Tag Archives: small towns

Bienville Parish–Bonnie & Clyde, Daffodils and Pies

In Bienville Parish,  the individual parts are greater than the sum.

It’s one of the smallest of Louisiana’s 64 parishes in population. The largest town has under 3,000 people. There is no Wal-Mart in the parish. No Kroger. No movie theater. No skating rink.

Yet the individual towns and hamlets and the places in between are rich in history,  geography and character.  Gibsland claims to be the Daffodil Capital of Louisiana and will celebrate that this weekend. An Arcadia restaurant claims to be the Fried Pie Capital of the Ark-La-Tex. Bienville Parish has the highest point in Louisiana, Mt. Driskill. Bonnie & Clyde were gunned down in the parish nearly 83 years ago.

My husband grew up in Ringgold, and we’ve been driving around the parish a lot lately tending to business.  Here are some of Bienville Parish’s interesting spots.

Arcadia Pit Stops

Arcadia, the parish seat, is the largest town. My favorite stops are just off I-20’s Exit #69.

On one side is Gap Farms Travel Center . It’s rural Louisiana’s scaled-down version of the massive Buc-ee’s truck stop chain in Texas. You’ll find North Louisiana-made fish fryers, rocking chairs, icebox pies, country signage, gifts. And food–breakfast, barbecue and Friday night’s Big Hoss Challenge–you finish the 78-ounce steak within an hour and it’s on the house.  For lighter appetites, there’s a 24-hour Burger King.

South of I-20 is Country Cottage, which looks anything but with its location in a former bar. It’s sort of a rural Louisiana Cracker Barrel with better food. Their’s a retail section, including lots of country lace, hair bows and children’s toys. I found a few collectibles with a distinct Louisiana flair–Louisiana Tech yearbooks from the 1960s when it was known as Louisiana Polytechnic Institute and a paper fan advertising O’Jay’s Beauty Lotion, a Shreveport product. Never mind the early 1990s decor with touches of mauve, this place is perhaps the best eatery along I-20 in Louisiana.

Hubby got the cherry fried pie at Country Cottage
Map at Country Cottage shows satisfied customers from all over the country

Country Cottage makes a valid, yet undermarketed, claim to be the Fried Pie Capital of the Ark-La-Tex. These fried pies are more than wonderful, better than the more famous ones you find in Texas and Oklahoma. They were out of their sugar-free flavors (I tried) when I stopped and had a Snickers fried pie. A week later, I had the coconut one. They have all sorts of flavors, even the “0h-So-North-Louisiana” deer meat pie.

There’s more than pies–breakfast, a buffet, great country cooking, including the much-praised hot water cornbread.

Exit #69 is becoming a pit stop mecca. Recently, a new gas station/convenience store/ wine & liquor store called Super Save opened on the north side of the interstate. On the south side, there’s the new red Bonnie & Clyde Beer Barn complete with drive-thru daiquiris (It’s a Louisiana thing).

Bonnie & Clyde

Had the beer barn been around in May 1934, Bonnie Parker & Clyde Barrow may have driven their stolen Ford through for refreshments. Instead, they stopped for a sandwich at a cafe, eight miles away in Gibsland. Minutes later, they were ambushed on rural Highway 154 south of town.

That cafe is now the spot for the Bonnie & Clyde Ambush Museum, which was until his recent death, directed by the son of Ted Hinton, one of the posse that gunned down the infamous pair. Admission is $7.

The museum has artifacts from that fateful day, a lot of newspaper clippings and a replica of the Ford used in the landmark Bonnie & Clyde movie with Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. The actual movie car is now in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The death car is now in a Nevada casino.

(There is another museum in town– the Authentic Museum of Bonnie & Clyde, which has been described as a “friendly rival.”).

Bonnie & Clyde Ambush Site

The exact spot where Bonnie & Clyde were gunned down is on Highway 154 near the settlement of Sailes. Each year, on the weekend nearest the May 23 anniversary date, there’s a Bonnie & Clyde Festival complete with an ambush re-enactment and look alike contests.

