Newitt Vick was a Methodist minister from Virginia who established one of the first missions in Mississippi in 1814 on land he purchased from the government about six miles east of the the current townsite. While tending to converts Vick also had an eye for business, especially as the nation’s richest cotton-growing lands were being developed around him. He bought up land around the confluence of the Yazoo and Mississippi rivers and sketched out plans for a port city. An outbreak of yellow fever claimed both Vick and his wife in 1819 but a son-in-law, John Lane took the plans, sold lots to pay Vick debts and by 1825 had launched a thriving village that was named in the minister’s honor.
Vicksburg was very quickly a bustling port town. In addition to the trade arriving across the docks there were two soap factories, sawmills, carriage and wagon works, and a hospital in town in short order. By 1860 there were five churches, four fire companies and three newspapers in town. When the Civil War erupted Vicksburg was recognized on both sides as “the Gibraltar of the Confederacy.” it took more than a year of military operations and one of the greatest strategic campaigns in American military history, culminating in a six-week siege, to drive the rebels from their fortress of a town. The Vicksburg Campaign made the career of General Ulysses S. Grant and doomed the Confederacy when General John Clifford Pemberton surrendered the town on July 4, 1863.
When the war ended the Vicksburg economy was crippled and much of its building stock damaged or destroyed. Reconstruction in the years following the war did not bring immediate relief. Even the Mississippi River turned against Vicksburg when it cut a new channel and abandoned the waterfront in 1876.
Things began to turn around for Mississippi’s largest city in the 1880s. The Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad arrived in 1884, steamboats filled the Mississippi River and a streetcar system was initiated. The Mississippi River was even brought back by the United States Corps of Engineers with a diversion canal in the Yazoo River.
The boom years subsided after 1910 with the disappearance of the steamboat trade. The population in Vicksburg has changed little in the past 100 years, even as the streetscape has been altered regularly. The town grew up around Main Street but after a fire in 1839 the commercial district shifted down to Washington Street, parallel to the water. Fires visited the downtown area regularly in 1846, 2885, 1910 and 1939, consuming entire blocks. A December 5, 1953 tornado crashed through the business district taking with it numerous long-standing properties in town.
In the 1970s Vicksburg was an active player in urban renewal, pulling down hundreds of buildings. Entire blocks were lost and many buildings left standing picked up unfortunate modern facelifts. Our walking tour to seek out what remains of the character of the historic river town will start, naturally, enough, down by the water...
Art Park at Catfish Row
northwest corner of Clay Street and Mulberry Street
This slice of Mississippi River waterfront has been designed to stimulate a child’s imagination with innovative playgrounds, garden areas, a fountain and murals representing Vicksburg life. The floodwall is decorated with creations from the Vicksburg Riverfront murals program kickstarted by Louisiana mural artist Robert Dafford. Between 2002 and 2009 murals drawing from life in Vicksburg covered the floodwall.
WALK OVER TO THE RAILROAD TRACKS BY THE YAZOO CANAL AND TURN RIGHT, HEADING NORTH TOWARDS THE CABOOSE.
Yazoo & Mississippi Valley Railroad Station
Levee Street at Mississippi River
The Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad (Y&MV) was incorporated in 1882 and was part of the Illinois Central Railroad system that was chartered in 1851. This brick Neo-Colonial passenger depot was built in 1907 and carries a first-rate architectural pedigree. Daniel Burnham & Company of Chicago, one of the firms responsible for the invention of the skyscraper, provided the plans. The last passengers rode the Y&MV in 1971. Always vulnerable to rising Mississippi waters, the latest flooding reached over the first floor in 2011. The historic depot now operates as a museum.
