WHITNEY PLANTATION (WP)

The Whitney Plantation is not the plantation to visit if you are interested in touring a beautiful antebellum mansion and being regaled with stories of a fabulously wealthy aristocratic southern family. The focus here is just the opposite. The Whitney Plantation tells the stories of enslaved African-Americans who toiled, suffered and died on plantations all across the South, prior to emancipation.

Slave labor powered the Southern economy from the early 1800s until the end of the Civil War (and to some extent beyond, as will see later in the post). In the years just before 1800 there were just under 20,000 enslaved Africans in Louisiana and several hundred enslaved Native Americans. Surprisingly, there were almost as many free people of color (16,000) in Louisiana at this time. When the Civil War commenced in 1860, the situation had dramatically changed. The were slightly over 330,000 enslaved Africans while the census of free people of color was almost unchanged (18,000).

Slave Pen — “Hot Box”

“One night master come in drunk an’ set at de table did his head lollin’ aroun’. I was waitin’ on de table, and he look up an’ see me. I was skeered, an’ dat made him awful mad. He called an overseer an’ tol’ him: ‘Take her out an’ beat some sense in her.’ I began to cry an’ run an’ run in de night; but finally I run back by de quarters an’ heard mammy calling’ me. I went in, an’ right away day come for me. A horse was stand-in’ in front of de house, an’ I was took dat, very night to Richmon’ an’ sold to a speculator ag’in. I never seed my mammy any more.” Delia Garlic, Louisiana Slave*

The WP is one of several plantations that sat along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. This area was called the German Coast as many of the plantation owning families in this area were originally from Germany.

The Big House

The WP was owned by a German family, the Haydels, who owned the plantation for 110 years. The enslaved individuals on this plantation numbered around 130 adults and children at any one time, the majority of whom were from West Africa.

The enslaved individuals built the plantation for their owners. They cleared all the fields in order to farm sugar cane, rice and indigo. They felled the trees and built the Big House along with all of the outbuildings and their own quarters.

The kitchen pictured above was built in the mid-1800s. All of the cooking for the plantation owners was done in this location away from the Big House. This was common on plantations so as to keep the heat, smoke and smells away from the owners’ living quarters. It is in kitchens such as this one that you will find the origins of what is now Creole food as the kitchen slaves cooked using their African recipes, such as gumbo, couscous and jambalaya. Also, don’t forget that okra, yams and watermelon also were brought from Africa and subsequently grew here in popularity and in abundance.

There were 22 slave cabins at WP. Today seven cabin remain. Entire families or groups of enslaved people lived in this one room (many families were separated as slaves were bought, sold or died from illness.) Multiple people shared a single bed while many of the slaves had to sleep on the floor or wooden pallets. These cabins offered very little protection from the extreme heat of the summer or the cold during the winter months.

The typical workday was from sunrise to sunset — what was commonly known as “can’t see to can’t see”. Children were typically viewed as adults by age ten and accordingly sent to the fields to work along side the adults.

Pictured above and below are the sugar kettles used to boil and reduce the sugar cane to create sugar and molasses. Beginning in October the enslaved individuals worked in shifts around the clock, every day of the week, until all of the sugar cane was cut, ground and refined into sugar and molasses. As there was no electricity, the enslaved individuals worked by candlelight throughout the night. Many enslaved individuals were injured, some by snakes in the fields and others during the grinding and boiling process, and working by candlelight added to the likelihood of injury.

The WP grew two main crops, sugarcane, as mentioned above, and rice. Since these crops are harvested at different times of the year, the enslaved individuals had no down time. When you owned a plantation and treated humans as property – your machinery – it was a most productive environment and quite lucrative. Shameful.

The plantation Overseer was the person responsible for the day to day operation of the plantation. Plantation owners took great pains to avoid the dirty business of managing the enslaved workforce. The Overseer was a free white man who lived on the plantation.

Overseer’s House

The WP also utilized Slave Drivers. The Slave Drivers worked for the Overseer and were enslaved individuals themselves. The Slave Driver was charged with directly supervising the field gangs and was the person that usually administered physical punishment to workers not meeting standards and to runaways who were captured and returned to the plantation. Not surprisingly, Slave Drivers were usually despised by the other enslaved individuals on the plantation (and occasionally found dead in the fields).

“Take that old woman, poor old woman, carry in the peach orchard, and whipped her. You know, just tied her hands this way you know around the peach orchard tree. I remember that just as well – look like to me I can’t – and round the tree, and whipped her. And she couldn’t do nothin but just kick her feet, you know. Just kick her feet. But they just had her clothes off down to her waist you know. Just didn’t have her plum naked, but they had her clothes down to her waist. And every now and then they’d whup her again. And snuff a pipe out on her. Just snuff the pipe out on her.” Laura Smalley*

Considering the horrendous working and living conditions and the brutally violent punishments (torture) that were frequently inflicted upon the enslaved population of this and other plantations along the German Coast, it is not surprising that there were periodic revolts by the enslaved population.

German Coast Uprising Memorial

In 1811, enslaved individuals led by a Slave Driver (Charles Deslondes) from a nearby plantation on the German Coast led a revolt. The rebels marched from plantation to plantation (with the intent of killing the plantation owners) and enlisting more enslaved individuals. They were armed primarily with tools from the plantations and some weapons provide by Marroons. The number of rebels is not known for certain – estimates range from 200 to 500. It was definitely the largest revolt in the history of slavery in the United States.