Jonquil Jubilee

Gibsland’s other claim to fame is Daffodil Capital of Louisiana, which is celebrated the first weekend in March with a Jonquil Jubilee. (The term “daffodil” refers to a broader group of flowers,  but “jonquil” and “daffodil” are commonly used interchangeably). They’ll be lots of events around town this Saturday. Tickets are $10, which includes a driving map, entrance to some of the homes and exhibits along the route.

While in Gibsland, check out the Gibsland Grill, a popular lunch spot, and arts and crafts. A morning program by the Master Gardeners will feature garden talks and a daffodil show at Louisiana Tech, 30 minutes away. Other events include pancake breakfast, quilt show and tablescapes featuring daffodils.

While driving around, you may want to explore the tiny village of Mt. Lebanon, the oldest settlement in the parish and birthplace of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. One of the organizers was the great grandfather of President Lyndon B. Johnson, The Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church, organized in 1837, is still in use. The sanctuary is separated down the middle–one side for men and the other for women.  After the end of the Civil War, the former slaves formed their own new church, Springfield Baptist Church nearby

You have to drive farther south to experience some of the real flavor of the parish. You don’t want to miss eating breakfast or perhaps a ribeye steak at Mom & Pop’s, a restaurant attached to the “Bryceland Mall,” a gas station and convenience store at the intersection of Highways 517 and 9.

Hubby’s double cheeseburger and fries at Mom & Pop’s. The steaks are also good. When dieting, I get the grilled shrimp.

Even farther south is the Castor General Store, also affectionately known as the “Castor Wal-Mart.” It does have numbered aisles and sells groceries, hardware supplies and other necessities. In the summertime, go a little farther east  of Castor on Highway 4 and buy watermelons at Plunkett Farms.

I also hiked Mt. Driskill in Bienville Parish, the highest point in Louisiana, a few weeks ago. I’ll save that story for next week.

 

My Trip to Pioneer Woman’s Mercantile

All I wanted for Valentine’s Day was a trip to Pawhuska, Oklahoma to visit The Pioneer Woman’s Mercantile, a 107-year-old building that the Food Network star has handsomely restored into a restaurant, bakery, deli, retail shop and ranch office.

We made the six and a half hour trip from Shreveport last week. The drive’s not bad when places like Paris, Texas and Okmulgee, Oklahoma have Starbucks!

Hubby and his brother were good sports as my sister-in-law and I made our way around the store. We did come away with a few purchases, but my main goal was to look around, sample the food and hopefully run into Ree, aka Pioneer Woman, or one of the Drummond clan.

The shop was as beautiful as pictured on her the blog. There are some pricey items — a cast iron skillet in the shape of the United States for $125, metal butterflies sculpted into a horse for $250 but fun lower-end items such as $3 bacon lip balm, $6 finger puppets of historic and literary figures such as Benjamin Franklin and Sherlock Holmes. And lots of dinnerware in bright colors and florals.

Originally, I thought we’d eat a late breakfast/brunch there, shop, tour the town, drive out to the ranch and return for a late afternoon meal. But on further reflection, I felt one big PW meal was about all my diet could stand.

The menu isn’t extensive because I have a feeling Ree Drummond only wants to serve things that can scale perfectly to feed a large restaurant crowd.  I did a rough count one day and figured I have made more than 60 of her recipes so I wanted to order some things I hadn’t tried.

Hubby got the Marlboro Man sandwich, strips of tenderized ribeye sauteed with onions and served on a soft hoagie bun with homemade potato chips. He shared some with me, so I got the  salad with steak added. For an appetizer,  we had creamy olive cheese bread. They were all what you would expect from Pioneer Woman–delicious!

I wanted to get prune cake just to see if it lived up to its menu billing– “Don’t get hung up on the name. This just might be the best thing you have ever eaten.”  But I didn’t have room and will have to save it for another visit or make it myself. Did I mention we split a pecan sticky bun before lunch?

I didn’t see any calorie counts or “on the lighter side” on the menu. Only those marked “bring a hearty appetite.”

We had to wait about 40 minutes for a lunch table — it will be longer on weekends and during holidays, shorter during breakfast. Todd, the youngest Drummond child, was bussing our table. Sister Paige, 17, was on duty as barista, and Ladd, Marlboro Man himself, was working the crowd.

Ladd Drummond “Marlboro Man” graciously poses for a picture with me
Todd Drummond
Todd and Paige at the coffee bar

I guess Ree was home blogging, making lasagna or gathering cattle.

