the experience, and to learn that the family is/was as exceptional at they appear at first glance was an added bonus. Thank you, Burdines.

From the cemetery, it was straight to Oprah’s birthplace in the Buffalo community just outside Kosciusko on MS 12. We turned onto Oprah Winfrey Road and immediately found ourselves face to face with the little white wooden church she attended through the age of six, when she left her grandmother’s home to live with her mother in Milwaukee. It was in this little white church that she gave her first performance, reciting the Easter story. My, how that snowballed!

Oprah Winfrey Road -- located off of Highway 12 east of Kosciusko

The Buffalo Community Center -- location of Oprah's childhood stage debut.
The building is now the Buffalo Community Center, but it has changed very little and still looks like the quintessential old Mississippi country church. And truthfully, it looks better in person. In its bucolic setting, the less attractive facets of an aging building are just less noticeable.

And, guess what we found right by the church? Another cemetery! Oprah’s family cemetery, no less. There is almost always a cemetery on the grounds of a country church, of course, but this one is different. It has to be the nicest country church cemetery we have ever seen – much fancier than the usual collection of small concrete or wood tombstones – and it doesn’t appear to have been recently revamped. It looks – as so many things in Kosciusko do – like it was just done well from the beginning.

Could not find a headstone or a name on this interesting grave -- located just outside the Buffalo CC
Just down the street from the church is the site of Oprah’s birthplace and former home – torn down long ago. Its setting is typical Mississippi: woodsy, green, and very serene. (Full disclosure here: We suspect that her actual home did not look like the charming craftsman depicted on the sign below!)

Located just down Oprah Winfrey Road from the Buffalo Community Center

House probably stood in the small clearing behind and to the right of this sign
The church is only seventy-five yards or so down the road, and is clearly visible from the house. Standing there looking at the church building, with your back to the woods where the house once stood, it’s not hard to imagine little Oprah, dressed in her Sunday best, her hair in pigtails, walking with her grandmother to church on Sunday mornings.

The Lake District

We've been traveling the I-55 corridor, soaking up some of Mississippi’s beautiful outdoorsy-ness. And boy is there a lot of it to soak up!

I-55 runs north-south, just west of mid state. The area we covered – Grenada to Como – sits west of the Hill Country and east of the Delta, and surely vies only with the Gulf Coast in the number and scope of outdoor activities available. We visited Grenada Lake, Enid Lake, and Sardis Lake before we ran out of time – we’ll see Arkabutla Lake on another trip – and we found them all absolutely beautiful. These lakes and their surrounding recreational areas are true Mississippi treasures.

The three lake areas we visited look similar in many ways, which isn’t that surprising since they are all U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flood control projects. They’re so well done – well laid out, clean, and meticulously maintained, with sandy beaches and conveniently located boat landings. All three lakes are so big that each meets the horizon – scan any of them (at least from shore, as we did) and it’s like looking out to sea. That came as a real shocker to us for some reason. Like most Mississippians, we’re used to seeing both sides of a waterway at once. And we visited the first of April, when water levels are somewhat lower, providing more shoreline! (During the fall and winter months the lakes are drawn down to allow for storage of spring rains.) 

Beautiful Grenada Lake.  Looking west off of the bridge on Scenic Loop 333
We started our tour about three miles northeast of the town of Grenada, at Grenada Lake, a reservoir on the Yalobusha and Skuna Rivers. The entire Corps project covers 90,427 acres, with the lake itself covering an incredible 36,000 acres – making it the biggest in Mississippi. It boasts 148 miles of shoreline, seventeen boat landings, and eight public beaches. There’s a fine Visitor Center (2151 Scenic Loop 333), with an overlook that provides a panoramic view of the lake. The center offers a theater, historical and cultural exhibits, and information on recreational facilities and area attractions.

Fishing area and picnic area off Scenic Loop 333
What a beautiful place to watch the sun come up!  Picnic area west of Scenic Loop 333.
There’s no lack of activities. Visitors can boat, fish, jet ski, swim, picnic, golf, play tennis or basketball, walk trails, hunt, bird watch – the list goes on and on. The nearby Hugh White State Park has cabin rentals – some with screened porches and fireplaces – and a lodge that accommodates thirty-five people. History buffs will want to check out a couple of Civil War redoubts; reenactments are occasionally held here.
Looking North from the Visitor Center at Grenada Lake.  The highway tops the dam.

Grenada Lake is a delight any time of year, but it’s especially fun in June, when Grenada Lake Association holds its annual “Thunder on Water.” Voted one of the Top 20 tourism events in the Southeast, it’s a safe-boating festival that includes a fishing rodeo, carnival rides, a tractor pull, concerts, wrestling, bike and car shows, arts and crafts and more.

