MISSISSIPPI TOURIST INFORMATION: (800) 647-2290
State Capitol, Jackson ((601) 359-3114
Completed in 1903 the Mississippi Capitol is patterned after the nation's capitol in Washington, DC. It exemplifies the Beaux Arts Classical style of architecture and features an eight-foot, solid copper eagle covered in gold leaf. The eagle, with its 15 foot wing span, perches on the top of the dome. The Rotunda walls inside are made of Italian white marble with black cast iron balustrades encircling it.The dome in the Senate Chambers is Belgian stained glass. (Note: unlike other statehouses, Mississippi's Senate and House chambers place the Speaker's podium in the rear of the room, rather than the front, so when visitors walk in, they must turn around to face the speaker.) Today the Mississippi Capitol is often referred to as the "New Capitol" to distinguish it from the 1850 capitol described below.
Check it out . . . In front of the building's entrance is an elegant statue dedicated to "Confederate Women." Inscribed on each of the four panels is a poem dedicated to: "Our Mothers" (facing east), "Our Daughters" (facing west), "Our Sisters"(facing north), and "Our Wives" (facing south).
Old State Capitol Museum of Mississippi History, Jackson (601) 359-6920
The Old State Capitol, built in 1839, reflects the democratic sweep acros the country as a result of the Jackson presidency where the "common man" reigned supreme. As a result of this national mood the legislative chambers of this state Capitol were intentionally given more architectural style and grace than the governor's office. It was in these legislative chambers in 1861 where the papers for the Ordinance of Secession were signed. The focal point of the building is its center staircase, suspended from three floors circling the elaborate Rotunda like a large curlicue ribbon. The Rotunda rises 94 feet from the polished limestone floor to top of the elegant dome adorned in Gilt rosettes at its base. The Old Capitol is now a museum featuring exhibits on Mississippi's history from 16th century Native Americans to the award-winning exhibit of the African Americans' Civils Rights struggle in the 20th century -- the first Civil Rights exhibit in the US. Admission is Free.
Check it out . . .We were delighted to find another 1948 French "Merci Train" boxcar, restored and permanently displayed on the Capitol grounds. The "Merci Train" was a train of 48 boxcars (one for each state at the time) filled with gifts given to the American states from the French people in appreciation of the 1945 American "Friendship Train" boxcars which had been filled with food, given by the American people to war-ravaged France. Inside the museum are some of the gifts France offered to the State of Mississippi.
Vicksburg National Military Park, Vicksburg (601) 636-2199
The Military Park museum shows a film about General Grant's six-week Siege of Vicksburg and General Pemberton's desperate defense of the last Confederate bastion on the Mississippi River. More than 100,000 Gray & Blue soldiers occupied the city, overcrowding its 3000 residents, or "noncombatants," who were forced to live in hurriedly arranged cave dwellings built into the city's clay bluffs. After exploring the museum, visitors are encouraged to drive around the various battlefield sites within the park. Blue markers show Union advances, Red markers show Confederate defenses. A quick scan of the area, dotted in hundreds of red and blue markers, shows how close the enemies were and how dreadful a battle it must have been. And yet the park is so serene today. Beautiful green lawns trimmed in honeysuckle and white Japanese Pinchette bushes perfume the battlefield park in a heady smell of thick, sweet fragrance. Elegant memorial buildings and statues donated from each state, pay a special honor to this tragic time.The driving tour of the battlefield ends at the Vicksburg National Cemetery where 17,000 Union soldiers are buried, only 4,000 of whom are identified. Those whose names are known have standard gravestones, the numerous, nameless dead have just a round stub of a stone marking their final resting place.Very sad. Just beyond the National Cemetery is the USS Cairo Museum which houses the artifacts collected from the Civil War ironclad gunboat, raised in 1961, one hundred years after the it was sunk. Just outside the museum is the restored skeleton framework of the ironclad itself where visitors can walk the deck and learn, firsthand, about these incredible, "unsinkable" warships.
Vicksburg Old Courthouse Museum, Vicksburg (601) 636-0741
This exquisite pre-Civil War public building is a majestic structure that overlooks the city from Vicksburg's highest hill. Easily seen from boats on the river below, the massive building dominates the scene in many pre-Civil War illustrations and photos of Vicksburg. The interior rooms feature an ornate cast iron staircase, railings and an intricately designed judge's dais. From the clock tower of this historic building Union troops raised the Stars and Stripes on July 4, 1863, signifying the end of the 47-day siege. Having survived Grant's siege, this building where Jefferson Davis had launched his political career now houses rare Confederate artifacts such as, a never-surrendered Confederate battleflag, the inaugural tie worn by Jefferson Davis, as well as portraits, china, silver and antique furniture from the period.
McRaven Mansion, Vicksburg (601) 636-1663
Built in three different periods, this unusual Southern mansion holds the unique distinction of having preserved three types of architecture in one private dwelling: the 18th century Frontier style, the early 19th century Empire style, and the mid-19th century Greek Revival style. One of the most unusual artifacts is a portable sewing kit that belonged to Mrs. Bobb, a former mistress of the home. The sewing kit looks like a big key ring that might have hung from a jailer's beltloop during medieval days, but instead of holding keys to a jail, the brass ring holds dangling sewing tools: a pair of scissors, needles, thimbles, and thread. Mrs. Bobb carried this brass ring of sewing instruments under the folds of her skirt, ever ready to make a quick, discreet repair when necessary.