Not surprisingly, the revolt was short lived. The rebels killed two white people during the revolt. Around 40 rebels were killed. Another 65 rebels were captured and went to trial in New Orleans. Also, not surprisingly, they were all found guilty. The rebels were then transported back to their respective plantations. There, the plantation owners executed and then decapitated the rebels in front of the enslaved population of each plantation. The plantation owners’ finishing touch was to put each head on a pike, where it was left to rot (see the photo above of the German Coast Uprising Memorial).

Antioch (Anti-Yoke) Baptist Church

“I don’t know about the church when they first start….you know….when I was a child, you know, they didn’t have no church you know, in no house, you know, they only had in the trees. Under trees, yes ma’am. Brush arbors. Just like you know you get a big ol’ tree and clean all out from under it and make a [unintelligible] and makes benches on it you know that would church.” Laura Smalley, Texas Slave*

Whitney Plantation Store courtesy of Whitney Plantation

After emancipation, multiple generations of descendants of some enslaved individuals stayed on at WP as paid workers – living in the same quarters and working the fields until they were replaced by machinery. The plantation owners took advantage of this situation and opened a plantation store which operated similarly to the company stores commonly found in factory and mining towns. This system kept the workers in debt and on the plantation. The cost of food, clothing and medicine was deducted from paychecks – leaving the workers with little pay for their work and no ability to save. The last workers left this plantation in 1975!

“They stayed in debt, you know? You work for — you know, you’re working – whatever you’re working for he control it cause they had one store, that store right there, everybody go up in the one store so he got control of your living.” John Howard (born on the Whitney Plantation in 1961)

“When Mr. King was assassinated, all these stores they had, people had to put black ribbon so they don’t burn them. People said they got burn them stores down. They put black ribbon on all them stores so that they can let you know that they were for Martin Luther King.” Laurent Alexis*

Whitney Plantation Map – courtesy of Whitney Plantation

John Cummings, a successful trial lawyer from New Orleans, purchased the plantation in 1999 and over the next 15 years restored the plantation with his own funds. He opened the WP to the public in December of 2014. In 2019, Mr. Cummings donated the museum to a newly created non-profit organization to be maintained as a museum with a mission to educate the public on the history and long legacy of slavery in the South. Please find a link below which provides a profile of Mr. Cummings and his passion for this project.

https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Making-a-difference/2016/0324/A-retired-lawyer-opens-first-US-slavery-museum-with-8.6-million-of-his-money

WP gives insight into some of the worst years in the history of the United States. It also unflinchingly provides a view into the life of enslaved individuals and thus unavoidably, the cruelty of the plantation owners and overseers. The WP presents all of this in a factual and objective manner – however, we found it hard to keep our emotions in check as we toured the plantation and gained a deeper understanding of what life was like as an enslaved individual.

We think the Whitney Plantation is a must visit in order to understand slavery and learn more about the human beings – the people – who were treated as expendable property by their owners. The WP is a short drive from New Orleans. Additionally, there is quite a bit more to see and experience that we have not covered – The Wall of Honor, Field of Angels and the sculptures – to cite a few. If you are going to be anywhere in the vicinity of New Orleans or Baton Rouge – please visit the plantation.

https://www.whitneyplantation.org

Be seeing you!

*Transcripts from recorded interviews with former enslaved individuals. The interviews were conducted as part of a Works Progress Administration project. Over 2000 former enslaved individuals were interviewed as part of this project.

CTSPRINTERLIFE: RED STICK AKA BATON ROUGE(BTR)

Natchez, MISSISSIPPI to ST FRANCISVILLE, LOUISIANA

Vidalia, Louisiana

After a couple of interesting days exploring Natchez, we departed for Louisiana. Our new acquaintance, Dub Walker, proprietor of Steam Punk Coffee (see Mississippi Part Three) recommended that we cross into Louisiana from Natchez. This enabled us to travel a significant distance south along the river on the levees and also view a number of the Army Corps of Engineers flood prevention and control facilities.

Vidalia, Louisiana
Slocum Levee, Vidalia, Mississippi

We are certainly glad that we followed Dub’s recommendation. Driving the levee was great fun and provided us with a tour of a very rural part of Louisiana. Our drive along the levee took us through Concordia Parish which covers 745 square miles with a population of just under 20,000 people. There are only seven incorporated towns or cities in the entire parish. We visited several “named places” (as noted on our map) such as Slocum and Shaw, but we found nothing other than a small sign and a bend in the road. Needless to say, we did not see many people on this drive!

The rich alluvial soil deposited by the Mississippi River in Concordia Parish was ideal for growing cotton. Being cotton country also meant that the parish was home to a small number of very large plantations. At the beginning of the Civil War, over 90% of the people living in the parish were enslaved African-Americans. No other parish in Louisiana had as high a percentage of the population enslaved. Not unexpectedly, the plantation owners staunchly backed the C.S.A. throughout the Civil War.

Low Sill Structure, Point Breeze, Louisiana

We departed the levee system somewhere north of Lettsworth. Our expert navigator guided us off the levee and through a series of dirt fields back to pavement (which was far more difficult than it sounds). Once back on pavement, we followed LA 971 and LA1 south and recrossed the river to lodge in St Francisville, Louisiana.

Traveling on LA1 took us across the Low Sill Dam and the 4200 foot long Morganza Spillway. The spillway has over 100 gates which allow for the diversion of a massive amount of water from the Mississippi River into the Atchafalaya Basin and River.