Enid Lake
Moving north from Grenada, we came to Enid Lake on the Yocona River. The smallest of the three we visited, Enid is about twelve miles south of Batesville, and on the map it’s dwarfed by Grenada Lake. Consequently, we were gobsmacked to see that it’s huge! The permanent pool is a sizable 6,100 acres, with a flood control pool of some 28,000 acres. The enormity of these projects is almost overwhelming.

Taken from atop the dam at Enid Lake

The lake is known for its family camping facilities and its accessible fishing pier below Enid Dam. There are ten launching ramps around the lake, making it easy to boat, fish, and enjoy water sports. And thirteen recreation areas (most equipped with launching facilities) offer camping, hunting, swimming, picnic areas, and trails of every kind – bike, equestrian, off road vehicles, and all sorts of hiking and nature trails. Between Enid Lake and George Payne Cossar State Park next door, visitors will find plenty to do.

And for the record, Enid Lake garnered a world record when someone caught a five-pound crappie! Crappie is pronounced “CROP py” by the way, and while we don’t have a clue why it’s spelled that way, we think there might be a good story there. 

Sardis Lake

Sardis Dam, on the Little Tallahatchie River, is nine miles southeast of the town of Sardis. The dam is 15,300 feet long, with an average height of 97 feet.
Sardis Lake is a huge body of water - 9,800 acres, with a control pool of 58,500 acres. Known for its sandy beaches, it's as beautiful as the other two, and a favorite of anglers. These Corps projects are just outstanding.
Sardis Lake -- can you see the other side? We couldn't either!
Fishing, anyone?
To say the fishing is great at Sardis is an understatement. Al Reed, who hails from Independence, Mississippi, broke the world record (32 pounds) for Big Head Carp when he landed a 65-pounder at Sardis Lake – huge news in the fishing world. Not surprisingly, it took Al forty-five minutes to land this fish, which was almost four feet long! 

Not in the mood to fish? There are eighteen public recreation areas, thirteen with launching facilities. Nearby John Kyle State Park offers a swimming pool, recreation hall, rental cabins and a golf course. And, if you're checking out the facilities, be sure to go by the Sardis Lake Field Office. They have a lighted stop sign that's solar powered - a contraption worthy of a drive by!

Well...guess the name says it all.  This store is located on the road to Sardis Lake
And...this lighted sign was in the front of the Dam Store.


We’re coo-coo for Como. Seriously, we are. It’s one of the prettiest towns in Mississippi. Located about 45 miles south of Memphis, Como sits on Highway 51, which runs parallel to I-55. A hundred or so years ago, it was a town of great wealth; we’re told it had more millionaires per capita than anywhere else in the country. It’s seen some hard times since then, but those halcyon days are still evident in the beautiful homes and charming buildings downtown. We don’t know if Hollywood knows about Como, but they should – it’s the quintessential small Southern town.

Looking North on N.Main Street in Como - it's much prettier in person! There are a few empty storefronts, but most buildings have been beautifully refurbished.
Looking South on Como's N. Main Street. Note the number of cars at 7 p.m.

We went to Como solely to check out Como Steakhouse (201 N. Main Street). We weren’t particularly hungry, but it was dinner time and we’d been told we should try it – so we did. And we’re really really really glad we did. Not only was the steak delicious and the service friendly, but the restaurant itself is worth a visit. It’s in a 125-year-old multistory building, a former mercantile store. It has a pressed tin ceiling and original doors, floors, and fireplaces, and its walls are covered in old photographs. The building is a wonderful trip back in time, and a tour of the walls is one of the most pleasant history lessons ever.

A beautiful old fireplace in the main dining room of Como Steak house.

The entry in the Como Steak House

The downtown business district runs along one side of N. Main Street, which is actually a very attractive boulevard rather than just an ordinary street. Just down from the Como Steakhouse is the Windy City Grille (217 N. Main), which was emitting all sorts of delicious smells when we were there. They had a good crowd, too – the place was full at 7:00 on a Monday night…in a town of some 1,300 people.

On the same strip of N. Main Street is the Como Green Grocer. We didn’t get to tour greater Como – it got dark – so we don’t really know what all the town has to offer, but we were told there are no grocery stores and that the farmers' market recently closed, leaving locals with nowhere to pick up fresh fruits and veggies (the closest grocery is five miles away in Sardis). Aside from produce, the store stocks cooking oils, specialty items, and the works of several local artists who consign pottery, baskets, etc. Cool place – and a totally unexpected find on Main Street in a small town.

