The City Too Beautiful to Burn
by Morgan Gates
I was approached by a publishing company not long back about the possibility of writing a book. The working title would have been “The Hidden History of_____” and there we hit our impasse. I tried to convince them of the rich history of West Central Mississippi, but in the end, they really wanted a History of the Mississippi Delta, and as we know:
“The Mississippi Delta begins in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis and ends at Catfish Row in Vicksburg” –David Cohen, Author
That small quote says a lot and puts it largely out of my area of expertise. So, anybody out there who know a good bit about “The Po Monkey Lounge, B.B. King, hot tamales, and Kool Aide Pickles, contact Arcadia Publishing.
My point is that this area- the area along the Mississippi River, roughly between Vicksburg, on the north, and Natchez, on the south, and extending east about 30-40 miles, are some of the most historic lands in American history, but we don’t have a catchy name for the region. I like “The Lands Along the River”! What do you think? --So, for today’s installment of Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg, I thought we might drift a little south and visit another historic town of “The Lands Along the River”: Port Gibson, Mississippi.
The little town of Port Gibson lies 30 miles south of Vicksburg, on Highway 61. Last week My “partner in time”, Meshea, and I loaded up, along with my better half and a couple of friends, and went to visit my friend Joshua McCrane, and take his “Port Gibson Historical Ghost Tour”. It was a lot of fun! (Call the P.G. Chamber of Commerce at 601-437-4351 if you want to go.)
Port Gibson is a beautiful little historic town and one of the oldest in Mississippi. It was founded in 1803, by Samuel Gibson, at a landing on Bayou Pierre, a tributary of the Mississippi. Thus, it was Gibson’s river port or Port Gibson. The town is named for Gibson but there were French settlers there as early as 1729, making it one of the oldest settlements in Mississippi. It was home to Mississippi’s first library and second newspaper. The town was important enough in the antebellum period that it was visited by Henry Clay, one of the most important politicians of the period, who made two campaign speeches there during one his unsuccessful bids for the presidency. Considered one of the most beautiful towns of the old south, U.S. Grant fought and won the Battle of Port Gibson about two miles west of the city in 1863, and allegedly remarked, as he passed through on his way to Vicksburg, that the city was too beautiful to burn.
The town has many beautiful homes and public buildings, including A Presbyterian Church, which features a gold-plated hand, pointing toward heaven, in place of a cross, and a former synagogue that is the only example of Moorish Revival Architecture in the state.
Its Greenlawn Cemetery is one of the best maintained historic cemeteries in the region, with markers going all the way back to Samuel Gibson himself. Very nearby are the Natchez Trace Parkway (the original road actually came through the town) and Grand Gulf State Park, which commemorates the Civil War Battle of Grand Gulf. It has a museum and a number of reconstructed historic buildings, and it is one of the few places you can get up close and personal with the Mighty Mississippi without a boat. (I strongly advise against swimming in it though)! The beautiful Ruins of Windsor are just a few miles west and the Ghost town of Rodney is not far southwest. The town and its surroundings are well worth a visit.
Ok, so now the bad news. Don’t come expecting a thriving tourist Mecca. Long gone are the prosperous days of old. The town has fallen on hard times. There are no “quality” restaurants in town. There is, however, a McDonalds and a couple of other fast food establishments. I can highly recommend the “Old Country Store” (a restaurant) in Lorman, 10 miles south of Port Gibson, on highway 61. As for lodging, one of the bed and breakfasts such as Isabella or Oak Square are your best choices. Port Gibson is also an easy day trip from Vicksburg or Natchez. So, the next time you are in a mood for some “off the beaten track exploring” go check them out.