The Army Corps of Engineers plays a large role in the lives of those who live in the Mississippi River Delta. Without the structures built by the Corps, the communities throughout these lowlands (average elevation 56 feet above sea level) would continue to experience catastrophic flooding and loss of life.

We stopped in Lettsworth to visit the church pictured below. It is relatively simple structure which was constructed of hand made bricks. The stained glass windows were made in England – speaking to this church’s affiliation with the Episcopal Church.

However, as with many things in the South, the Civil War changed all of that. The Episcopal Bishop of Louisiana at the time the Civil War started was Leonidas Polk. Polk, in addition to his religious calling, was as a slaveholding plantation owner (the plantation was located in Tennessee.)

With the states at war Polk felt the need to found a new church (ostensibly in support of god, country and slavery! ) – hallelujah – the Episcopal Church of the Confederate States of America! Polk then resigned his position in the church and joined the Confederate Army serving as a Lieutenant General, despite having no prior combat experience. His battle record was poor, but because he was appointed by Jefferson Davis – well you know. His nickname was the “Fighting Bishop” of the Confederacy and true to his nickname he died fighting in battle in 1864. Every church has a story! P.S. The Episcopal Church of the C.S.A. ceased to exist shortly after the South surrendered.

Gumbo and shrimp – yes please! No better way to conclude a dusty day on the levee. The Francis Southern Table and Bar. https://www.thefrancissoutherntable.com

Baton RougE(BTR)

We made an abbreviated stop in BTR as we were returning to Connecticut on our Covid-shortened trip of Spring 2020. The history of BTR sounds similar to many other port towns in Louisiana and Mississippi (an unfair and inaccurate observation no doubt.) French explorers built a fort on the bluff overlooking the river in 1699. Subsequently, BTR was under the control of the French, Spanish and British at various points in time. The Union Army captured the city in 1862 which, along with the capture of Vicksburg, meant game over for the Confederacy. From a current perspective, people tend to think Louisiana’s state capital (Governor John Bel Edwards), Louisiana State University (Tigers), ExxonMobil’s Baton Rouge Refinery (13th largest refinery in the world) and, of course, the Mississippi River. For history buffs interested in a more serious and less glib reading of Baton Rouge we suggest the following book: Historic Baton Rouge by Faye Phillips and Sylvia Frank Rodrique.

BTR is a short drive from St Francisville – good news in light of the lack of third wave coffee in St Francisville. First stop on the BTR coffee tour was City Roots Coffee Bar. This was a first visit for OTR and we would definitely recommend it be a part of your BTR specialty coffee rotation.

https://www.cityrootscoffee.com/

burden museum & gardens (BMG)

The BMG LSU is an unlikely oasis of green off Interstate 10 just outside of downtown BTR. The land was the gift of the Burden family to LSU on the condition that it only be utilized for agricultural, horticultural and agronomic research and the development of the Rural Life Museum.

Although it was early April, there were plenty of flowers and trees in bloom. We toured the gardens and walked the three mile interpretive trail system through woods and swamp. The trail was peaceful and secluded – you would never think you were in an urban area.

The Rural Life Museum consists of several buildings with 18th and 19th century artifacts from rural Louisiana. The exhibits include tools, furniture, wagons and clothing.

The outdoor exhibits consist of 32 buildings across 25 acres. The buildings are arranged in four sections representing different regions of Louisiana. The centerpiece from our perspective was the Working Plantation which included the living quarters and church for the enslaved people. Each of the buildings has a plaque identifying the function of the building and context – informative and in some cases dispiriting.

Slave Driver’s House

https://www.lsuagcenter.com/portals/burden/

Also on display on the grounds was the statue pictured below —- The Good Darky. We have included below all of the information provided by the museum. We agree with their view that is should be displayed despite the explicit racism depicted (the reader may, of course, disagree).

The sculptor left the statue untitled. Its dedication plaque from 1927 reads: “Dedicated to the arduous and faithful service of the good darkies of Louisiana.” This text was the source of the statue’s first acquired name, “The Good Darky.” The statue has also been called “Uncle Jack,” combining recognition of the statue’s donor, Jackson Bryan, and the practice of referring to an elderly Black man as “uncle.” Today, abandoning both pejoratives, we refer to this object as “the Schuler Statue.”

Museums collect and preserve objects to learn about the past and learn from the past. This principle applies equally to subjects that we are proud to share as well as those that are hurtful and unpleasant. The LSU Rural Life Museum’s role is to care for and to interpret our collection. We do this not to glorify the past or to place inauthentic meaning in the objects. Instead, we preserve and talk about these objects to better inform our shared history, in this case the role of race in the rural South and how it has shaped our lives today.

‘The old negro looks as if he had just shuffled into the square and recognized some of his white folks; he has removed his battered hat and is bowing and smiling his joyful greeting.’ (New York Times, July 31, 1927)

Jackson Lee Bryan, a successful cotton planter, mill owner, and banker, commissioned noted sculptor Hans Schuler of Baltimore, MD to create this statue. It was erected at the end of Front Street in Natchitoches, LA in 1927, with the stated intention of recognizing the loyalty and friendly relations shown between the segregated Black and White communities of the city. By 1968, much of the social system the statue represented had begun to be dismantled. Under pressure from voices within the Black community, the City of Natchitoches removed the statue from public display. Through the determination of Jo Bryan Ducoumau, J.L. Bryan’s niece, the city returned ownership to her, which ultimately led to the donation of the statue to the LSU Rural Life Museum.