We ended our time in Pawhuska by driving eight miles out on U.S. Highway 60 to the Drummond Ranch entrance sign and continuing on County Road 4461, a gravel road, until we could see her house in the distance. We wanted to see if she really does live “on a ranch in the middle of nowhere”

She does.

And the wind was sweeping down the plain that day.

A trip to Pawhuska would be a terrific paired with a trip to Tulsa (an hour away with beautiful Art Deco architecture) or Oklahoma City (two hours away with National Memorial commemorating 1995 bombing and National Cowboy Museum). 

Pioneer Woman Mercantile

Kickstands and Wedding Plans-Bridal Gown Shopping

Saying yes to THE dress means having to say no to some wonderful dresses and a wonderful bridal boutique.

In planning a wedding, there are a lot of side stories that don’t get shared in the Sunday newspaper write-up or even in the reception toasts.

My older daughter, Claire, is getting married in April, and we spent last weekend bridal gown shopping.  I’ve got to say we have more pictures of that experience than we have from my entire wedding and honeymoon .

In fact, we have more photos from the places where we did not buy than from my wedding. On that note, I want to give a shoutout to Bridal Boutique in Lewisville, Texas for their customer service.

The bride ended up buying a gown elsewhere and is thrilled with her choice. But she was momentarily sad that Bridal Boutique didn’t get the sale and Carol, our consultant, didn’t get the commission.

I’m enjoying learning about the bridal industry, and Bridal Boutique is the poster child for customer service. For starters, you walk in and a chalkboard lettering welcomes the brides with appointments –25 on the Saturday we were there — by name and wedding date.

Soon after check-in, your party is offered champagne. The consultant brings in the gowns that match your style and Pinterest postings. The consultant seems genuinely interested in the bride, the engagement ring, how she met the groom, how the proposal went and how the lighting in the wedding and reception venue will be. The store manager swings by a couple of times with more words of welcome and more champagne.

Behind the scenes, Bridal Boutique has adapted well to technology and warranted this article in Entrepreneur magazine. Apparently, they are doing a lot of things right. Bridal Boutique opened in 1990 in Lewisville, 25 miles north of Dallas. It has expanded several times, taking in what was once a bank and a Masonic Hall downtown. In fact the entire town of Lewisville has embraced the wedding industry–there’s a bakery, wedding rental business, alterations, separate shop for bridesmaids and mother of the brides, even a wedding chapel in its historic old Main Street.

As I am learning there is money to be made in this industry, I am particularly interested in small town bridal gown destinations. Although Lewisville is a fast-growing Dallas suburb, it’s old downtown has small-town charm. We didn’t make it to Brinkley, a town of little more than 3,000 in Arkansas, but many friends have and walked away with a gown from Low’s there. Low’s opened in 1977 when a pharmacist’s wife began selling a few gowns upstairs above the drug store. It’s now housed in  a restored railroad hotel and sells more than 5,000 gowns a year (The Lewisville store,  no small volume store, sells 1,500 a year)

Claire ended up finding the perfect dress in a nice boutique but the  the decor looked more like the waiting room at H&R Block than the fairy-tale like baroque furnishings of the Lewisville store. And the customer service was lacking.

Out of respect for the bride, I’ll save pictures of the dress until the wedding day. Suffice it to say she looks stunning. It was the  right choice, but we’ll always remember the place in Lewisville, Texas where she didn’t say “yes.”

 

 

Ride America’s Rails to Trails And Never Say “Car Back!”

When I became interested in bicycling again a few years back, I started reading up on old railroad beds that had been converted to bike trails.

No car traffic. Small towns, rural scenery, city waterfronts. Rest stops and water fountains along the away.  Sounded great.

And it is.

My first rails-to-trails ride was on the Tammany Trace on an old Illinois Central corridor in South Louisiana. I rode the entire 27.6-mile trail and back during my 55th birthday weekend. It’s a beauty. Since that ride about four years ago, I’ve been to others, including the Katy Trail in Missouri, a 238-mile trail that stretches  across most of the state. (For the record, my husband and I rode sections not the entire Katy Trail).

