Little Miss(issippi) Sunshine

 

The perks of living in Arkansas are endless, but one that doesn’t receive enough credit is our close proximity to the rich culture and attractions one state over in Mississippi. Arkansans are accustomed to driving straight through the neighboring state to get to the warm white sand and blue waters of the gulf, but the Magnolia State has so much to offer.

 

Almost to the state border of Mississippi and Alabama lies the city of Meridian — and the first stop on my weekend getaway. Driving in, I immediately felt as though I was being transported to the roaring ’20s era, and after spending time exploring the downtown area and getting acquainted with the city’s bustling energy, I believe I really did travel back in time. The charming architecture and attention to historic details were only the beginning of my journey through the past.

 

 

My first excursion was to the spectacular MAX Mississippi Arts + Entertainment Experience, commonly known as The MAX. This museum — though “museum” doesn’t really do this experience justice — shed some light on the Mississippian culture I was catching glimpses of driving into town. Featuring everything from physical art to Mississippi’s extensive footprint on the entertainment industry, I could not get enough of each gallery. The number of people — globally recognized people — who have come out of Mississippi is truly amazing. Faces like Oprah Winfrey, John Grisham and Morgan Freeman only scrape the surface of the influencers who trace their roots back to Mississippi soil. Creativity simply oozes from this state, and while walking through the “Hall of Fame” and learning about the featured influential figures’ lives growing up in a state not so different from my own, I was moved and motivated to say the very least.

 

Oprah Winfrey’s display inside the Mississippi Hall of Fame.

 

The next stop on my museum list was the Mississippi Children’s Museum. Bringing history and culture down to a level children can understand, the museum has created a wonderland for kids to learn about the state’s foundation and what the future can look like for the next generations. The assumption might be that this museum was not designed for adults, but a few minutes spent inside will prove that this journey through time is for all ages. As an adult wandering through the galleries, I was astounded at the creativity put into designing each exhibit. One exhibit, in particular, took me back to that childlike joy many adults seem to lose over time. “My Storybook Factory,” a gallery meant to inspire children to put their stories in motion, pulled out all the stops in the entertainment department with a child-sized replica of the local opera house, a recreation of “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” and my personal favorite, the “Puppets’ Playhouse.” Not many people can say that they have performed a puppet show, but I can. I was able to be goofy and let loose, and that’s something adults take for granted. Letting go of the weight of reality and being a kid again, even if only for a moment, really is refreshing.

 

Heather being interactive inside the Mississippi Children’s Museum

 

Once the fun was done, food was the next priority, and when in Meridian the place to go has to be Weidmann’s. Opened in 1870, Weidmann’s is the oldest restaurant in the state. The staple of the joint, peanut butter and crackers, caught me off guard. I curiously asked the waitstaff about the interesting starter, and they explained how the tradition dates back to the 1940s when there was a shortage of butter. Peanut butter was suggested as a replacement because it was readily available and kept for long periods of time. The restaurant now has locally-made peanut butter crocks on each table, and for die-hard Weidmann’s peanut butter fans, there are crocks on hand ready for purchase. Just like a chips and queso situation, I may have gotten full from the peanut butter crackers before the food arrived.

 

The oldest restaurant in Mississippi serves up peanut butter.

 

Preparing to turn in for the evening, I got a glimpse of the Threefoot Hotel. This historic hotel was once known as “The Crown Jewel of the Queen City,” and in my opinion, that name still holds. Fully encompassing the ’20s atmosphere I experienced driving into town, the Threefoot Hotel has been revitalized to maintain that fiery style of art-deco with the comforts of modern updates. I’ve stayed in many hotels throughout my life, and I’ve developed an eye for quality stays. The Threefoot rooms were clean, offered extraordinary views of the city and the details in the decorations were exquisite. 

 

Breakfast at 601 Local inside the Threefoot Hotel.

 

As far as dining services go, Threefoot had it all. The Boxcar on the ninth floor of the hotel has outdoor seating and a panoramic view of the city skyline. Nothing really tops watching the sunset while enjoying a drink in the cool air, except maybe the food at the hotel’s restaurant, 601 Local. Lavish, trendy and pristine probably best sum up this hotel stay. 

