City in the Spotlight: Vicksburg, Miss. 2

Reminders of the Old South and the Civil War linger throughout modern Vicksburg, Miss. Its tree lined streets are graced with centuries old mansions and several attractions preserve the city’s place in history.

Located on the bluffs of the Mississippi River, Vicksburg was founded by the Rev. Newit Vick in 1811. During the Civil War, Mississippi seceded from the Union in 1861. The North quickly made plans to attack this sophisticated city with a major port for the cotton trade. After several unsuccessful attempts to control Vicksburg, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and his troops attacked Vicksburg for 47 days in 1863. Many historians consider The Siege of Vicksburg one of the most important military actions in American history.

A good way to start your tour is a stop at the Vicksburg National Military Park. Begin at the park visitor center by watching a short film, viewing life-size exhibits, and seeing actual artifacts from the Siege of Vicksburg. Visitors can then drive, hike, bike or ride a tour bus on the historic 16-mile tour road through Union and Confederate siege lines. Halfway through the park, visitors can tour a 175-foot Union gunboat, the USS Cairo, that was sunk in 1862 by underwater Confederate mines near Vicksburg. Raised in 1964, the restored gunboat provides a unique opportunity to stand on a reconstructed gundeck and view original cannons, cannon carriages, engines, boilers and pilot house. The nearby USS Cairo Museum houses military and personal artifacts, which were recovered with the Cairo during its salvage operation. Adjacent to the USS Cairo is the Vicksburg National Cemetery. Established in 1866, it contains more than 18,000 graves of soldiers from the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II and the Korean War.

The Old Courthouse Museum is in Vicksburg’s most historic building, which was constructed by slaves in 1858. During the Civil War, its location on the town’s highest hill made it a constant target for Union troops. Confederate soldiers moved all their Union prisoners there, the shots stopped, and the building was spared. This National Landmark building has thousands of artifacts that tell the story of Vicksburg from native cultures to the Civil War and the steamboat era.

The Biedenharn Museum of Coca-Cola Memorabilia showcases the history of the world- famous soft drink along with equipment Joseph Biedenharn used when he bottled the first Coca-Cola in 1894. Follow the history of Coke through displays of advertising and other memorabilia. Check the gift shop for a wide selection of Coke souvenirs.

If you enjoy antique toys and dolls, don’t miss Yesterday’s Children Antique Doll and Toy Museum. Housed in a circa 1836 building, this museum contains four rooms filled with more than 1,000 dolls dating back to 1843. A complete history of Madame Alexander dolls and composition dolls of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s is provided. And don’t leave the guys at home! They can enjoy an extensive collection of metal toys from the 1920s through the 1980s that includes cars, trucks, fire engines, trains, guns and soldiers.

A visit to Vicksburg wouldn’t be complete without a tour of a Southern mansion. The Martha Vick House was built in 1830 for the unmarried daughter of the city’s founder. This Greek Revival home is furnished with 18th- and 19th-century antiques. Of special interest is an impressive collection of French Impressionist paintings. The McRaven Tour Home was once described in National Geographic magazine as a “time capsule of the South.” The mansion was constructed in three phases and each illustrates a unique style — 1797 Frontier, 1836 Empire and 1849 Greek Revival. It has many original furnishings plus many Civil War artifacts. These two are among the homes open for regular public tours, but many privately owned mansions also can be toured during Vicksburg’s Spring and Fall Pilgrimages. (In 2006: March 25-April 15 and Oct. 7-28.)

Be sure to save plenty of time for antiques shopping. Old Feld Home Antiques is located in a century-old mansion that’s a National Registered Historic Property, according to manager Harvey Smith. “We offer a variety of upscale antiques for discerning shoppers,” Smith reports. “Our inventory includes top-quality art glass, American Brilliant cut glass, porcelain, bronzes and furniture. Sales are strong in many categories of smalls, but I’ve recently noticed less buying interest in Nippon. Our building is a fine example of Mediterranean Romanesque architecture. Hurricane Katrina left a tree in our roof, but damage was confined to one room and, fortunately, we are back in business.” Other great shopping stops include Adolph Rose Antiques and Granny Had One.

Vicksburg is home to some of America’s finest bed and breakfast inns where guests can enjoy the antebellum life of luxury. Add to the pleasure of your visit by spending the night in a historic home listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Built in 1830, Anchuca was the first house in Vicksburg to use Greek Revival architecture. It was used as a hospital during the Siege of Vicksburg in 1863 and was the site of one of Jefferson Davis’ last public addresses. Today it’s a bed and breakfast inn surrounded by stately live oaks that’s located in the heart of Vicksburg’s Historic District. Guests enjoy rooms or suites furnished with fine antiques. Another bed and breakfast inn in the Historic District, Duff Green Mansion is considered to be one of the finest examples of Palladian architecture in the state. It escaped destruction during and after the Civil War by serving as a hospital for Confederate and Union soldiers. In one room, the ceiling beams show where a cannon ball struck. The mansion is furnished with a mix of antiques and comfortable furnishings accented with original works of art.

Situated on five acres of manicured gardens that overlook the Mississippi River, Cedar Grove Mansion-Inn offers visitors elegant rooms and suites. The 1840 Greek Revival mansion still has many original antiques and there’s even a Civil War cannon ball lodged in the parlor wall. If you can’t stay overnight, make reservations for their courtyard dining room, Andre’s, which has been voted Best Restaurant in Vicksburg.