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!

ctsprinterlife: OTR 8.0 Mississippi Part 2

Hattiesburg — a very brief history

After spending time in Louisianna we traveled north back into Mississippi to visit Hattiesburg. We were up in the air about visiting Hattiesburg but after a conversation with a former resident of Hattiesburg (that we met in Cleveland, Mississippi) we decided to invest a day and check out the town. Additionally, visiting Hattiesburg would provide an opportunity to ride the Longleaf Bike Trail.

Hattiesburg was founded in 1882 by William Hardy and named after his wife Hattie. The land that is now Hattiesburg became available after the Chicksaw and Choctaw peoples were forcibly removed under the Indian Removal Act which allowed the government to relocate the nations to land west of the Mississippi River.

The city thrived in its early days as part of the burgeoning lumber industry (Hattiesburg sits in the Pine Belt) and is known as the Hub City because of the confluence of rail lines running through the city. While the timber industry is not a major economic force today, the city is still a major rail hub with freight lines bisecting the city.

While Hattiesburg was not founded until well after the Civil War, the town nonetheless did its part to uphold the legacy of slavery and segregation. The Black residents of Hattiesburg were still largely unregistered to vote in 1962 due to the efforts of the municipal government to make it impossible for Blacks to qualify to vote. For more information about the Civil Rights Movement in Hattiesburg click on the link: https://mississippiencyclopedia.org/entries/hattiesburg-civil-rights-movement/

Hattiesburg — home of rock ‘n roll?

One facet of Hattiesburg that we were totally unaware of prior to our visit is the claim that Hattiesburg is the true home of Rock ’N Roll. Musicologists have traced the roots of the genre to the Graves brothers – Blind Roosevelt and Uaroy. The brothers started as Gospel singers but in 1936 joined with pianist Cooney Vaughn to form the Mississippi Jook Band. Two of their songs in particular are now viewed as very early Rock ’N Roll songs. These songs, Barbecue Bust and Dangerous Woman, were performed and recorded long before the genre was clearly defined and popular. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1pegm79r1zE

Today, many musicologists consider the roots of Rock ’N Roll began in the African American Churches in the South where the music was “rocking and reeling” and instruments other than the organ were used to accompany the singers (out of necessity as the congregations could not afford an organ). An excellent article on this subject: https://countryroadsmagazine.com/art-and-culture/visual-performing-arts/hattiesburg-birthplace-of-rock-n-roll/

Longleaf trail

The Longleaf Trail is a 45.5 mile paved rails-to-trails bikeway. The southern trailhead is in Hattiesburg and the trail runs in a northwest direction terminating in Prentis. We rode out and back on the southern half of the trail from Hattiesburg and the northern half of the trail from Sumral Station (west of Laurel).

Longleaf is a Hall of Fame trail and for good reason. The trail is paved, in excellent condition and passes through beautiful Southern scenery. Surprisingly, we encountered very few other riders on either of our rides. We highly recommend this trail. The round trip is 91 miles – beyond our current range – so we split the trail and enjoyed two rides.

The town

Laurel is not our ”home Town” but it could be!

Laurel was added to our intinary once we decided to visit Hattiesburg. If you are a fan of the HGTV show Home Town you may recognize Laurel as the small town where husband and wife Ben and Erin Napier help folks renovate local homes. As a result of the popularity of the show, the town has attracted many visitors and new residents.

We visited their retail store and woodworking shop while in town, but there were unfortunately no celebrity sightings. We can tell you their two stores are doing a brisk trade! Good for them – the couple has done a lot to help bring back this former lumber industry town.

We arrived in Laurel on the day of the annual crawfish festival. The festival runs from 11AM to 3PM – all you can eat for $15- Classic Low Country Boil – crawfish, sausage, potatoes, sweet potatoes and corn. Live music to boot. Now that is Southern Hospitality!

Laurel has more than the CrawFest and the TV show to offer. There are several excellent restaurants (The Loft….our favorite) and several neigborhoods with streets lined with live oaks and stately homes. Lastly, the former town library was converted and expanded into an art museum with a very nice collection of paintings and sculptures. We have included several photogrpahs of our favorite paintings at the end of this post.