This statue, the only one of its kind, embodies the Jim Crow culture by reinforcing “model” behavior. In Louisiana and elsewhere in 1927, the practice of African Americans bowing heads and tipping hats was as much a survival tactic as a polite gesture. The presence of the statue in a public space reinforced the Jim Crow era’s rigid social norms and racial stratification. Initial responses to the statue were filled with a nostalgic image of a more tranquil past. Similar sentiments appeared in local papers, proclamations, and other public documents. “The old negro looks as if he had just shuffled into the square and recognized some of his white folks; he has removed his battered hat and is bowing and smiling his joyful greeting.” (New York Times, July 31, 1927

Despite being cloaked in genteel manners, these customs were a response to an underlying threat of violence to African Americans who strayed outside societal norms.

“But then, there were times in growing up (under Jim Crow) … where you had to use survival psychology … That’s the time when I would grin, shuffle, say “Yes Sir” or “No Sir,” look down. All of those things that said that you were inferior, you know. But, that was a survival tactic. Even at a very young age, we understood how to survive in a racist and very violent system.” –Ser Seshsh Ab Heter Clifford Boxley, Natchez,MS

About 15 minutes east of the museum in Shenandoah sits a local favorite for cajun and creole cuisine – Dempsey’s Poboys – a perfect spot to sit and reflect on all that we had seen at the museum. Or could it be the photos above of gumbo and fried catfish represent the new primary diet of one of the members of our little band of travelers?

https://www.facebook.com/Dempseysbr/

After our day at the museum we hit the bike trail. BTR has created a 39.6 mile partially paved bike trail along the top of the Mississippi River levee. The northern trailhead trail begins in downtown BTR and extends southward. Once out of the city the scenery changes to a mix of farmlands, residential areas, the occasional factory and views of the river. You can, in fact ride this levee all the way to New Orleans, although portions are unfinished.

We have had the opportunity to ride on a number of levee trails – this is fun riding – expansive views due to your elevated riding position and no street crossings!

The best trail rides come with the opportunity to have espresso and tea (and perhaps toast) at a specialty coffee shop conveniently located near the trailhead. If the stars are truly aligned that same coffee shop also serves lunch and cocktails ( facilitating the critical transition from caffeine to alcohol).

Fortunately, for us, Reve Coffee Lab BTR, was just a few minutes from where we had parked the Beast for our bike ride. Wrapping a bike ride between a pre-ride cappuccino and a tasty post ride sandwich washed down with a cold, bubbly Prosecco qualifies as an excellent day for OTR!

https://revecoffeeroasters.com/pages/reve-coffee-lab-baton-rouge

We departed BTR the following morning, but not before visiting a new specialty coffee shop located near the state capital building in downtown. The guys at Reve Coffee recommended that we stop by Social and say hey to owner Dillon Farrell.

Dillon first launched Social in 2019 utilizing a mobile coffee cart. He built a strong following and opened the current location in March of this year. Dillon is a sincerely nice guy – we really enjoyed the opportunity to chat with him between customers. He is a top notch barista – excellent caps, cortados and London Fogs. Sealing the deal – he uses Onyx Coffee. We wish him the very best with his shop.

https://www.socialcoffeebr.com/

We had a good couple of days exploring BTR. LSU brings a lot to the city – the gardens, museums, music and sports. We think BTR is worth two to three days depending on your interests.

Be seeing you!

ctsprinterlife: OTR 8.0: Mississippi Part 3

Muddy Waters

Clarksdale

After completing the final portion of the Trans America Trail we traveled to Clarksdale to begin our exploration of the Mississippi Delta. Clarksdale is generally considered to be the home of the Delta Blues with an impressive roster of musicians calling Clarksdale their home in their early years (see previous post: Street Art from the Road: OTR 8.0: Part Two: Clarksdale Music and Art at http://www.ontheroadwithmariastephen.net.

Clarksdale boasts live Blues music every day of the year at one or more of the local blues clubs, bars or juke joints. The town itself is a bit hardscrabble but please don’t let that keep you away. Even if you are not a fan of the blues we think you will enjoy the live performances that take place at the various venues in town, all of which are very intimate and, you will hear the real Blues. Typically, you will pay $10 – $15 for a show that will run from two to four hours!

Ground Zero Blues Club

We opted to stay in an apartment above the Ground Zero Blues Club which is convenient-unless you plan on sleeping before midnight. We were in town to hear the Blues, so we figured it was all part of the experience. https://www.groundzerobluesclub.com/

Clarksdale is also home to the Delta Blues Museum. We spent a morning at the museum and learned a lot about the history of the Blues, the musicians and the Blues recording industry. There is a treasure trove of artifacts at the museum including musical instruments and performers’ stage costumes. We highly recommend a visit to the museum when you visit Clarksdale. We don’t have photographs to share with you as they are not allowed in the musuem.

There are several excellent restaurants in town in addition to the customary BBQ. We highly recommend Hooker Grocery & Eatery which is a two minute walk from the museum. https://www.hookergrocer.com P.S. If you like pancakes make sure to try Our Grandma’s House of Pancakes.