Natchez Trace Parkway, (Nashville to Natchez) (800) 305-7417
This scenic highway may well be the most historic road in America. First appearing about 8,000 years ago as a buffalo trace, it became a favorite footpath and trade route for early Native Americans, and was also used by explorer Hernando de Soto and his men in 1540. By the late 18th century farmers from the Ohio River Valley began floating their goods down the Mississippi River to markets in New Orleans, and after selling everything --including their flatboats -- would walk home on this trail laden with their earnings. These heavy pursed, peripatetic merchants were easy targets for swindlers and highway robbers who populated the thickly wooded,unpoliced trail. Many a farmer never returned home. Even Meriwether Lewis met his mortal fate on this treacherous roadway. Now managed by the National Parks Service this 500-mile road has fascinating Historical Markers that tell frightening tales of disease, crime and espionage at various points along its north-to-south path. From the road's highest point north, in Nashville to it's final stop in New Orleans, the road is filled with interesting tales.
Tip: A book entitled, "The Devil's Backbone" is a great way to learn more details about some of the horrendous tales associated with this historic road.
Natchez Visitor Center, Natchez (800) 996-2824
Begin your tour of Natches here. This enormous Visitor Center features a fabulous film about this old Southern town, one of the most famous for its fantastic collection of antebellum mansions. After the film, help yourself to a free soda or coffee and tour the photo exhibits and topographical map of the area. Plan your visit well, for the town is full of colossal mansions, riberboat casinos, museums, churches, and the bawdy antebellum redlight district, "Natchez-Under-the-Hill," now a respectable riverfront restaurant and shopping area.
Tip: There are so many exquisite antebellum mansions in Natchez, but time limited us to visiting only three. These are the three that most appealed to us, either for their historic significance or for their unusual style. Study the different brochures, and talk to the representatives at the center to help you determine which mansions will best satisfy your goals for learning more about Natchez's antebellum estates. Of course you could always opt to take a bus tour for a quick curbside viewing of all of them, and then visit the interiors of the mansion that best piqued your interest.
Natchez National Historical Park, Natchez (800) 305-7417
Good climate, inexpensive fertile land, readily available credit, slave labor, and its location on the Mississippi River made Natchez a major center of the South's cotton culture and economy and the National Historical Park has preserved many of the buildings and recreated the gardens that showcase this vanquished lifestyle. The 1848 Greek Revival mansion, Melrose Estate, is the centerpiece of the park, representing an era of wealth and luxury. Preserved as a plantation, this spacious estate contains formal gardens, outbuildings, cisterns, slave quarters, privies, stables and a carriage house.
Stanton Hall, Natchez (601) 446-6631
One of the most visited National Historic Landmarks in America, this enormous townhouse is located on a tree-shaded hill in the center of town. From the immensive Corinthian columns on the front gallery, to the marble fireplaces, goldleaf mirrors and Sheffield silver knobs and hinges that accentuate that handmade rosewood furnishings found throughout the interior, it's obvious that no expense was spared when building this 1857 white stucco mansion. With a hotel and restaurant on the premises, visitors can tour the mansion, have a meal, and spend the night in a state of sheer elegance.
Rosalie, Natchez (601) 446-6631
Located on a high bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, Rosalie was first a French fort in 1716, named after the beautiful Duchess de Ponchartrain. In 1820 a wealthy lumber mill owner purchased the property and erected an elegant private residence for his family. The large mansion, built in the popular Federalist style, retained it's lovely name, Rosalie, and remained in the family until the Civil War when it was used as Union Headquarters. (General Ulysses S. Grant was a frequent lodger.) This Federal style mansion is enhanced by a wide, white column, double gallery with Colonial fanlights above the exterior doors.
OUR CAMPSITE FOR THE WEEK
Isle of Capri Casino Campground, Vicksburg (601) 636-5700
This campground is wonderful! Only $88 per week, for a free telephone hookup at every site, cable TV, pool, jacuzzi and free shuttle bus to casino. The hosts are friendly and efficient. The facilities are sparkling clean, and the office provides free coffee all day long. They also provide a swimming pool -- with comfortable cushioned, swivel poolside chairs under a lovely shade arbor. A jacuzzi, by the pool completes this delightful retreat. The grounds are parking lot style, with patches of grass between each RV site. However, newly planted trees promise a bit more atmosphere in the future. The RV Park is across the street from the overlook of one of the most beautiful and most photographed sections of the Mississippi, where two parallel bridges head west toward Louisiana. A free shuttle bus transports gamblers or buffet enthusiasts down the road to the Isle of Capri Casino, a coral colored festive place where a real live parrot greets each visitor. The RV Park offers coupons for discounts on some of the buffets, so check with them before going to the casino. Also, if you stop at the casino -- before going to the campground -- you can apply for a free Isle of Capri Gold Card which offers other incentives and discounts -- including a 20 percent discount on the RV Park.