Saturday, July 29, 2017

Echoes of the Past from a Real Place

The Haven, Columbus, MS

As Columbus, Mississippi, celebrates it's second-hundredth year, it's a rewarding experience to walk around the iconic buildings in the town. Just off the main drag through downtown and a couple of blocks west of the busy 5th Street, stands a house with a history that reflects what Columbus once was and still is—a place of change and timelessness. It's both the New South and progressive and not tied to stereotypes and surprisingly willing to accommodate both liberal and conservative voices and people; but it is also part of the Deep South, the Old South with its ancient prejudices and post-Civil-War attitude. Cliff had discovered a home in Columbus online called The Haven, which was built in 1843 by two freed men. And then one day, he and I decided to stop by there and look around. After many decades it is now for sale.

"The Haven is nestled in a shady lot just across from the Trotter Convention Center (downtown) and sits on a hill which, 170 years ago when the home was new, would have overlooked downtown antebellum Columbus," The Commercial Dispatch, July 19, 2017. According to the article, The Haven was commissioned—and possibly built by brothers Thomas and Isaac Williams, who were freedmen of color. And, also according to the article, Rufus Ward says, "...the real interest is that it was a freed black family that lived there in antebellum times." To me, this fits with the kind of place Columbus has always been, unconventional in super-conventional times like the old South. The Haven was (probably) built by and for freedmen, the Williams brothers, but it is not the only structure in Columbus that was built by former slaves. The first bridge over the Tom-Bigbee river was built by slaves, as well. According to the article, in the 1850s and in the years leading up to the Civil War, a lot of attitudes were changing toward free blacks. While early on the Williams brothers might have been accepted, they might not have been later. One of the brothers moved to Texas in 1858, and the house was sold to a man named Adam Gabs. The property stayed in this family for a long time.

And now it is for sale. The architectural style is similar to homes built in the Carolinas, and in fact the Williams were from there. They were also master builders. However, a visit to the realtor website will provide more information for those interested in the house. There you will see 24 pictures of both the interior and exterior. This is truly iconic and historical home in Columbus, MS, and shouldn't be missed.

Closer in time but still as integral to its past as the historic homes is the music that emanates from the Southern DNA. Below is a two-hour video, "Slow and Sexy Blues Music Compilation, 2017".  Put this video on and go about your business, just allowing the music to flow freely in your home. It's well worth listening to.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

First Impressions Shattered

Revisiting West Point, Mississippi

Looking North into West Point's
neat little downtown. Taken
from the city park.
West Point is the smallest of the three towns that make up the Golden Triangle area of Mississippi, known for its recent claim to massive investments from foreign and domestic industry to the tune of over eight billion dollars, including a Japanese tire manufacturing plant in West Point. On our trip through this part of Mississippi in 2015, when we knew very little of the Golden Triangle area, Cliff and I got gas in West Point after visiting Waverley Mansion just outside of Columbus, between Columbus and West Point. We stopped for gas at a busy little gas station on what turned out to be the outskirts of West Point, on the east end of its main street.

We were not impressed and wrote off West Point as disinteresting, doubting that it had much in the way of historic homes or history in general. But in the last few weeks, now that Cliff is living here in Columbus, we have been back to West Point three times and plan to make reservations at one of the town's locally owned restaurants to take in dinner and the usually great blues bands that play at Anthony's Restaurant each Wednesday night. We've been back several times, because our first ill impression of West Point has been shattered with each subsequent visit. I wrote about another cafe in West Point in my last post, and we have eaten there three times. But we've also found a delicious antiques store called Annabelle's and we plan to go back there, as well.

Howlin' Wolf is one of the
iconic blues players of the
South and a native of
West Point, Mississippi.
But our biggest misimpression was that because West Point is small (around 11,000 people) it couldn't have had much of a history. Not so; West Point is almost 200 years old and it has a treasure in its historic homes and bustling downtown, as well as a contributor to Mississippi's Blues history. Howlin' Wolf is one of the best known blues greats and is a native of West Point. His museum resides in West Point and a memorial stands in the city's beautiful park, which covers several blocks in the downtown area. This small city has another historic point of interest however that fits well with the history of Columbus, and that is its history of slave relations before and during the Civil War. Let me put that another way. I had already found out that Columbus has a progressive history, is LGBT friendly, and is the home of the first Memorial Day celebration. But Columbus and West Point have a shared history in how slaves and former slaves were treated, compared to other parts of the Old South. Word of mouth from native West Point citizens have told me that West Point was progressive and had elements of abolitionists there before the Civil War. But I will have to leave this notion to further research. Make no mistake, West Point is a Southern city and also has a long history of plantations and slavery. Still, there's no way to just write off this town. It has a great deal to offer. There is a busy section of big box stores, fast food joints, and other businesses, but there is also an interesting downtown, where the store fronts have been maintained and a collection of fun places to visit.

Like other towns in Mississippi, West Point has the annual Prairie Arts Festival.