Last, but certainly not least, we recommend a visit to Hambone Art & Music. We popped into this gallery for a quick look around and then spent several hours with the owner Stan Street. He is a transplant to Mississippi and was a touring musician before settling here and focusing on his painting.

Stan bought a vacant building and converted it into his gallery in the front, his studio in the rear and his apartment above. He also operates a small bar in the studio and has a stage for musical performances. We really like his artwork and we were amazed to find out that he is largely a self-taught artist.

Greenville – do not, we repeat, do not get your car washed!

We visited Greenville after reading that there is a state park there with a hiking trail along the Mississippi and a 60 foot tall observation tower that provides fantastic views along the Mississippi River. WRONG! The park was turned over to Greenville and the town has not maintained the park other than the small boardwalk when you first enter the park. This was our first disappointment with Greenville.

As we were leaving town we spotted a self service car wash and pulled in to hose the van off – you may have noticed in our photographs the Beast is in perpetual need of a wash. Immediately, a man told me he was an employee and would wash the vehicle – a minute later another man showed up and informed me he was going to help wash the car and then a third man showed up to help wash the car.

At his point we knew we had a problem – none of these guys worked at the car wash and that this was a shake down. We were able to persuade the third man that he was not going to get paid (although he hung around circling us). At that point, we told the two guys (taking turn hosing off the van) that we were good. The first of the gentlemen demanded $60.00 for the wash. We settled on a more reasonable amount and left town quickly.

Cleveland, or “fear the okra”

We stopped in Cleveland for coffee at Zoe Coffee. We met some nice folks at the coffee shop and learned that the coffee shop is affliated with Zoe Ministries, which focuses on providing clean water, orphan care, widow care, and education to communities in Kenya. https://zoeempowers.org/

Cleveland is also home to Delta State University. The mascot for the athletic teams is the Okra and the school chant is ”Fear the Okra!”. This is the best mascot and chant we have ever encountered! Look for DSU merchandise by the pool this summer. P.S. The men’s baseball team went 32-15 this year and is currently in Florida for the NCAA Division II regional tournament.

Vicksburg, or, it’s all about the war , no wait, it’s really all about the river

Vicksburg, MS is undoubtedly best known as the site of a major Civil War Battle which was a turning point in the war in favor of the Union. We were keen on visiting the Vicksburg National Military Park (VNMP) to gain a better understanding of this historic battle and see the battlefield.

The Mississippi River was a critical supply route for the Confederacy. Vicksburg sits on a bluff high above the eastern side of the river and was heavily fortified with artillery to stop Union forces from cutting off this essential supply route. The Union forces knew that taking control of the river would seal the defeat of the South.

After several failed Union attempts to take Vicksburg, General U.S. Grant laid seige to Vicksburg. Grant surrounded the city with over 77,000 troops. The 29.000 Confederate troops dug in to defend the city. Confederate attempts to break through the encircled city and resupply the soldiers and citizens failed. After 47 days, with all food and water supplies exhausted, the troops and citizens surrendered; the mighty Mississippi was under Union control. For additional information: https://www.nps.gov/vick/index.htm

In addition to the battlefield, there is a museum in the park which includes the remains of the Union ironclad gunboat USS Cairo. The Cairo was sunk by Confederate torpedos seven miles north of Vicksburg. It slipped back into the river after being beached and abandoned. Over 100 years later the ironclad was raised, restored and given to the National Park Service. For additional information: https://www.nps.gov/vick/u-s-s-cairo-gunboat.htm

Historic downtown Vicksburg is perched above the river south of the main artillery emplacements and battlefield. A number of excellent restaurants, rooftop bars and art galleries can be found there. The Jesse Bent Lower Mississippi River Museum, managed by the US Army Corps of Engineers, is on the waterfront and worth a visit.

The Mississippi River is still a vital supply route for the US economy. The Corps, one of the largest employers in the area, is responsible for commercial navigation, flood risk management and environmental stewardship.

A visit to the museum also includes the opportunity to tour the retired M/V Mississippi IV. The Mississippi IV was a tow boat used by the Army Corp from 1961 until 1993 when it was retired.

M/V Mississippi IV (Photo courtesy of Army Corp)

Our endless search for good coffee and tea took us to Highway 61 Coffee House in downtown Vicksburg. Highway 61 is a local coffee house with a cast of characters. We immediately ingratiated ourselves with the owner Daniel Boone – yes! – and his cohorts by making a donation to their poporn machine fund.

When Daniel Boone and his friends are not serving or drinking coffee they are the leaders of a local art movie house and amateur theater company. The popcorn machine that they have been utilizing for the last 14 years (on loan) for movie nights is going to be taken back by the owner.

Our donation to the fund earned us a private guided tour of the Strand Theater with Jack Burns – a board member and coffee shop regular. The Strand was a movie theater until it closed in 1963. The building remained vacant for a number of years until the theater group struck a deal with the owner to lease the facility for both live theater performances and screening movies. The interior was renovated by volunteers from the community who were very interested in having an opportunity to see art house movies and community theater. An excellent history of the building can be found at Urban Decay: https://worldofdecay.blogspot.com/2011/04/strand-theatre-vicksburg-mississippi.html Strand Theater: http://www.strandvicksburg.com/