An unexpected find within the store was a photograph of a very pretty woman wearing turn of the 20th century dress. The woman was a member of the locally prominent Sledge family: Adelaide Eugenia “Ada” Sledge, who was Tallulah Bankhead’s mother! Who knew?!? (Ada married a politician from Alabama, but Tallulah spent time with her relatives in Como.)

Adelaide Eugenia "Ada" Sledge
Ada's picture from Ancestry.com family tree...I just couldn't help myself. Isn't she beautiful?

The Como Green Grocer

The Como Inn is just steps away from the Green Grocer, at 215 N. Main Street, in the historic Popular Price-Van Der Vyver building. The inn occupies the top floor of this 1899 building and offers six hotel rooms, a library, and a fully-stocked kitchen, as well as a large gathering hall and a back porch for relaxing.
The front door of the Como Inn -- what a beautiful old oak door

At the end of the strip of storefronts is another hotel, the Como Courtyard B&B, 235 N. Main. According to the Green Grocer’s proprietor, part of the 125-year-old building’s roof collapsed some time ago and a tree began growing up within the walls. When the building was refurbished, the owners left the tree and built a courtyard around it. We didn’t go inside, but it’s a kick to stand outside and see this huge tree popping up from inside a building.

The B&B is interesting in that it takes only one reservation at a time, although it can accommodate eight guests within that reservation. Whatever the number of guests, they'll all be impressed by the 18-foot tin ceiling, exposed bricks, and beautiful antique rugs and furniture. www.comocourtyard.net
The wall of the old building is about 18-20 feet tall. After the roof collapse, this tree began growing in the ruins.

Several famous people have called Como home. Local farmer Othar “Otha” Turner was one of the last well-known fife players in a musical tradition known as the American fife and drum blues tradition. His first CD – made when he was ninety years old – was “Everybody’s Hollerin’ Goat.” Rolling Stone magazine named it one of the top five blues albums of the 1990s.

Another Como farmer who became a famous bluesman was Mississippi Fred McDowell. McDowell, known as the father of Hill Country Blues, is buried near Como in a silver lame suit, a gift from the Rolling Stones. Bonnie Raitt, a protégé and friend, purchased his grave marker.

Como is also the birthplace and childhood home of Stark Young, author of the Civil War novel (made into a movie) So Red the Rose.

The kind proprietor at the Green Grocer gave us a brochure of a "Walking Tour of Historic Como." Since it was going to be dark soon, we decided to drive rather than walk, as we were on our way out of town anyway. He pointed out the first house on the tour – Four Oaks, right across the street – a beautiful, huge, white mansion which, he explained, was a Sears Roebuck house! If he hadn’t been such a helpful, honest soul, we wouldn’t have believed him.

Wow. Most of the prefab houses Sears used to sell out of their catalog were cottages; this is Tara! It was an incredible start to an incredible tour. In fact, we enjoyed it so much that we want our readers to see it too. So, here it is (minus the Taylor-Edwards House, which we somehow didn't get a picture of).
Four Oaks 1919
Wardlaw-Swango-Long House 1898

Wallace-Taylor-Mansker-Best House 1891
Wardlaw-Orr-Kagiyama House 1902

Oakhurst 1895
Craig-Seay-Clinton House 1899
The Painted Lady 1895
Taylor-Pointer-Logan House 1895

While we were touring, we happened upon a couple out walking their dogs. The man stopped and chatted for a while and mentioned that the church on the tour was open – “It’s never locked.” – and that we should stop in. We did and we’re so glad. We saw beautiful stained glass windows, lovely old pews, and a gorgeous chancel – it looks like something out of a storybook wedding.

The Holy Innocents' Episcopal Church, built in 1872, is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The houses on the tour are all very near each other, sprinkled throughout the neighborhood across the street from downtown Como. The neighborhood they are in is as impressive as the houses themselves though. It’s just beautiful. With few exceptions – and by few, we mean maybe three or four – the houses are immaculately maintained. The neighborhood looks like a movie set, it’s so clean and picturesque. There are big houses and little houses, but they all seem to be tended with the same attention to detail and talent for landscaping. Just beautiful. And we had the good fortune to be touring at the best possible time - there's no better time to tour Mississippi than when the azaleas and wisteria are in full blossom.

On the way out of town, we stopped across the boulevard from the business strip to photograph something that is becoming more common, if not ubiquitous, throughout Mississippi: public storm shelters. We’re glad locals have this potential protection, but we’re still hoping no tornadoes find their way to Como – it would be a real loss if this beautiful little town were to be destroyed.

Community Storm Shelter on N. Main Street