 

Riley Center’s Grand Opera House.

 

The next day, after a fantastic breakfast at 601 Local, I let Meridian continue to amaze me. Art has a tight grip on the downtown area which made for a beautiful morning walk around the city. Popping into the MSU Riley Center, I explored the Grand Opera House. Built in the 1880s, the Riley Center has been fully restored and brings in roughly 60,000 visitors every year. I, being one of those visitors, was completely enraptured by the opera house. Part of the League of Historic American Theatres, the Grand Opera House has an extensive history of hosting traveling shows, minstrel shows and some of the earliest silent movies back in the day. When movie theaters were brought onto the scene, the opera house like many others closed its doors and stayed closed for decades. Fully functioning once again after the efforts of community leaders and Mississippi State University, the opera house is a sight to behold. Looking out from the stage at the thousands of seats and the twinkling lights shining down, the space really is a sight to behold. Once again, as I repeatedly experienced while in Meridian, being in the opera house was like looking through a portal into another life. 

 

Merrehope, a Victorian mansion, is considered to be a must-see for obvious reasons. Built in 1858, the 26-room historic house is frozen in time. Strolling through the gardens and reveling in the architecture could make anyone wish that walls could talk.

 

Making the final stops in the Meridian leg of the trip, I end up at Threefoot Brewery. The brewhouse was one of the more modern joints I experienced in the city, but the charm was there all the same. The brewing machines are there inside the seating area so guests can see where the magic happens, and for those who like to stay moving, such as myself, there are giant checkers and Connect 4 games to bring out that competitive side. 

 

A meal at Harvest Grill rounded off the Meridian experience and might I say it ended with a bang. Chef Marshall has a reputable culinary career, and after going back and forth many years between states, Marshall and his little family decided to make Meridian their permanent home. His passion for food was clear in each dish, and it’s obvious the locals are proud to have him.

 

Saying goodbye to Meridian was bittersweet as I was sad to leave behind the gorgeous step back in time, but I was ready to see what Jackson had to offer. 

 

The Fairview Inn located in Jackson.

 

First things first, I checked into the Fairview Inn. I’m a sucker for boutique hotels, and this one hit all the marks. Charming and elegant, the room had a spacious living room, whirlpool tub, fireplace and the list goes on. The hotel is on the National Register of Historic Places, and for guests wanting quick access to the best sight in the city, the Fairview is in the perfect location.

 

Before diving into the rich history of Jackson, Mississippi, I thought a little shopping break would re-energize me. The District at Eastover and Highland Village both offer top-tier shopping. Throughout my entire stay in Jackson, I continuously saw little birds in store windows and businesses, and after walking into Wolfe Fine Art Studio I found the source. Wolfe Studio has been around since 1946, and while the torch has been passed through the generations to current owner Bebe Wolfe, the Wolfe Birds remain a constant. I, of course, had to get my hands on one of the famous figurines, and it proudly sits on my shelf at home.

 

Wolfe Fine Arts Studio.

 

After some light traveling and heavy shopping, it was time for this woman to eat again. Brent’s Drugs has been a popular diner and soda fountain spot in the Fondren Historic District since 1946, and I understand why. The burgers were amazing, and the milkshakes made me want to slurp it all down in one go. 

 

Another food highlight was the Saltine. As the name implies, Saltine was all about fresh seafood, more specifically fresh oysters. Inside the restaurant is an oyster bar with lines of fresh oysters spanning the entire counter. The food was good; the atmosphere was fun, and I saw more mollusks than I ever thought possible.

 

Mississippi History and Civil Rights Museum.

 

Getting back to business, I went to the Mississippi History and Civil Rights Museum. I went into the museum not really knowing what to expect, but I can confidently say that I left as a different person. Each exhibit I went into and every story I read about the American Civil Rights Movement in the state of Mississippi made me more aware of how brutal life has been for Black Americans. There were many firsthand accounts that took the breath right out of me. I spent the majority of my time sitting in the Emmett Till exhibit and taking in the tragedy that could have been prevented had humankind never judged another person by the color of their skin. This museum is at the top of my must-see list because the lessons learned from history should never be forgotten. 

