Water Valley, Charleston, Tutwiler and Beyond!

At long last, we’re back. It seems like forever since we last went exploring – life has been more than enough of an adventure these last twelve months. But, things are looking up and there is no better way to celebrate than by doing our favorite thing: snooping Mississippi. 
Guest traveler Kay Collins joined us on a lovely September Monday. We had few specifics on our agenda, just a loose plan to work our way over to Charleston and see what Highway 32 had to offer. 

We made Water Valley our first stop because we like the place and we hadn’t been there in a while. First stop was Turnage Drug Store to see their legendary soda fountain. While it serves up old fashioned ice cream dishes nowadays, this beauty used to serve something much stronger – it’s rumored to have begun life as the bar in an 1800’s saloon. Whatever it’s serving, it is a beautiful addition to this lovely town. 
Turnage Drugs Lunch counter / soda fountain.  

A small portion of the downtown area of Water Valley.

We also paid a visit to BTC, the fresh food market/bakery/restaurant. It’s in a wonderful old building on the corner of Main Street, across from the park. We snarfed up some delicious homemade pastries and hoop cheese to hold us until lunch and generally just enjoyed sitting around in a place that has seen so much history. They have refurbished, but they had the foresight to leave old signs and old brick and all the other things that lend soul to a place.   

Beautiful old building which now houses BTC in Water Valley
BTC  interior
Too early for bologna for us but the hoop cheese was awesome
The rear portion of BTC has exposed brick.
This is one of the eating areas -- seating available seven or eight --   complete with a
beautiful old back door, a window and an antique Coca Cola sign.
What a sign it is!

Leaving Water Valley, we got sidetracked by an antique store – something that happens quite frequently – so it was almost noon before we found ourselves skirting Enid Lake and approaching Charleston: Gateway to the Delta. It’s a delightful little town (population around 2,100) with lovely homes and a beautiful town square and court house.

 Tallahatchie County courthouse.  Located in Charleston, MS.
Charleston is one of the two county seats of Tallahatchie County; Sumner is the other 

We enjoyed a quick lunch and a bit of shopping at the China Cabinet and set off to see Charleston. 

Located just of the square, Harrison House 1902
The first thing we saw was the Bank of Charleston building with its homage to three famous native sons: actor Morgan Freeman, jazz and blues legend Mose Allison, and beloved Bluesman Sonny Boy Williamson. 
Left to right -- Morgan Freeman, Mose Allison, and Sonny Boy Williamson.  
(Okay, Allison is actually from Tippo and Williamson is from Glendora, but they’re all from Tallahatchie county and Charleston is one of the county seats.) Morgan has a large ranch just outside town, but we were told we wouldn’t be able to see anything from the highway. It’s interesting that he chose to live here (he also has a home in New York), but it’s not surprising since he grew up in Charleston.

But the Charlestonian that really caught our attention was the late – and apparently great – hog, Scissors. Scissors was a Duroc-Jersey breed, for those who know their swine, and a real prize winner: World Champion at both the 1917 and 1918 Omaha Livestock Shows. He was also huge! And by huge, we mean massive; guestimates range around the “one ton of pig” mark. 

Scissors’ owner, Col. Tom Griffin James, took great pride in the porcine that brought such honor upon him. He pampered Scissors to the point of building him a special house on his Pine Crest Farm, although it’s hard to say whether James was being kind or cautious. Scissors’ size may have necessitated a place of his own just to protect the other pigs. If the photos on Scissors’ Facebook page are any indication, this was one gigantic, and gentle, hog. His house is actually quite homey, by the way, more reminiscent of a swanky modern-day chicken coop than a pig sty(click here to open a new page to see the Facebook page of Scissors) 

Located on Highway 32, approximately 3 miles east of Charleston.
Susan and Kay in front of Scissors' house 
A small, but more than adequate, house for a pig.

We had originally thought we might head north out of Charleston, up I-55 to Batesville, stopping anywhere that looked interesting. But so many places are closed on Mondays that we decided to hop on Highway 49 toward Tutwiler and loosely follow part of the Blues Trail through the Delta. Although we aren't die-hard blues fans, it’s a fascinating part of our state’s history and we’d never been to many of those small towns.  

The site of the old Tutwiler train station is now a small park with Blues Trail markers telling the story of W.C. Handy coming to town and hearing the blues for the first time. 

Marker in Tutwiler explaining the beginning of the blues by W.C. Handy.
Blues Trail marker for W.C. Handy

The park also has a military monument and a platform (A stage? The old railway platform?) painted to look like a quilt. Tutwiler is known and recognized for its beautiful quilts (which can be ordered through www.tutwilerquilters.org). Across the street from the park stands an old brick building whose wall displays lovely murals depicting Tutwiler’s history.  
Quilt platform

Murals on the building next to the park

Since Kay, Marian and I are all Ole Miss grads, it should come as no surprise that we made a pass through Drew – we were kinda sorta in the neighborhood anyway. We looked a while, hoping to spot a shrine of some sort, but we came up empty, so we went on to pretty little Ruleville, home of blues great Jimmy Rogers and the world’s shortest stop sign.

Ruleville downtown.
Jimmy Rogers Blues Marker
  Does this mean you should "stop shortly", or "stop short", or perform a brief stop?
There appeared to be a nice selection of stores and such downtown, but we didn’t spend any time there because we wanted to get to Mound Bayou before Peter’s Pottery closed. Kay had been before, but it was a first for Marian and me and we weren’t disappointed – beautiful pottery!

Mount Bayou, the oldest U. S. all black municipality.
Peter's Pottery

When we were finally able to drag ourselves away from all the pretty pottery, we continued up Highway 61, making it a point to note Hushpuckena when we passed just so we could say we saw it. And we drove through Alligator too, because who can resist a town named Alligator? 

Actually, it seems that Alligator is categorized as a village rather than a town – there are only about 220 people who call the place home. One of their former residents, Fred Coe, went on to make quite a name for himself as a television and film producer, a real pioneer in those early days of the industry. 

Fred Coe Blues Marker

Locals are rightly proud of where they live, as evidenced by the decorative murals someone was kind enough to paint (although we do wish they had welcomed more than just the one tourist).

As anyone who follows the Blues Trail knows, at some point you must go to the Mecca of the Blues: The Crossroads. 

The Crossroads -- intersection of Highways 49 and 61
Supposedly, it was here, at the intersection of Highways 49 and 61, where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil in exchange for instant mastery of the guitar. Few facts about Robert Johnson’s life are not up for debate, so there are multiple opinions about which crossroads Johnson was referring to when he claimed to have had this meeting…but 49/61 is the most well known version and really, we were on 61 anyway so we’ll accept that and move on.

Since Morgan Freeman was on our mind and we had been stymied from actually seeing his house, we did the next best thing and drove into Clarksdale in hopes of having dinner with him at Ground Zero, the blues club he owns. Marian and I ate there years ago and the food is great! It’s a unique place, to say the least, given the writing on the walls and windows and ceilings and doors and tables and mirrors and framed photos and….We wrote our names on the wall too, something neither of us had ever done and something we still don’t feel good about to this day. Unfortunately, GZ was closed (and we couldn't go back and erase our names). Big disappointment. Monday travel is tricky.