There are surprisingly few hills in the Hills Region of Mississippi, at least in the part surrounding Columbus.
This was my stepping-off point for my tour of the state. I was looking for a truly authentic experience, full of the Southern hospitality I’d heard so much about.
First thing on my itinerary, I headed to Friendship Cemetery, where Memorial Day in the USA is said to have begun. Early morning mist still hung in the spring air, and apart from the song of a bird, I was alone, surrounded by peacefulness.
In 1865, just after the end of the American Civil War, the women of Columbus visited the graves of their fallen soldiers. The story goes that one of the mothers laying flowers on her son’s grave felt that if her son had fallen to the north, in Union territory, she hoped that someone would honor his memory by laying flowers at his graveside. With this thought in mind, she began laying flowers on all the surrounding graves, regardless of whether the soldiers fought for the north or the south. Today, the people of the USA continue to honor those who have died in military service for their country.
My next stop was the Tennessee Williams Home and Welcome Center in the heart of downtown. As well as providing information about all of the things to do and see in the area, it’s also the first home of famous American playwright Tennessee Williams. He was born in Columbus in 1911 and went on to write plays like “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and “The Glass Menagerie.”
Spring Pilgrimage Celebration
After a fabulous grilled chicken salad for lunch at Harveys, I set off to visit a couple of the beautiful antebellum mansions throughout the city that are opened up to the public during the annual Spring Pilgrimage Celebration. Many of the homes sit on streets surrounded by wisteria and dogwood in bloom.
The 1837 Temple Heights and gardens embodies Southern charm. Miss Dixie, otherwise known as Mrs. Dixie H. Butler, a quintessential Southern lady, greeted and welcomed me into the grand home she owned since 1967 and lovingly restored. After a tour of the property, she played the piano and told me stories of the past. Miss Dixie opened her well-loved home to visitors for 46 years, but sold it to new owners, who pledged to continue the annual Pilgrimage tradition.
Afterward, I headed downtown to Fourth Street, also known as Catfish Alley, where in the 1800s local fisherman would sell catfish caught in the nearby Tombigbee River. Soon, the alley became a hub for thriving businesses, blues music and delicious food. Each year, during the Spring Pilgrimage, Fourth Street hosts “Catfish in the Alley,” a fun-filled day for the entire family that includes a catfish cook-off and some of the best blues music in the South.
At the end the day, just before heading downtown to Huck’s Place for a hearty Southern seafood dinner, I strolled across the Old Tombigbee River Bridge at the Columbus Riverwalk. From the bridge, I also had a great vantage point for watching two local fishermen throw out their lines for crappie, a small freshwater fish. My dinner choice had been made for me.
So what are you waiting for? Step off the well-traveled path and visit Columbus, where you’ll find comfort, charm and a whole lot of Southern hospitality.