 

Following my visit to the Civil Rights Museum, I then explored the Mississippi Museum of Art. The museum features art from many time periods and styles. While in the museum store, I took my time browsing through the exhibition-related items and the locally made jewelry, apparel and objets d’art. The jewelry captured my attention straight away, so I made sure to buy a few pieces.

 

Amazing meal at Manship Wood Fire Kitchen.

 

Ending the day on a warm note, I dined at the Manship Wood Fired Kitchen. I am rarely left speechless, but this meal blew my mind. The steak had a fantastic flavor and the Brussels sprouts were some of the best I’ve ever had. All in all, every drink and every bite of food was top-notch and unforgettable. Manship is now in my top favorite restaurants, and definitely my new favorite place to eat in Mississippi.

 

Vicksburg National Military Park.

 

Taking a little break from Jackson for a few hours, I drove to Vicksburg the next day. First on the list of places to see in this historic town is none other than the Vicksburg National Military Park. The park preserves the site of the American Civil War Battle of Vicksburg, and standing on that field where so many Americans died sends shivers down the spine. The field where it all happened, the soil that absorbed American blood and the trees that witnessed it all — it’s heavy. The Vicksburg Civil War Museum in downtown exhibits the artillery and ammunition used during the war, uniforms of soldiers and other artifacts from the tragic time. Time and time again on this trip, I was shown how many feet tread through Mississippi with stories to tell.

 

The Vicksburg Civil War Museum.

 

Many people may not know this, but bottled Coca-Cola originated in Vicksburg with the Biedenharn family. The bottling site has been turned into a museum for visitors to learn more about the beginning of Coca-Cola, see the reproduction of the equipment first used to bottle Coke and my personal favorite, the history of Coca-Cola advertising. Call me a nerd, but I could have spent the entire day browsing through the original advertisements and Coca-Cola memorabilia. The Coke float I enjoyed was also a highlight, of course.

 

Everyone has a favorite time of day, and mine happens to be the warm brushstrokes of sunset. This is why I seek out the restaurants with perfect views of the evening colors, and 10 South Rooftop Bar & Grill fully delivered in more ways than one. Sitting in the glowing hues, reflecting on the weekend thus far with a hot dish of divine shrimp and grits, I felt completely renewed.

 

The haunted tour of the McRaven House.

 

Whoever said nothing good happens after dark obviously wasn’t a fan of the things that go bump in the dark. For the final night in Mississippi, I paid a visit to the McRaven House, otherwise known as Mississippi’s “Most Haunted House.” This home has story upon story of the unexplained, and from the stories my dear tour guide Grace shared, I believe it all stems from the sorrow laced within the McRaven history. Without giving the plot of the ghost story away, the McRaven House has seen its fair share of death and heartbreak to last for eternity. I’ve been a part of a few ghost tours, but none has made me feel the way the McRaven House did, nor have I left a tour looking over my shoulder every few seconds until now.

 

Ghost-free spots to visit in Vicksburg include Rusty’s Riverfront Grill, The Biscuit company, HC Porter Gallery and the Attic Gallery. Each place holds a historical and cultural significance in the community, and they are truly gems to behold.

 

The Mississippi Governor’s Mansion in Jackson.

 

The finale of the trip was a tour of the Mississippi Governor’s Mansion in Jackson. I am always interested in seeing how each state styles its Governor’s Mansion because they are all unique and special to the state. The furnishings in the Mississippi mansion were beautifully ornate and detailed, but I learned while I was touring that during the Civil War, furniture was taken from the mansion to off-site storage, but was never found. There are essentially original governors’ furnishings out there, possibly in flea markets, just waiting to be returned home. 

 

My time in these three Mississippi towns was everything and more. Fully immersing into a city and learning what makes it tick never fails to astonish me. I learn, I become connected and I leave feeling like my world grew that much bigger. Veer off the highway and spend a few days in any of these cities; you won’t regret it.

 

But don’t just take my word for it. Head over to visitmississippi.org to see more. 

 

 

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