William Hollingworth (1910-1944) The Mystery of a Southern Night, 1941, Oil on canvas
Charly Palmer (1960) Leadbelly c. 2012, Acrylic on canvas
Alfred Conteh (1975) Preme 2020, Acrylic and Atomized brass dust on canvas
John Winslow (1938) Painting in Marcella’s Studio 1982, Oil on canvas
Janet Fish (1938) Pink Scarf and Daffodils 2008, Oil on canvas

This post is our penultimate post on Mississippi as part of OTR 8.0. If you missed our previous posts you can find them at ctsprinterlife: OTR 8.0: Mississippi Part One and Ocean Springs, Mississippi at ontheroadwithmariastephen.net Our final post will cover our exploration of the Mississippi Delta.

Be seeing you!

ctsprinterlife: OTR 8.0: Mississippi Part One

TransAmerica Trail (TAT)

The TAT is a 4200 mile transcontinental route comprised largely of dirt and gravel roads. The trail is the creation of Sam Carrero, an avid off-road motorcyclist with a passion for exploring and tackling challenging terrain.

Sam began the process of mapping out this coast to coast off-pavement adventure in 1984. It took him 12 years to put the route together. The route utilzes only publicly accessible roads and trails, however, it is not intended for standard vehicles or standard motorcycles. Many portions of the route require 4WD and high clearance and significant portions are single lane only at best.

County Road 738
County Road 738

We had a blast driving the Mississippi portion of the TAT. Several nights of rain made some portions of the trail muddy but still passable. The notorious County Road 555 was partially washed out (see video below) and after a driver/navigator consultation we retreated to find a road in better condition and then rejoin the TAT!

County Road 555
County Road 555, Lambert, MS (pop. 1296 – size 544 acres)

The Mississippi portion of the TAT is relatively short at about 300 miles but it provided us with a fun overlanding experience and the opportunity to travel through some very rural areas of Mississippi. The majority of the trail takes the traveler through large swaths of pine forest, some farm land and the occasional cluster of homes and a small church.

This part of Mississippi is known as the Pine Belt. When we think of the timber industry we tend to think about the massive timberlands of the West and forget that Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia are still major producers of timber. Timber is the second largest agricultural commodity in Mississippi (poultry is number one).

Another observation from our trip across the state on the trail is that there is significant poverty in rural Mississippi (Mississippi has the highest poverty rate of the fifty states and DC). While we only passed through a small number of rural communities, we saw that people are living in very impoverished circumstances. A number of these small communities appear to be segregated and that the most impoverished of these communities are inhabited by Black residents.

The photos below are from a small town that we crossed through while traversing the state. The town has a population of approximately 448 people and is predominately Black (85%). The poverty rate for Blacks is 52% and for males 60%.

The balance of this post will provide a brief recap of our experiences in the towns we visited that are not along the TAT.

Corinth —- home of the slugburger

Corinth is a handsome town (pop. 14,000) in the northeastern corner of Mississippi and was our jumping off point for the TAT. We had planned on visiting Corinth even before our decision to tackle the TAT. The town is steeped in Civil War history (First Battle of Corinth and Second Battle of Corinth) and has 18 structures or locations listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

But alas, the charm and history of Corinth had not driven our desire to visit the town — we must confess it was our (well, honestly, for just one of us) obsession with eating a Northeast Mississippi specialty – the Slugburger. Additionally, we needed to try the Slugburger at Borroum’s Drug Store and Fountain because Borroum’s has the best Slugburger in Corinth. Borroum’s is the oldest drug store in Mississippi and still operated by the same family (the business was started shortly after the end of the Civil War when Jack Borroum arrived after being released from a Union Army prison camp).

What is a Slugburger, you ask? Slugburgers are a mixture of ground pork, soy flour, and spices. The mixture is flattened into a patty and deep fried in vegetable oil. The patty is placed on a hamburger bun with a garnish of mustard, onion, and pickle. Developed during the Great Depression when money and meat were both scarce, slug burgers were made with a mixture of beef and pork, potato flour as an extender, and spices, then fried in animal fat. Mrs. Weeks, credited with creating one of the first, found the “burgers” were a way to make meat go a little farther at the family hamburger stand. Selling for a nickel, sometimes called a slug, the imitation hamburgers became known as Slugburgers.