39th Annual Prairie Arts Festival

Saturday, September 2, 2017

A greatly anticipated annual event in West Point and the surrounding area is the Prairie Arts Festival.  The Festival is held each year on the Saturday before Labor Day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in West Point's downtown. Including Fine Arts, Crafts, down-home southern cooking, four stages of live music, Classic Cars, Kidsville, and much more, the Prairie Arts Festival features more than 600 exhibits.
The festival has been recognized as one of the top ten events in the south, and is one of the largest arts and crafts festivals in the country.
 I leave you with a musical performance in 2013 by a band called The Kevin Waide Project, singing "Meet Me by Your Back Door" from their album Lost in Mississippi...

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Last One to Leave, Turn Out the Lights


Cliff entered Columbus, Mississippi from the west
and had I been standing on the steps of Harvey's
restaurant, as I was when I took this picture, I would
have seen his SUV clearly.
My partner Cliff arrived in Columbus, Mississippi, on Friday, June 30, around 7:30 p.m. He traveled for two days, spending only one night on the road in Weatherford, Texas, west of Fort Worth/Dallas and just barely out of the west Texas desert and into the rolling hills on the edge of much greener and wetter east Texas. He left Las Cruces, New Mexico, embroiled in triple-digit heat and a haboob, and after two days of grueling driving (with our cat Julia), he crossed the Mississippi River and drove through Vicksburg, Mississippi in a rainstorm—just exactly what my experience was one year and one month ago, when I entered Mississippi.

This is the Haboob that hit Las Cruces shortly after
Cliff had left to move to Mississippi
But in fact, he was not the last member of his family to leave Las Cruces, New Mexico, for greener climes. His brother Clay and his wife Angie left Las Cruces a day after Cliff did. They were the last ones of his family to leave and to turn out the lights. I have to mention that Clay and Angie were in a caravan with friends driving trucks and trailers and hauling the great bulk of possessions, some of it was for Cliff's parents who had previously moved to Rosebud, Texas.

But in fact (yeah another one), Clay and Angie's three children are still in Las Cruces. The twins are entering college at NMSU, and their oldest daughter is getting married and will be living in Las Cruces with her husband.

But I digress...Cliff's arrival closed a chapter in our relationship—the one year and one month we were apart, while he sold property, bought property, closed the family business, and otherwise settled accounts in New Mexico, so he could finally leave. Now that he's here, he said—and I agree—this past year apart just seems like the blink of an eye. Cliff and our cat Julia moved into my house while his house is continuing to be renovated. That, too, is quickly coming to a close and in a few more weeks his house will be move-in ready.

On the night that Cliff arrived, we make a late evening trip to Harvey's Restaurant for a small meal and a dessert. It reminded me of our first trip to Columbus in 2014 when we first looked at property and were astounded at the sheer beauty of the small city, the friendly people, and the progressive atmosphere.

In the two weeks that Cliff has been here, getting settled, opening accounts, etc., we managed a delightful trip to West Point where we ate lunch at The Main Street Market and Restaurant. We were both astounded at the deep menu selections, including entrees from fish, chicken, pork, and beef. It is also a meat market, and when we left, we took both brisket and pulled pork. The decor is down-home with a nod to Mississippi's musical heritage and culture. There are two pictures of Elvis. The waitress Martha was delightfully ready to talk and answer our questions. One of the dessert items was called "Elvis Cake" and, as it turned out, that's what Cliff and I shared. I took pictures of our main entree, as well as convinced Martha to stand with Cliff in front of one of the Elvis pictures and jointly holding a serving of Elvis Cake. It is a basic white cake with soaked in brown sugar and pineapple bits, covered with a butter cream (cream cheese) and pecan icing. Martha told us that it was one of Elvis's favorite desserts. The chef of the Market recreated that dessert for his restaurant. Throughout our meal, even on a Monday afternoon, people came and went, mainly to get take-out. We had planned to eat at another popular restaurant in West Point, called Anthony's. But fortuitously it was closed and we discovered the Market restaurant, which Cliff recalled reading about in some Mississippi magazine.

Cliff and Martha posing with
the Elvis Cake
We do plan to return to this restaurant, and we know that our friend Jim (who hails from Arkansas) would love this place. Yes, I could have tasted their catfish on this particular afternoon, but I tried the small pulled pork sandwich, instead. I cannot imagine how big the upsize of this sandwich would be. I felt stuffed as it was with the small sandwich.

Once again, I find myself talking about the food and hidey holes in the area where I live. West Point is just minutes away from Columbus, and there are at least three stellar restaurants there. We had originally decided to make the jaunt to West Point to visit Annabelle's Antiques, which is also on Main Street. We'll be returning on a later date for that purpose, but I hope that we can take time to have another meal at the Main Street Market.

Cliff has taken it slowly in meeting people that I have come to know, here in Columbus, but we're both looking forward to a trip to Ruben's Fish House on the Tom Bigbee waterway, just outside the entrance to Columbus from the west. I've already eaten there. Ruben's has a colorful history. That restaurant sits on the banks of the waterway. That's where we're going with two friends of mine this coming Friday, July 14. And while we have been exploring Columbus a little bit, most of our time is taken up with overseeing the final touches to Cliff's house. It's coming along fine, with a few hiccups along the way. Sit back and enjoy a 26-minute episode of Mississippi Roads: