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Highway 61 Revisited

My wife, Francine, and I decided to go out of town to celebrate Christmas. We had family over the weekend prior to Christmas, and given that Christmas was on a Tuesday, we decided to leave Christmas Eve morning and drive to New Orleans.

In my life as a busy attorney, I often fly myself to destinations more than 100 miles from my Clarksdale office. Flying has its advantages, but then so does driving when time permits. I decided we would take Highway 61 –– America’s Music Trail –– from our home in Clarksdale all the way to the French Quarter in New Orleans.

We almost fulfilled this plan, but after about 30 traffic lights skirting Baton Rouge, we opted to get on I-10 for the last 43 miles of the trip. If you get the time and the urge, I recommend driving down through the Delta on Highway 61. We were able to stop and see homes and towns and other things that we had not seen in all of our lives here in the Delta.

Our first point of interest was Anguilla, which must be the trailer capital of the world. And by trailer, I mean what some people call mobile homes. We ran across a similar trailer encampment in East Baton Rouge Parish further down the highway.

Our next point of interest was Mount Helena, just north of Rolling Fork. You can see this beautiful mansion from Highway 61 just past Anguilla. It sits atop an Indian mound about a mile and a half from the highway.

We took a tour through downtown Rolling Fork, and noticed a quaint little gift shop with colorful Adirondack chairs on the porch. We lunched with some friends high above the river bluff on the edge of the National Military Park in Vicksburg and then enjoyed Church Street right through Port Gibson with the famous Presbyterian church with the finger pointed upward.

We noticed that many wild magnolia trees were abundant in the woods on either side of the highway south of Vicksburg. We then took a right turn over toward Alcorn State University and the Windsor Ruins. The Windsor Ruins are spectacular with the Corinthian columns and the story of the owner who died only one week after completing the home in 1861.

The place burned to the ground in 1890. It is said that Mark Twain used to see the cupola on the roof as a marker as he traveled the Mississippi River. The owner of the home farmed 21,000 acres of cotton, mostly on the Louisiana side of the river.

The family donated the ruins to the state in 1974. It is maintained by the Department of Archives and History. I wish that the department had more funding and/or ability to keep the area in front of the ruins in better condition. There is a centuries old live oak tree (in fact, there are several I spotted on the drive into the ruins area) which has become overgrown with vines, etc.

Back on to 61 and through Natchez and then on down through Woodville. I wish we had had time to stop by Rosemont Plantation, but we were about six hours in the trip at this point in time and we really wanted to get to St. Francisville before dark.

We wanted to visit St. Francisville because I had heard about its beauty from Ole Miss fans, Leonard Sullivan and his family. Leonard and his wife, Elaine, live in St. Francisville and their son, Frank Sullivan, was a Ole Miss football Rebel in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Frank is now a practicing dentist in St. Francisville and Leonard and Elaine’s other child, Susan, is married to Sanford Thomas, and they live in Oxford.

We had met the elder Sullivans and Susan and Sanford at the Ole Miss/Tulane game in New Orleans. St. Francisville rivals any New England or quaint Victorian/gingerbread/carpenter gothic residential area you will find. A number of the homes are beautifully preserved and maintained. History tells us that for 71 days, St. Francisville was its own country with its own constitution.

Contrary to what many believe, it was never part of the Louisiana purchase. In addition to its beautiful homes, it has an especially beautiful church named Grace Episcopal Church set back from the main road amongst beautiful live oaks with hanging Spanish moss. St. Francisville was shelled from union gun boats in the nearby Mississippi River, and the church itself took some direct hits. The cotton growing plantations between Baton Rouge and Natchez (St. Francisville is located about mid-way) contained more millionaires than all of the rest of the United States combined during cotton’s heyday.

Back on to 61 and south on toward New Orleans. We arrived at the beautiful and elegant Roosevelt Hotel. The lobby of the hotel was spectacularly decorated for Christmas. In fact, it was crowded with both locals and tourists posing for pictures in front of the block-long decorated lobby. We had a good meal on Christmas night at Manning’s, named for the football family. It was interesting to see the Manning memorabilia on the walls. On our way to Birmingham today!

A 1973 graduate of the University of Mississippi Law School, Bill Luckett currently practices with Luckett Tyner Law Firm, P.A. which has offices in Clarksdale and Sumner, Mississippi.  His major practice areas are civil litigation and entertainment law.  He was an officer in the Mississippi National Guard and was a candidate for Governor of Mississippi in 2011.


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