WALK UP THE HILL ON GROVE STREET TO WASHINGTON STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
Biedenharn Coca-Cola Museum
1107 Washington Street
Asa Griggs Candler was 35 years old in 1887 when he pooled $2,300 from his drugstore and patent medicine sales to purchase a beverage formula from fellow druggist John Pemberton. By 1894 Candler was selling his Coca-Cola in bottles and one of his earliest customers for the syrup was Joe Biedenharn. Biedenharn was a native of Vicksburg, the eldest of thirteen whose father and uncle started a confectionary business. Joe grew up to take over the candy business and erected this brick store in 1890. In addition to their other enterprises the Biedenharns bottled Coca-Cola here until 1938. After selling the property Biedenharn family members bought the building back in 1979 to highlight the business and its Coca-Cola-related heritage.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO GROVE STREET AND TURN RIGHT AND CONTINUE HEADING UP THE HILL UNTIL YOU REACH CHERRY STREET AND TURN LEFT.
Old Warren County Courthouse
1008 Cherry Street between Grove and Jackson streets
Founder Newitt Vick donated the highest hill in town for the county house of justice. In 1858 the Weldon family, immigrants from Ireland, began the task of creating the courthouse with a crew of about 100 highly skilled slave artisans. William Weldon furnished the design and George and Thomas directed construction. The Greek Revival building, highlighted by an eight-sided clock tower and cupola, was completed in 1860 and has reigned as the town’s leading landmark ever since. The four-sided timepiece was made by the esteemed E. Howard & Company clock and watch manufacturers of Waltham, Massachusetts. The clock was damaged by a tornado in 1953 and although it still operates it can no longer keeps proper time. The government moved across the street in 1939 and after dodging the wrecking ball the old courthouse began museum duty in 1948.
ACROSS THE STREET IS...
Warren County Courthouse
1009 Cherry Street between Grove and Jackson streets
This splash of Art Deco was brought to the Vicksburg streetscape in 1940 courtesy of New Orleans architect Barney Havis using federal money from the Works Progress Administration. The courthouse is dressed in marble and decorated with floral designs and geometric patterns. The Art Deco themes are carried on to the inside of the courthouse.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS ON CHERRY STREET AND CROSS GROVE STREET.
Warren County Jail
1111 Cherry Street at southeast corner of Grove Street
This is the second jail to stand on this spot, using the bricks of its predecessor to rise in 1906. Father and son Vicksburg architects William and W.A. Stanton designed the eclectic building, blending elements of Romanesque and classical revival styles.
1117 Cherry Street at northeast corner of China Street
This was a fashionable Vicksburg neighborhood in 1851 when A.L. Magruder, a town doctor, erected this handsome residence on a prominent hill. The stately house behind a row of magnolia trees was constructed of brick and covered in stucco in the 1880s that was scored to make it resemble stone blocks. A porch was added about the same time. This is one of the few antebellum Vicksburg homes to come down through time as a single-family residence, albeit with a parade of owners.
southwest corner of Cherry and Clay streets
This four-story dark brick fortress was constructed as apartments in 1924. The tenants were all gone by 1991 and after two decades of vacancy the property picked up an $8 million renovation for use a senior living space.
TURN RIGHT ON CLAY STREET.
821 Clay Street at northwest corner of Monroe Street
Founded in 1844 in London, England, by George Williams, the Young Men’s Christian Association quickly grew in the United States. Vicksburg, however, did not get a chapter until 1923 when Fannie Willis Johnson built this facility as a memorial to her late husband, Junius Ward Johnson. The classically-influenced building began with three stories but two years later the red tile roof was raised to add 33 more rooms for young males to live in. The residence rooms were closed in the late 1970s although the pool and gym and activity rooms remained open until the Vicksburg YMCA departed for more modern digs in 2002.
801 Clay Street at northeast corner of Walnut Street
This eleven-story tower has reigned as the tallest building in Vicksburg since 1928. The hotel’s construction was timed to receive an influx of new travelers spawned by the completion of highway bridges over the Yazoo River and the Mississippi River. The money men picking up the $550,000 price tag were realtor John S. Hoggatt, cotton dealer K. D. Wells, banker E. S. Butt, and merchant Edgar Leyens. High-rise hotel specialists H.L. Stevens and Company of Chicago provided the Colonial Revival design, executed in dark brick with Bedford limestone trim. The Hotel Vicksburg looked like skyscrapers had since they first appeared in Chicago in the late 1880s, constructed in the image of a classical column with a defined base (the oversized arches of the ground floors), a shaft (the unadorned central stories) and a capital (the belt course and capital of the top floors). It served as a hotel until 1975 when it was converted to residential use.