There are new trails to ride almost every day thanks to The Rails to Trails Conservancy,  a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating  a more bikeable and walkable America. Their website TrailLink.com contains a wealth of information on these trails–not only on rails-to-trails conversions but all traffic-free bicycle and pedestrian paths. You can find out about surface types, towns and things to do along the routes, user reviews and more. Most trails also have their own websites independent of TrailLink.com.

Rails-Trails
There are plenty of tools available to research rails-trails.

I have the TrailLink app on my phone that points me to nearby trails while I am traveling. A few like the Katy are crushed limestone, and we were glad we had hybrid bikes with wider tires when we rode. The trail was smooth but we couldn’t manage much more than 8 mph in places. I prefer the paved trails (either asphalt or concrete) with small towns to explore along the way.

There are plenty of rail-trails with all types of surfaces. According to TrailLink.com, there are now 1,997 miles of rail-trails comprising 22, 470 of miles in the United States. Another 777 trails are under construction.

Most rail-trails have speed limits of 15 mph or so, You aren’t competing with racing cyclists, but you are sharing the trail with pedestrians and, in some cases, equestrians and skateboarders.

There are some exciting rail-trails/greenways under development. The East Coast Greenway is a 3,000-mile project that will connect Maine to Key West, Florida and many Atlantic Coast cities between them.  Closer to home, a 132-mile Northeast Texas Trail is being developed between surburban Dallas and the outskirts of Texarkana. Some sections are already open, but it’s a mix of gravel, crushed stone and asphalt. Study the map and read the comments on road conditions carefully before you head out.

One of my favorites to ride was the High Trestle Trail in Iowa, so named because it includes a 13-story converted railroad bridge over the Des Moines River. The bridge lights up at night giving the experience of  riding through a tunnel. My current favorite is the one I rode most recently: Tanglefoot Trail in Mississippi down the path of a railroad built by William Faulkner’s great grandfather.  The fun is experiencing small towns along the route. You can read about my experience here.

High Trestle Trail bridge
Sunset on the High Trestle Trail bridge near Des Moines, Iowa

Next month I’m going on vacation to Washington and Oregon, and I’ll be trying a couple more rail-trails.

The Rails to Trails Conservancy also has a Rail-Trail Hall of Fame–currently at 30 trails. They are recognized for such things as scenery, maintenance and community support. Here’s a few from that list:

Elroy-Sparta State Bike Trail in Wisconsin. This is the original rail-trail, opening in the 1960s. Wisconsin has a vast network of rail-trails, and we are just going to have to go back to Wisconsin to explore them all. We did enjoy the Hank Aaron State Trail along Milwaukee’s lakefront and the rural Ahnapee State Trail in Door County, Wisconsin. The Elroy-Sparta is crushed limetone and features three tunnels. The 32.5-mile Elroy-Sparta connects with three other trails to form 101 miles.

But I’m partial to the paved trails, so I’ll be exploring these Hall of Fame trails soon:

Georgia’s Silver Comet Trail and Alabama’s Chief Ladiga Trail: These  trails join together for 95 continuous miles. The Silver Comet, named for a popular passenger train that traversed the route during the 1940s and 1950s, is the longest at 62 miles beginning on the east at Smyrna  just outside Atlanta. At the Alabama line, it joins the 33-mile Chief Ladiga and proceeds to its western end at Anniston.

Longleaf Trace. This is one in my home state that I keep intending to try, but I have just not made it there yet. The route is mostly a rural 41 miles through fields and the trail’s namesake longleaf pine forests.

Seeing Longleaf Trace on the list makes me want to plan a trip tomorrow. Anybody want to ride with me?

 

 

 

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Magnolia, Arkansas Day Trip Ends With a Bicycle Wreck

Magnolia, Arkansas, 75 miles north of Shreveport, is an appealing town of 12,000 with retail still going on around the courthouse square.

Today when many  downtowns have turned to payday loan centers and junk stores to fill space, it’s refreshing to see clothing stores, local pharmacies, a jewelry store, bakery and even a boutique hotel on the square.

Central Baptist Church tower as seen from gardens
Cecil Traylor Wilson Gardens and Central Baptist Church tower make a nice addition to downtown Magnolia

I spent a few hours bicycling around town last Saturday, and I’ll just go ahead and say that part did not go well. Hubby David accompanied me but decided it was too hot and better to enjoy the shade of the magnolia trees around the courthouse and the lush pine grove at Southern Arkansas University. A wise choice that day.