While we might attempt to live on coffee, tea, and wine, we are reasonably certain that as pleasant as that scenario sounds it would not work in the long run. So, we went in search of victuals during our Vicksburg visit and found a gem just outside of downtown. The Tomato Place started as a roadside produce stand and evolved into a restaurant and mercantile in addition to a produce stand- all still sitting roadside in a collection of colorful shacks. The Tomato Place is a must when you visit Vicksburg. For more information: https://www.onlyinyourstate.com/mississippi/you-havent-lived-until-youve-tried-the-blt-from-the-tomato-place-in-ms/

Jackson, or hello, art minton

While in Vicksburg we decided to pop over to Jackson to see some minor league baseball. Jackson is home to the Mississippi Braves – the Double A affliliate of the Atlanta Braves. It also gave us the excuse to listen to the Johnny Cash – June Carter Cash version of the song Jackson for the entire ride from Vicksburg to Jackson. “We got married in a fever. Hotter than a peppered sprout. We’ve been talking bout Jackson ever since the fire went out. Oh, we’re going to Jackson.” Dang, that’s good music!!

The Natchez Trace runs just north of Jackson. We have driven the majority of the Trace during the course of several trips through Mississippi but had never done any biking as part of our travels along the Trace. Jackson provided a great opportunity to do so as the Chischa Fokka Greenway runs parallel to the Trace for a number of miles. It’s a great trail that cuts through Pine stands and farmland as you head north from Jackson.

Chischa Fokka Greenway

We enjoyed our brief stay in Jackson with the added bonus of meeting @art.minton. Art is a fellow van adventurer who lives in Jackson and we follow each other on Instagram. He spotted our van while we were leaving Pig and Pint after having just finished dinner—Serendipity—Very cool!

The road to Rodney

We decided to visit Rodney after reading an interesting article in Mississippi Folk Life about efforts by a local organization to preserve the remains of Rodney. The town was once a thriving Mississippi River port city. Migration from Rodney started in earnest after 1870 – Rodney had been bombarded during the Civil War by Union gun boats, enslaved individuals were emancipated and left the cotton plantations and finally, the course of the river shifted two miles west and Rodney was no longer a port city. For an excellent history of Rodney: http://www.mississippifolklife.org/articles/haunted-by-a-ghost-town-the-lure-of-rodney-mississippi

Getting to Rodney takes a bit of work. The only road to Rodney is a bumpy and muddy dirt road affair but you know we never say no to the chance for a bit of mud on the fenders.

On our way to Rodney we drove through Port Gibson. Like many other southern cities during the mid-twentieth century, Port Gibson’s elected leaders and businesses were still fighting against integration and equal rights for Black citizens. That eventually led to the Boycott of 1966. The photo below from a mural in town depicts the demands. ‘Nuff said! https://mississippiencyclopedia.org/entries/port-gibson-claiborne-county-civil-rights-movement/

We also happened on the Windsor Ruins after departing Rodney. The Ruins was an antebellum Greek Revival Mansion built (by enslaved African-Americans) for a wealthy cotton planter and his wife. Today, 23 of the Corinthian coloumns are still standing. The mansion survived the Civil War (the owner did not) but burned in 1890. It was the largest Greek Revival home in Mississippi. Today it is an historic site and there are plans to complete some restoration of the columns and the grounds. For more information: https://www.mdah.ms.gov/explore-mississippi/windsor-ruins

Natchez —— Steampunk anyone?

Natchez was our final stop before crossing the Mississippi into Louisiana. First stop, as always, was for espresso and tea and our research pointed to Steampunk. There we met Dub Rogers, the owner of this unique establishment. Dub Rogers was born in Mississippi but spent 30 years living and working in NYC in a variety of businesses.

Steampunk represents an amalgamation of Dub’s many interests. The shop and haberdashery sells fine cigars, coffee, tea, chocolate, conservas, mixology gear and hats (see Maria’s newest addition above) of which Dub has endless knowledge. Dub is a great host – and we almost forgot to mention that he personally renovated the handsome space that houses his boutique department store, apartment and patio.

Natchez dates back to 1716 when French traders built a Fort on the bluff overlooking the Mississippi. The French settlement came to an abrupt end when the Natchez Indians attacked the fort, killing several hundred people and enslaving a number of women and children The surviving French left the territory toute suite.

Future President Andrew Jackson built a trading post near Natchez in 1789. The trading post traded in African-American slaves. This set the course for Natchez to become a hub for slave trading – one of the most active in the South.

With the wealth accumulated from the slave and cotton trade Natchez became one of the wealthiest cities in America prior to the Civil War. Today many of the lavish antebellum homes are still standing and open for touring. Because Natchez was prized by both sides due to its location, the Union forces did not destroy it when they occupied the city.

You now know where to go for all your caffeine needs in Natchez. Here are a couple of suggestions for dining: Magnolia Grill, located in the Under-the-Hill section of town down on the river (formerly the vice district of town); and Fat Mama’s Tamales is the spot for excellent tamales.

Our final foray in Natchez was visiting one of the decidely less glamorous antebellum homes in Natchez. The house is named Longwood but also derisively as Nutt’s Folly. Haller Nutt was a wealthy plantation owner who had an octagonal house designed for him and his family. The house, if completed, would have had 32 rooms.

The outbreak of the Civil War ended the construction of the home as Nutt’s financial position tumbled. Even if he had the funds to continue, work would have stopped because the majority of the craftsman completing the finish work were from Philadephia – they returned to the North as soon as the war began.

The family moved into the basement (originally designed for the house slaves). Nutt died in 1864 and his wife and children hung on to the house for many years with the help of friends and several wealthy relatives. The Nutt family sold the home to the Pilgrimage Garden Club of Natchez in 1968.