New Albany-or-the crash

We popped off the TAT to visit New Albany and cycle the Tanglefoot Trail. The Tanglefoot is a 44 mile paved bicycle trail that was formerly a line of the Gulf and Ship Island Railroad (which still operates today as a subsidiary of the Rock Island Rail). As an historical aside, the railroad was founded by Colonel Willam Clark Faulkner, great-grandfather of author William Faulkner. The line was conceived as a way to move timber to the Gulf. The trail is named after the steam locomotive Tanglefoot which was used during the construction of the line.

The Tanglefoot is an award winning trail – noted for the scenery and small towns that can be visited directly from the trail. We set out from the trailhead in New Albany heading due south. The ride was delightful – forest, farm fields, numerous creek crossings and lots of wildlife.

Unfortunately, our delightful ride became less so when the smarter, wiser and better looking member of this partnership crashed after getting sideways in some loose gravel at the edge of the trail. Maria managed to finish the remaining 15 miles of the ride but was unable to walk on her own power once off the bike.

Fortunately, after a visit to the local urgent care and a consultation (and more xrays) with an orthopedist the next day in Oxford, it was determined that Maria did not have a fractured patella, just a severe contusion. So we purchased crutches, swallowed some pain meds and got back on the road two days later. Ten days later we were back on the bikes! Phew!

Oxford —- or everybody loves ole miss

We were fortunate in one sense that Oxford was a short drive from New Albany and is home to the University of Mississippi School of Medicine and Specialty Orthopedic Group. After Maria received the good news that there was no fracture, we decided to stay in Oxford for several days and let Maria begin her recuperation.

Oxford worked well for us as our time there allowed Maria to get rest and stay off her feet for several days. So, perhaps needless to say, we spent most of our time in Oxford drinking coffee and tea, drinking beverages other than coffee and tea, and dining. The good news – as home to Ole Miss – there are plenty of choices from a culinary perspective.

We would say that while the town is very attractive and has plenty of dining options, we found Oxford more touristy than we expected and we are of the opinion the hype about how cool the town is overstated. Perhaps, we just missed it with Maria being less than one hundred percent.

Taylor grocery — “eat or we both starve!”

While we were in Oxford, a number of folks we met recommended the quick trip to Taylor to dine at Taylor Grocery. Taylor Grocery is billed as the best catfish in the South, and we would not argue with that claim. The building was erected in 1889 and we are pretty certain that not many improvements have been made to the property (part of the charm – see photographs below). We also had the good fortune to meet the owners, Lynn, Debbie and Sarah Margaret Hewlett. Lynn joined us at our dinner table, making sure we sampled most of the menu items—we had a great evening! We have included our note to Sarah below. For more information on the storied history of Taylor Grocery click on the link: https://taylorgrocery.com/


Hello Sarah—
We had the great pleasure of dining at Taylor Grocery this evening (3/31/22) and wanted to send our appreciation for the hospitality and outstanding meal.
From the moment we met Lynn on the porch playing his dobro, we knew we were in a special place. We ordered an appetizer and catfish dinners from our friendly and helpful server; and we also received complimentary sides of gumbo, rice and beans, and fried okra. And we managed to eat chocolate cobbler, too! Everything was delicious.
On our way into the restaurant, we were chatting with a local gentleman who inquired about our van. When we went to pay for our dinner, we were so surprised to hear that he had already taken care of it-Mississippi Hospitality!
We are from Connecticut and have been traveling throughout the US in our van six months annually for the last four years, and Taylor, MS will always hold a special place in our hearts. Hopefully, we will we back again.
With our kindest regards to all at Taylor Grocery,
Maria & Stephen

We hope you found this post from the first leg of our exploration of Mississippi interesting. Our next post regarding Mississippi will chronicle our time in the Mississippi Delta.

Be seeing you!

Ocean Springs, Mississippi

As we planned a rough itinerary through the Southeast for OTR 8.0 we had not contemplated a visit to Ocean Springs. In fact, we had never heard of Ocean Springs.

However, that was before meeting Cynthia Comsky, the owner of the Attic Gallery in Vicksburg, who strongly recommended a visit to the Walter Anderson Museum in Ocean Springs. Subsequently, we saw a watercolor exhibit of Anderson’s at the Lauren Rogers Museum in Laurel, Mississippi and knew we needed to visit Ocean Springs and the Walter Anderson Museum.

Much to our delight, the museum met all of our expectations and we found the town itself to be a quaint and friendly destination. In fact, we extended our stay to enjoy the charms of the town and the its friendly inhabitants.