I  wrecked and tumbled over the handlebars while riding my bicycle on the path on the campus of Southern Arkansas University.  The path was very smooth and well-maintained, an asset to the campus and town. Purely cyclist error on my part.

Bicycling in Magnolia before the fall
Bicycling in Magnolia

I’m OK now — still nursing a few bruises and considering how this all will affect my cycling. It’s sobering, particularly as this fall came within a few days of billionaire tycoon Richard Branson’s near-fatal crash as his bicycle hit a speed bump.

My thoughts vacillate between “everybody falls now and then, I just need to be more careful next time” to “no, that attitude is too flippant. I could have really hurt myself. I need to find a safer activity to enjoy.” 

Before the fall, I cruised around the side streets of downtown Magnolia.

Magnolia is known for its murals painted on the sides of corner buildings. They are charming and colorful and depict Magnolia’s agricultural and oil and gas roots.  One of the murals pays tribute to the cinema. It’s painted on the side of what was once the  Macco Theater, one of six local theaters plus two drive-ins that once were in Magnolia. Sadly, there are none today since The Cameo closed in 2012.

I enjoyed popping  into the Magnolia Bake Shop, which has been in operation since 1928.  The building looked bland, but there was a line inside, which I figured was a good sign. The pig and blanket and strawberry cupcake that I got were both delicious. I liked the small town prices–$1.19 for the cupcake!

Next door was Stephens Olde Tyme Country Store in the former Macco Theater building. Only the painted palm trees on the front window gave a clue to the store’s bread and butter business–swimming pool maintenance and supplies. I had a nice chat with owners Leesa & Eddie Stephens, who are doing their part in making downtown interesting by adding a large selection of unique toys that you won’t find at the local Wal-Mart, their own brand of jellies and store displays that are worth stepping inside to see–including a large refinished card catalog, a 100-year-old pea thrasher (Emerson, Arksansas just l4 miles away is home to the annual Purplehull Pea Festival)

I didn’t make it to Lois Gean’s, the  store that Magnolia is best known for. The shop carries lines from leading women’s fashion designers and has been written up in Women’s Wear Daily and other publications.  I didn’t figure the store’s owners would appreciate a sweaty cyclist mingling with the haute couture.

Earlier in the summer, there’s a farmer’s market, Le Marche des Lois Gean’s right in the Lois Gean’s parking lot. I’ll come back for that! David and I did wander over to the Fred’s parking lot, where a man was peddling watermelons. We bought one because we have had some good ones from southwest Arkansas before, but this one was a bust.

Magnolia wasn’t its liveliest on a Saturday in late August, although just days before downtown was abuzz with activity when Blue and Gold Day, a new tradition, brought SAU’s 4,000 or so students to a square for a good time of school spirit and community pride building.

Another busy time downtown is the annual Magnolia Blossom Festival each May with a  steak cook-off  that is so competitive that it has been on the Food Network.

Magnolia is proud of its small university as it should be. The campus  is shaded by a lovely pine grove. There’s the aforementioned pedestrian/bike path, a duck pond, outdoor Greek style amphitheater, spacious rodeo arena and new buildings in a day when many strapped small colleges show no construction going on at all. SAU was recently named by BestValueSchools.com as the 6th most affordable small college in the country. And its mascot, the Mulerider, is  unique, right up there with TCU’s Horned Frogs and Penn State’s Nittany Lions.

The downtown area and side streets are really not conducive to cycling so the best bet is the path and farm road (a little over a two-mile loop) around SAU. You can extend the ride by cycling through the residential neighborhoods on the east side of campus and wind up behind the Flyer Burger Restaurant, which has good reviews on Yelp for its burgers and seafood.

Also, going north from SAU is Columbia County Road 13 to McNeil. It’s part of a 65-mile “Tour of Columbia County” loop around Magnolia included in the Arkansas Road Cycling Guide recently published by the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism. You can view it here.

I’d have to be in a large group and fully recovered from my fall to try that. The route, which extends to Highway 98 east of Magnolia, is a bit hilly and curvy in places, and I’m not sure too many rural Arkansans are used to seeing bicycles on the road.