The photograph below shows the fingerprints of one of the enslaved individuals who worked on the construction of the home. The Nutt family owned 800 slaves prior to the demise of the family fortune.

Fingerprints of enslaved individual

We hope you enjoyed our final installment regarding our Mississippi exploration, thanks for reading.

Be seeing you!

Bayou Teche: laissez les bon temps rouler

Boiled Crawfish, Janes’ Seafood

After our stay in Baton Rouge we decided to dive deep into Cajun Country. We chose to roughly follow the Bayou Teche south to tour South Central Louisianna Cajun Country. The Bayou Teche runs from Port Barre south for 125 miles before flowing into the Atchafalaya River.

Breaux bridge

Breaux Draw Bridge

Breaux Bridge is La Capitale Mondiale de l’Écrevisse (the crawfish capital of the world). The founding of Breaux Bridge dates back to 1771 when Acadian Firmin Breaux purchased land on both sides of the Bayou which he then connected with a footbridge. The Bayou Teche was the main means of travel in this part of Louisianna at that time. For more information on Bayou Teche: https://www.louisianatravel.com/paddle/trail/bayou-teche-paddling-trail-entire-bayou

Breaux was in Louisiana after being forcibly removed along with thousands of other Acadians as part of the Great Deportation. The British deported thousands of Acadians to Louisiana from the Canadian Maritimes and land which is now Maine. So, if you ever wondered how a portion of Louisianna is populated by a close-knit French speaking population – now you know. For more information on the Great Deportation: https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/the-deportation-of-the-acadians-feature

While poking around Breaux Bridge we met a number of friendly locals. Chief of Police Rollie Cantu greeted us upon our arrival (he was directing traffic) and provided us with information about the town. Kenny Domingue aka the Handle Bar Healer, provided us with the history of the town (first the Spanish then the French inhabiting the area). Artist Robin Guidry, owner of the Pink Alligator Gallery, broke out the wine for us while we shopped (at 11:00AM) and Jacqueline Salser, owner of Chez Jacqueline provided us with all the local gossip and lots of laughs. Lastly, if you thought that after 250 years in Louisiana the Acadians would have stopped speaking Cajun French or lost their accents, you would be wrong.

St martinsville

Eglise Catholique, Saint Martin de Tours, Mother Church of the Acadians, Est. 1765

Many of the folks living in St Martinsville are the descendants of Beausoleil Broussard. Broussard was a leader of the Acadians that fought bravely against the British in Acadia (now Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick). Once it became clear that the British would be victorious, he led a group of Acadians south to safety in the area that is now St. Martinsville. Broussard is revered in Acadian history as a hero in the fight against the British.

St. Martinsville has one of the most beautiful town squares we have seen – anchored by the Saint Martin de Tours Catholic Church and the Presbytere. Interestingly, if you note in the sign below explaining the reason for the five flags hanging from the porch, the last government that is acknowledged is the Confederacy.

Today the economy of St. Martinsville is highly dependent on tourism (the town sponsors a half dozen festivals per year) while still keeping its agricultural roots with a sugar cane crop and crawfish farming. For more information about the history of St. Martinsville: http://www.stmartinville.org/ourhistory.html

New iberia – Avery island

Avery Island is home to world famous McIlhenny Tabasco Company. The company was founded in 1868 by Edmund McIlhenny. McIlhenny was given pepper seeds which originated in either Mexico or South America. He planted the seeds and the rest is history!

The company is still family owned and managed 154 years later – which is quite unusual in an economy where larger corporations usually devour and homogenize unique brands and products. The ingredients and process are not secret but the family’s knowledge is not replicable.

The self-guided tour is fascinating, taking you through the various buildings where the peppers are ground and then mixed with salt to create the mash. (Avery Island is a salt dome and rock salt was mined there beginning in 1791, making it very accessible). The mash is then filtered to remove the skin and seeds, vinegar is added, and finally the sauce is put into white oak barrels for aging. The aging process can take up to three years – the process is quite similar to wine making. For more information: https://www.tabasco.com/tabasco-history/

Jungle Garden

Avery Island is also home to Jungle Gardens and the Bird City sanctuary. Edward Avery McIlhenny developed the gardens and sanctuary in 1895. At the time the Snowy Egret was an endangered species due to plume hunters attempting to meet the demand for feathers for women’s hats! Touring Jungle Gardens and visiting the Sanctuary is a nice follow up to the Tobasco Factory Tour. For more information: https://www.junglegardens.org/

From Avery Island we headed southwest to lands’ end at Cypremort Point which sits on Vermillion Bay. We then continued along the Bayou Teche to it’s terminus at Morgan City.

Cypremort Point
Tour’s End – Crossing the Atchafayla River

Cajun Cooking

Crawfish Cake, Cafe Jo Jo’s, Morgan City

We spent two full days slowly making our way south from Breaux Bridge to Morgan City. We had a great time exploring and meeting local folks in the towns and, of course, some dang good food.

Be seeing you!

ctsprinterlife: OTR 8.0 Alabama Part One

OTR’s only previous experience in Alabama was a couple of days driving across the northern portion of the state in March of 2020 as we were returning home prematurely due to the impact of the pandemic. So we were excited to come back to Alabama and spend some additional time exploring.