Walter Anderson Museum

”Beware by whom you are called sane.” —- Walter Inglis Anderson

Sissy at the Table c.1933 Oil on board

So, of course, our first stop (well, second after coffee – see below on that topic) was the Walter Anderson Museum. The museum is physically attached to the town community center – which is appropriate as its walls are adorned with murals he created (and was paid a meager one dollar). The museum itself is filled with his works as one might expect – however one might not expect to find water colors, oils, wood sculptures, woodblock prints, pencil and ink drawings all by the same artist. His work in each of these mediums is outstanding.

New Orleans Street Scene, c. 1963, Oil on board

Anderson’s personal and professional life was inextricably meshed together. His story is fascinating. He appears to us to be an artist and naturalist of uncompromising dedication, commitment and eccentricity that matched his artistic genius. There are a number of articles that provide excellent insight into Anderson’s life—links to a few that we found interesting: The Many Voyages of Walter Anderson: https://bittersoutherner.com/the-many-voyages-of-walter-anderson-horn-island-mississippi and Realisations: https://walterandersonart.com/pages/about-walter-anderson

Horn Island at Sunset 1960 Oil on board

Last night there was a beautiful sunset. One felt that it had been arranged with taste. So many sunsets seem to be simply wild explosions of color in order to stun people into a state of mute wonder. But this one had variety, vermilion red and purple together, and lilac and gold together against a heavenly clear green turquoise sky. You felt that there would never be bad weather again.” —- Walter Inglis Anderson

Allison Sleeping c. 1935 Oil on board
Shrimp Boat c. 1955 Oil on board

“I wonder how long it will be before nature and man accept each other again. —- Walter Inglis Anderson

Lady in Red c. 1930 Oil on canvas

The identity of the sitter in the painting above is unknown. She sits slightly askew in her chair with her hands folded delicately in her lap. She gazes off to her right – not making eye contact with the viewer. By positioning his subject in such a way, we first notice the shape that the figure makes, almost reducing her form into a series of S curves against a dark background.

WPA Mural Sketch c. 1934 Oil on board

This mural sketch was created for the WPA. This particular scene is a cartoon (or preparatory work) of The Hunt. The closely depicted forms of the hunters, deer, and yellow dog are reminiscent of the cave painting compositions that Anderson saw in France in the 1920s.

“Nature does not like to be anticipated it too often means death, I suppose but loves to surprise; in fact, seems to justify itself to man in that way, restoring his youth to him each time.” —- Walter Inglis Anderson

Fairy tales


Walter Anderson loved fairy tales and even described them as being “explosive”- having the ability to inspire life and creativity. Anderson drew, painted, and carved classical images of fairy tales and myths throughout his life. Walter Anderson saw the world as a magical place full of wonder and possibility. Classic tales of mythology populated his daily life on the Gulf Coast. Around his home at Shearwater, Anderson would often carve dead trees into the shapes of nymphs and giants. He read stories to his children and illustrated their lives with fairies and mythic creatures.

Most notably, he created approximately 30 block prints featuring scenes from familiar tales to sell inexpensively to the public. Many of these block prints of myths and fairy tales are displayed here, demonstrating the timeless attraction that these tales have for all.

Bright eyed brew company

Be bright

Bright Eyed Brew Company was a massive bonus – the frosting on our Walter Anderson Museum cake – we did not expect to find a first rate specialty coffee cafe and roaster in Ocean Springs.

Bright Eyed Brew Company is owned and operated by husband and wife Ryan and Kathryn Reaux. They started the business in 2016 as a part time venture making and selling nitro cold brew from a cart at the local farmers market. Today their cold brew is on tap at a number of restaurants and cafes in the Mississippi Gulf area, and they operate the cafe selling espresso drinks, tea, waffles and, of course, nitro cold brew.

The Reaux Family

On our first morning in Ocean Springs we stopped at Bright Eyed as the prelude to our museum visit. From the moment we ordered our drinks and sat down in the cafe, local folks began chatting us up – that is what Fika is all about! Three hours later we finally departed for the museum. https://brighteyedbrewco.com/

Hotel Beatnik

Once we decided to visit the museum, we needed a place to stay and there were no camping options close by. We found Beatnik online and booked a cabin. The property consists of four cabins and a swimming pool. As you can see from the photographs below they are not rustic cabins.