 

Regional Bicycle Tours Showcase Small Towns, Rural Countryside

I was scared to try another organized bike event since my embarrassing debut at the Tour de Fire Ant a couple of years ago. But small town hospitality and a history-rich flat stretch of road wooed me to Bikes, Blues and Bayous in Greenwood, Mississippi last Saturday.

I did a leisurely 20 miles. About half of the 900 riders were going for the metric century (62 miles), but I wasn’t intimidated. Well, maybe a little.

But, if you are like me and enjoy seeing the countryside up close on a bicycle, you may want to check out some of the scenic rides coming up during the next few weeks.  Flat or rolling hills, rural routes or a rural/city combination-take your pick.

Bikes, Blues & Bayous started on a bridge over the Yazoo River and went onto Grand Boulevard shaded by 300 oak trees planted 100 years ago.  The movie The Help was filmed there. Then, it was over the Tallahatchie Bridge (of Bobbie Gentry’s Ode to Billie Joe fame) and into the rural Mississippi Delta past shacks turned into a hotel and historical sites tied to the blues and the civil rights movement.

Tallahatchie Flats
Bikes, Blues & Bayous route passed Tallahatchie Flats, shacks you can rent for overnight stays

Most bike events, like the Greenwood ride, have a family-friendly fun ride of 10 to 12 miles, another in the 20 to 30 mile range,  another 40 to 50-mile ride on up to metric century and century rides. The great thing about these rides is most have police escorts at major intersections and sag wagons to pick you up if you break down–physically or mechanically.

You can check out the routes online beforehand and even see which ones have the best rest stops and after parties.

It would be hard to beat Greenwood’s  setup with one stop complete with jazz music and refreshments served in vintage country store containers. If you biked further on down the road, you were rewarded with a church spread  more typical of a Delta bridal shower.

Some tour routes are loops. Others are out and backs, great if you are like me and want to stop to take pictures. You can note your photo ops going out and actually stop to take them on the return trip.

When you’re leisurely riding like me, who’s in a hurry?

Here’s a partial list of some upcoming rides within a three hours drive from where I live in Shreveport, Louisiana. You may want to plan early as hotel rooms fill during the most popular events.

Tyler, Texas. Beauty and the Beast, Aug. 13: This has moved from March to August, and it’s coming up fast. It begins  just south of Tyler through rolling hills and up “The Beast,” a .7-mile hill with a 13 percent gradient — that’s steep! Another popular one later this month is the legendary Hotter Than Hell 100 on Aug. 27, a little farther away in Wichita Falls, Texas.   You can just about count on 100-degree heat.

Alexandria, Louisiana, Le Tour de Bayou, Sept. 17: This ride begins and ends at the 216-year-old Kent Plantation,  the oldest structure still standing in Central Louisiana. There will be living history demonstrations and free tours of the house and grounds, which includes several interesting buildings such as a blacksmith shop and sugar mill.  This is mostly flat, especially on the shorter distances.

Little Rock, Arkansas. Big Dam Bridge 100, Sept. 24. This is the largest ride in Arkansas. The Big Dam Bridge spans 4,226 feet over the Arkansas River, making it the longest bridge in North America specifically built for bicyclists and pedestrians.  The rides provide beautiful hill and river scenery.

Benton, Louisiana, Seize the Road, Oct. 1. This begins at the Bossier Parish Courthouse and goes by scenic Bossier Parish horse farms. The ride benefits the Epilepsy Foundation and was cancelled last year because of stormy weather. Hopefully, there’ll be clear crisp fall weather this year.

Vicksburg, Mississippi, Bricks & Spokes, Oct. 1. The cool thing about this one is it’s the only time of year bicyclists are allowed on the old Mississippi River Bridge. The route crosses the bridge into the flat delta in Louisiana and (if you are adventurous) back into hilly Vicksburg and through Vicksburg National Military Park.

Marshall, Texas, Tour de Fireant, Oct. 8. Who knows, I may give this another go. The good thing is the ride doesn’t start until 9 a.m. so you can sleep in. Or come early for the 8 a.m. 5K run or do a run/ride combo.

