We arrived in Clarksdale mid-afternoon and hunted out a motel for the night, deciding on the Uptown Inn Motel. Once settled we rested before heading out to the ‘Ground Zero Blues Club’. This is a blues club in downtown Clarksdale nestled amongst derelict buildings and next to the old railway station. It is part owned by the local mayor and Morgan Freeman. The style of this club is old school ‘juke joint’, with non-fussy southern style food and drinks in a grungy environment. We spent a few hours there, having a few drinks and dinner (a sample of hot tamales – deep-fried cornmeal covered chill beef – more BBQ and catfish) before the band for the night made their appearance. The ‘Juke Joint Allstars’ were excellent and played a mixture of blues covers and there own tunes. We called it a night after two of their sessions and walked the short walk back to our lodgings.
The next morning we had a coffee at the local coffee store – ‘Yazoo Pass’ – before doing some drive-by tourist photos of the local sights. There aren’t many in Clarksdale, it’s a small town, especially the ‘historic’ downtown area. We have found that ‘historic’ downtowns in the ’South’ tend to be a mixture of derelict buildings and new businesses in old buildings but mostly the derelict kind. The new residential areas in towns tend to be on the out-skirts. Old, nice looking buildings are left to rot which we find a little strange.
On the way to Vicksburg we drove through some lovely countryside, what we would think of as classic Mississippi – corn fields, wooded and swampy looking areas. In Vicksburg we are staying in the McNutt House, built in 1826, among the oldest antebellum homes in Vicksburg and a former home of a former Mississippi Governor in the 1830s. It is a lovely home, we have a suite with a kitchenette and bathroom and are here for two nights. After getting settled we set off downtown for a late lunch at ‘Rusty’s Grill’ on the recommendation of our host. We tried some more Southern food – gumbo and corn girts amongst others. With a kitchenette we have the luxury and cheapness of cooking for ourselves so we cooked in the first night and enjoyed/got frustrated at the hundreds of TV channels at our disposal from our bed.
Vicksburg is the site of another of the major battles of the American Civil War and you can visit the battle grounds here which have been established as a National Park – the ‘Military National Park’. There is a car tour you can drive around, a 16 mile loop which takes you past trench lines, battery points, State memorials to the armies and a cemetery to the 17,000 troops that fell here. Vicksburg was held by the Confederates as an important strategic point along the Mississippi River. The Federal Army, realising the importance set out to conquer the town but failed after launching many attacks. Eventually they were able to take the town through surrender after a 46 day siege. This was a major strategic event of the Civil War. In the park there are the reconstructed ruins of the USS Cairo, an ironclad river gunboat. We never thought of naval battles during the American Civil War but with the Mississippi being so important in supplying the Armies, there were many. The USS Cairo was sunk off Vicksburg after running into mines, the first known case of an armed ship being sunk by a mine.
We had our Sunday lunch at ‘Walnut Hills’, a Southern country style restaurant and clearly popular with the post-Church crowd. We felt a little under-dressed as most people were in shirt and tie and their Sunday Best. It was manic in there with the waiters running around and getting the orders consistently wrong. In fact I am pretty sure we at someone else’s lunch but it was close enough to our order. Roast pork, fried chicken, collard greens, beans, lima greens, sweet potato and creamed corn all rounded off with e blueberry cobbler and matched with ice-tea. More ‘Southern Comfort’ food in other words.
Kirsty relaxed back the McNutt House whilst I went for a wander around downtown. It is a nice-looking town with antebellum buildings in the ‘historic’ district but being a sunday not much was open. There was a Coke museum open, however, which I paid the $3 to get into. This is the site where Coca-Cola was first bottled after an brainwave by a local candy maker. He had success selling the product in town and wanted to sell it in the country so started bottling it himself to take on the road. Impressing the President of Coke, he went on to set-up larger operations and franchises over the South of the country and essentially the practice of bottling soda drinks had been born.
Our evening was spent at the McNutt House, taking advantage of our surroundings. The sky lit up with lightning all evening as a thunderstorm passed through Vicksburg. We have never seen lightning like it with the sky flashing up every few seconds.
The next day we had a plan of getting as close to New Orleans as we could to stay in a motel. We were dropping the rental car off the next day at the airport in the morning and didn’t want to get up too early so a close stay would be best. On the way we drove down the Natchez Trace Parkway, a route through Mississippi that people have been taking for thousands of years. Today, the Parkway is looked after by the U.S. National Parks Service and is a scenic drive with historic points of interest along the way. This took us from Vicksburg to Natchez where we stopped for lunch. Natchez is a picturesque small town on the Mississippi, settled in Spanish colonial times. From here we drove the Interstate highways into Louisiana, through Baton Rouge and ending up in New Orleans.