B’nai B’rith Literary Club
721 Clay Street at northwest corner of Walnut Street
The Vicksburg Jewish community erected this elegant Italian Renaissance building in 1916 as a social club and event venue. The exterior is fashioned from hand-carved limestone and marble and its opulent appointments inside made the celebration space a favorite from Memphis to New Orleans. In the 1960s the building was sold to the police department which stayed for over 30 years. Since then the lavish entertainment space has been restored and returned to its original use, hosting weddings and parties. The Grand Ballroom on the second floor has space for 400 party-goers.
Adolph Rose Building
717 Clay Street
This Romanesque Revival commercial structure was built around 1890 by merchant and vice-president of the First National Bank, Adolph Rose. Springing from the pen of William A. Stanton, it boasts recessed entrances and upper arched windows. The building lived a fairly routine existence for its first four decades until being sold to Feld Furniture which renovated the property into two narrow spaces running the length of the building. One side was converted into the Strand Theater to screen the new Hollywood “talkies” that were all the rage in America in the 1930s. The Strand would operate into the 1960s. A recent renovation has spruced up the 120-year old facade.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO WALNUT STREET AND TURN RIGHT, HEADING SOUTH.
St. Paul Catholic Church
713 Crawford Street at northwest corner of Walnut Street
Reverend M.D. O’Reilly organized Vicksburg Catholics beginning in 1839 and a frame meetinghouse was raised across Walnut Street in the next block by 1841. This land was acquired in 1847 and adorned with a splendid Gothic church which served the congregation until 1953 when it was damaged by a tornado so severely it had to be razed. This modernistic sanctuary saw its first services in 1957.
Vicksburg Post Office and Customs House
1400 Walnut Street at southwest corner of Crawford Street
The federal government established a presence in Vicksburg in 1894 with this Victorian brick pile that served as a post office and customs house. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania architect James Hamilton Windrim, who specialized in expansive public projects such as this, drew up the plans for the Queen Anne-styled structure highlighted by an eight-sided corner tower. Decoration is provided by terra cotta panels and a molded metal parapet. Today the building serves as headquarters for the Mississippi River Commission that was established in 1879 to oversee improvements on the waterway from its headwaters to its mouth.
1401 Walnut Street at southeast corner of Crawford Street
Virginia native James Riely Gordon made a career out of designing courthouses across the United States. During his architectural career he drew up the plans for 72 courthouses, including a dozen in Texas. This classically-inspired Beaux Arts confection was one of his last in the South before taking his talents to New York in 1902. He received a trowel when the cornerstone was laid on March 29 of that year. The restored building, still serving as city hall, only hints at the original grandeur of Gordon’s sensuous, curving design. In its first incarnation the structure boasted elaborate stairways, a finely crafted balustrade between the Corinthian columns of the first and second floors and trumpeting angels on top of the domed corners.
TURN LEFT ON CRAWFORD STREET.
United States Post Office and Federal Building
820 Crawford Street at southwest corner of Monroe Street
The federal government went on a building spree during the Great Depression of the 1930s to juice the economy and in Vicksburg this monumental five-story Neoclassical building was one result. Mississippi architect Claude H. Lindsley, who created several state landmarks before drifting into obscurity, drew up the plans. Completed in 1927, the building is still home to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.
Monroe Street Esplanade
While most of the original esplanade on Monroe Street has been given over to parking since the 1950s, one stretch of green space remains between Crawford and South streets. It is studded with memorials to Vicksburg soldiers killed in American wars.
901 Crawford Street at northeast corner of Monroe Street
Walk through any town in America in the years following the Civil War and the streets would be lined with Italianate buildings such as this. The style is marked by long, slender windows, ornate window hoods and prominent roof brackets. The brackets are missing here, replaced by a double gallery. The builder was Lucy Bradford Mitchell, a niece of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. She married Charles Jouett Mitchell, a busy Vicksburg physician.