Greenwood, Mississippi is an interesting town to visit. It has a rough past like many Mississippi Delta towns, but has some bright spots downtown including the Viking Cooking School, a boutique hotel and shops, and independent bookstore.

 

Road Trip: A Mississippi General Store Tied to Manning Quarterbacks

I expected the 109-year-old Williams Brothers General Store near Philadelphia, Mississippi, to be a museum with a few token items for sale.

And with its ties to the Manning football family, I expected a little memorabilia. In fact, when we rode up to the store last Friday, you would have thought Archie, Peyton and Eli were all inside signing autographs.

Unfortunately for me, they weren’t. What was happening, besides the annual Neshoba County Fair nearby, was tax-free weekend where families could save a little on their back-to-school purchases.

This store is not simply a relic of the past or a shrine to the Mannings. It is a vibrant business with real customers and real customer service.

Williams Brothers General Mdse
Williams Brothers General Mdse

In 1907, Eli, Peyton and Cooper Manning’s great grandfather (on their mother’s side of the family) opened Williams Brothers General Store.

In the grocery section, it’s a tight squeeze as shopping buggies maneuver around the aisles filled with things you would expect in a Southern store–Bryan cold cuts and Sunflower flour, sorghum molasses and Red Man chewing tobacco.

That part of Williams Brothers General Store is much like it was during the 1930s when it was featured in National Geographic magazine. But today’s merchandise mix includes  Spanx and women’s designer clothing, local pottery, horse saddles and tack, and a shoe and boot inventory somewhere between Shoe Department and DSW with more customer service.

There’s someone slicing red rind hoop cheese and another slicing slab bacon to order. Mule collars, country hams and Peyton & Eli’s NFL jerseys hang from the ceiling.

The Manning boys helped at the store when they were teenagers, and their memorabilia is scattered throughout the store, but it’s fairly low key. No Peyton bobbleheads or tacky touristy things for sale–just merchandise everyday people need at reasonable prices.

Blue jeans and Peyton's Bronco jerseys
Blue jeans and Peyton’s Bronco jerseys
Shoes and Manning News
Shoes and Manning News

 

 

12 Hours at Mississippi’s Neshoba County Fair

Growing up in Mississippi I knew families who had cabins at the Neshoba County Fair but never got an invitation. I was an adult before I made a day trip there to see then presidential candidate Ronald Reagan in 1980.

The Neshoba County Fair at Philadelphia, Mississippi, is a county fair like no other. Sure, there’s a Ferris wheel to ride and candy apples to eat and all, but this is a week-long family reunion where kith and kin bunk down in cabins, and visit with each other on the front porches. For a whole week.  In the humid Mississippi heat. Think the week-long extended family vacation to Gulf Shores but without the beach, not even a swimming hole.

No sugar white beaches either, just makeshift sandboxes.

But families love it. It’s the pull of home, state pride and love of community that keeps them coming back to these kitschy cabins year after year during the last week of July.

It may be the last remaining “live-in” fair of its kind left in the United States. The Neshoba County Fair got its start in 1889 when people came in horse and buggy to what was then part church camp meeting and agricultural show. People started out camping in tents and wagons. Later, a few modest cabins were built and then more cabins. Today there are more than 600 family cabins and about that many campsites with enough people to earn the nickname “Mississippi’s Giant Houseparty,” a registered trademark of the fair association.

Last Friday, my husband and I got to go for 12 hours. We went with someone who knew someone who has a cabin. My husband, who usually has a rich vocabulary, simply called it the “beatin’est thing” he has ever seen.

“Beatin’est” is in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, but If you need a more in-depth explanation, read this New York Times article done on the Neshoba County Fair several years ago.

We packed in breakfast, a goat show, exhibit hall viewing, fried chicken and green bean eating, side trip to a general store, visiting, tour of some of the cabin neighborhoods, harness racing, more eating, Charlie Daniels Band concert, an hour-long porch nap, fireworks show and more visiting .

Harness Racing at the Neshoba County Fair
Harness Racing at the Neshoba County Fair

It’s a light year for Mississippi state politics, but you would never know it from the signs all around and the elected officials who came to speak. As for national politics, Donald Trump sent his son, Donald Trump Jr.,  but few presidential candidates have come since Reagan showed up 36 years ago. Unless national politics change, the Neshoba County Fair may never see a major presidential candidate again. Mississippi has been solidly in the Republican camp so there’s no real battle for the state’s six electoral votes.