Graces High Falls

Little river canyon national preserve (LRCNP)

As we were preparing to leave Chattanooga and looking at potential points of interest on our way to Birmingham, we discovered LRCNP. The LRCNP was a great find – it provides a scenic drive along the canyon rim and a number of hikes on top of the canyon as well as down into the canyon.

Hawks Glide Overlook

The Little River flows across the top of Lookout Mountain and has carved a canyon as deep as 600 feet along the way. A river flowing across a mountain top is unusual but has helped keep this area much as it has been for centuries. There is no development within the canyon. The drive to get to the mouth of the canyon is an eleven mile steep, winding and narrow affair which limits the number of visitors to the day use area.

Little River

If you find yourself in Northeastern Alabama for any reason the LRCNP is a terrific place to spend a day driving the rim and taking a hike. https://www.nps.gov/liri/index.htm

Birmingham

We were interested in visiting Birmingham to better understand the history of this city that was so critical to the advancement of civil rights in America. However, our first stop in Birmingham was a visit to the city’s botanical garden.

We knew the gardens would not be at peak this early in the season but the grounds were still beautiful and provided us with a peaceful afternoon walking the paths.

Sloss furnaces

The following morning we commenced our tour (after fika at Seeds Coffee) of the city. We started at the Sloss Furnaces. The Furnaces is a historic landmark which both represents the industrial might that made Birmingham so prosperous and the racism that made Birmingham so notorius.

Sloss Furnaces

Birmingham is known as the Magic City due to its rapid growth and prosperity. Birmingham was just farmland until the mid 1800’s when it was discovered that the three items needed to make steel – iron ore, limestone and coal were all abundant in the area. Combined with the arrival of the railroad, the path forward was set.

The Sloss Furnaces operated from 1872 until 1970, helping to make Birmingham a prosperous city with culture and arts for the white residents. Black workers made up 70% of the workforce but provided 100% of the back-breaking labor in the mines and the furnaces. All managerial positions were held by white workers. The city was not so magical for African-Americans who were paid low wages for working in intolerable and unsafe conditions. To make the situation even more obscene the companies utilized “convict labor” in the coal mines and paid their wages to the city. Ninety percent of the convict laborers were blacks and many were falsely arrested on vagrancy charges, jailed and then leased to the city. This practice continued until 1928 – that’s right – 1928. So much for emancipation.

The workers at Sloss as well as the other furnaces were strictly segregatedBlack workers had separate showers, time clocks and entrances. The segregated workplace was not abolished until the 1960’s when the civil rights movement forced the company to abolish the policy.

The Sloss Furnaces as a physical artifact of our history are a superlative piece of history showcasing the rapid and impressive technological advances of the United States. It is an outdoor museum like few others and we think it merits a visithttps://www.slossfurnaces.com/

Birmingham civil rights institute

Martin Luther King, Jr – Birminghan Civil Rights Institute

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institue (BCRI) was opened to the public in 1992. The BCRI is part of the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument. In addition to serving as a museum chronicling the civil rights movement in Birmingham, it functions as a research and educational organization .

BCRI

The museum staff has laid out the story of the civil rights movement in a compelling and dramatic fashion. There are many significant artifacts on display but it is the videos, photographs and recordings of the actual events that give life to the history. We found ourselves struggling emotionally a number of times as we watched and listened to the events that demonstrated the cruelty of the segregationists and courage of people fighting for equality in the face of jail, physical harm or even death.

16th street baptist church

16th Street Baptist Church

The 16th Street Baptist Church is across the street from the BCRI. We took a tour of this church that figured so prominently in the fight to end segregation in Birmingham. This church was a central rallying point for the protests that took place in Birmingham.

As a result, white segregationists targeted the church and on Sunday, September 15, 1963, segregationists placed dynamite under the steps on the side of the church. The explosion killed four young girls and seriously injured another young girl.

The 16th Street Baptist Church is still an active and robust parish. The tour of the church is conducted by members of the parish. They are knowledgable and engaging. Several of the elder tour guides were parishioners at the time of the bombing. If you are visiting the BCRI most definitely walk across the street for a tour at the church.https://www.nps.gov/articles/16thstreetbaptist.htm

Fika with fiona: Best of birmingham: Seeds coffee

Seeds Coffee: https://seedscoffee.com/about/

We will be publishing a second post covering the remainder of the Alabama portion of OTR 8.0 in the near future.

Be seeing you!

OTR 8.0: Virginia (but first, Maryland)

Headwaters Presbyterian Church, 1890, Headwaters, VA (pop. 113)

Cumberland, Maryland

Savage Mountain, GAP

With a cool but dry forecast in front of us we decided to delay our arrival in Virginia and head to Cumberland for a couple of days to take advantage of the forecast and do some cycling. Cumberland is the terminus for two exceptional bike trails. The Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) connects Pittsburgh to Cumberland providing 150 miles of cycling. The trail roughly follows the course of three rivers from west to east: the Monongahela River, the Youghiogheny River and the Casselman River.

The C&O trail begins in Washington DC and follows the C&O Canal for 185 miles to its terminus in Cumberland. Based on a recommendation from some local bicyclists we rode west on the GAP. While the GAP has a better surface than the C&O, riding west is all uphill out of Cumberland. Of course the ride back takes about half as much time.

The scenery along the trail is spectacular as the trail ascends into the Laurel Highlands of Virginia. We definitely plan on going back in the future to ride additional sections of the trail.

Skyline drive