The photograph of Ronald Reagan that I took in 1980
The photograph of Ronald Reagan that I took in 1980

 

Small Town Bicycling: Jefferson, Texas

I’ve cycled on city streets,  rural roads and traffic-free paths in urban and rural settings. But the cycling I like best is riding the streets of a small town.

I like quiet streets, where your bike is transportation  — from the bed & breakfast to the library, to the bakery for lunch, to the grocery store and to church.

When I moved to Shreveport more than 30 years ago, people told me about the east Texas town of Jefferson, an hour away. It has been a favorite bicycling destination ever since. Jefferson is similar to my hometown of Aberdeen, Mississippi, as it was once was a prosperous river port that was bypassed by the early railroads.

Jefferson eventually got a railroad, but not before other Texas rail cities grew faster. Thankfully, must of homes and historic buildings from Jefferson’s heyday have been preserved. At least 70 or so are on the National and Texas historic registers.

Downtown is filled with antique shops, restaurants and an old-timey general store. The downtown district is entirely walkable too, but on a bicycle you can pedal along the side streets and see more of the historic homes. There are antebellum Greek Revivals, gingerbread Victorian mansions and cottages, Italianates and just about every architectural design.

Jefferson isn’t as affluent as Fredericksburg  or other tourist towns you might find over in the Texas Hill Country. But Jefferson has an interesting blend of historic charm, eccentric personalities and authentic everyday experiences you would expect in a southern town of about 2,000 people trying to make it in today’s world.

And as a former newspaper person, I’m amused that Jefferson’s weekly newspaper is the Jefferson Jimplecute. The name is an acronym for the paper’s motto: Joining Industry, Manufacturing, Planting, Labor, Energy, Capital (in) Unity Together Everlastingly. But I like the legend that a former publisher dropped the type tray, and the letters that spilled out spelled “Jimblecute.”

Jefferson is full of those kinds of stories that you can hear over breakfast at the B&B, on the ghost tour or over a 5-cent cup of coffee at the Jefferson General Store.

Here’s a photo gallery taken from two recent  trips. Click on the photos to learn more about the places. We recently went on a sleepy July day, but if you go to jefferson-texas.com you can learn about special events throughout the year when the town is more alive.

A few of the bed & breakfast homes may have bicycles  to use, but you need to plan on bringing your own. You also can expand your sightseeing options by taking a carriage ride, riverboat ride on the scenic Big Cypress Bayou or a steam train during special events. 

If you’re looking for another nearby town to bicycle around, I’d recommend Marshall just 17 miles away. There’s a wonderful old downtown department store that has been renovated into shops. You can read about it here.

And if you are more of a road cyclist, USA Today has some suggested routes around Jefferson and nearby Caddo Lake in its Travel section.

David and Jane after a hot July bicycle ride
David and Jane after a hot July bicycle ride

 

 

Go to Gullo’s For Produce, Lunch & To Go Meals

I’m lucky enough to live less than two miles away from Gullo’s Fresh Produce & Classic Bake Shop on Flournoy Lucas in Shreveport. Last year, I had to go the entire summer without Gullo’s as it had to rebuild from a fire.

I’m thankful a renovated Gullo’s Fresh Produce opened earlier this year. It includes an enclosed dining room so you don’t have to eat outside on the patio or under the pecan tree in the July heat.

I like to pop in from time to time when I need a few tomatoes, peppers or some other veggies. I usually leave with more than I intended — a jar of green tomato pickles or some locally made toffee.

There’s also “to go” casseroles and salads in the refrigerator and some baked goods.

But the real draw is the hot lunch menu.  They are known for their hamburgers on sourdough buns that have frequently been included in Best Hamburger in Shreveport, even Best Hamburger in Louisiana lists. We went the other day. I was good and got the salad with chicken, Thankfully, my husband shared significant bites of his Friday special–hamburger steak, squash, braised cabbage (my favorite), sweet potatoes and homemade roll.

The new Gullo’s Fresh Produce has evening hours and and is open Sundays. And according to Gullos Facebook page, they are planning a  Gullo’s #2 in downtown Shreveport.