John Lane House
905 Crawford Street
This cypress-frame house stands as representative of Vicksburg from the 1830s, the decade it was constructed. Although it has seen some alterations the beautifully preserved house is one of the town’s earliest still standing. The family most associated with the house is the first. John Lane, a nephew of the man who married a daughter of Newitt Vick, founder of the town, bought the property in 1833 for $700 and in 1836 was able to sell his new house for a hefty $10,000.
Crawford Street United Methodist Church
900 Crawford Street at southwest corner of Cherry Street
During the 1800s the proliferation of Catholic and Episcopalian congregations in America led to a wave of Gothic style churches. So much that ecclesiastical architects moved away from the style by the end of the 19th century. By the 1920s Gothic Revival was back in favor and this brick-and-limestone sanctuary is a 1925 example. The focal point is a three-story crenelated tower with large Gothic windows.
St. Francis Xavier Auditorium and Convent
north side of Crawford Street between Cherry and Adams streets
This block is now shepherded by the Southern Cultural Heritage Foundation and contains five buildings associated with the Sisters of Mercy who taught here from 1860 until 1991. They are the Cobb House (Greek Revival, circa 1830), the Sisters of Mercy Convent (Gothic Revival, 1868), the Auditorium (Italianate, 1885), the Academy Building (1937, and the O’Beirne Gymnasium (1955). Six of the sisters, led by Mary DeSales Browne, were called from Baltimore, Maryland to start the first school in Vicksburg.
1002 Crawford Street at southeast corner of Cherry Street
William Bobb bought this lot in 1834 for $1,200 dollars and sold the western half to John McDowell which resulted in this commodious mansion that blended elements of the Greek Revival and Federal styles. It had been occupied by William and Emma Balfour since 1847 and by the onset of the Civil War had become a center of the Vicksburg social whirl. Confederate leaders dramatically received the news of the approaching Federal forces during a Christmas Ball in the Balfour house on December 24, 1862. The Siege of Vicksburg was underway and most citizens fled town. Emma Balfour stubbornly remained in the face of Union troops surrounding the town and the United States Navy commanding the Mississippi River and kept a detailed diary of life during the siege. When Confederate forces surrendered the town Union General James B. McPherson made the Balfour House his headquarters. He would be killed at the Battle of Atlanta in 1864, the second highest ranking Union officer killed during the war.
Willis-Cowan House/Pemberton’s Headquarters
1018 Crawford Street
The east side of the Bobb lot was developed with this Greek Revival mansion and sold to Martha Willis for $22,000. Willis was a North Carolina-born niece of town founder Newitt Vick and the widow of state senator William Willis. When Ulysses S. Grant and the Union army laid siege to Vicksburg the commander of the defending Confederate forces, Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, picked the house for his headquarters. Mary Frances Cowan bought the house in 1890 and tacked on an addition to the back in 1919 when the property was sold to the Sisters of Mercy. In the 1990s when the religious order disposed of its properties on Crawfor Street the national park service acquired the Willis-Cowan House and now interprets it from the period of Pemberton’s occupation during the 1863 siege.
1116-1122 Crawford Street
Construction of these four wooden antebellum structures may have begun as early as the 1820s. In 1844 the property was acquired by Thomas Jefferson Harper, a Virginia doctor who arrived in Vicksburg in 1837. Harper was instrumental in forming the Anti-Dueling Society with Jefferson Davis in 1844 after a flurry of prominent men were killed in honor duels. He was a vocal abolitionist and the buildings were likely used to house Union troops during the occupation of the town during the Civil War. The property carries the name of Harper’s grand-daughter Lelia who inherited the property and whose father W.R. Luckett had been killed in the war. Leila Luckett was a schoolteacher who operated the town’s first lending library from the main building in the compound after her retirement
RETURN TO ADAMS STREET AND TURN LEFT.
1101 South Street at northeast corner of Adams Street
R.F. Beck was born in upstate New York in 1841, the son of a stonecutter. Trained in the building trades, Beck arrived in Vicksburg in 1865 when there was plenty of building to do in the aftermath of the Civil War. He started with a brickyard and would do much to shape the streetscape of Vicksburg in the ensuing years. His business interests expanded to include steamboats, banking and agriculture and he was elected mayor three times. In preparation for his marriage in 1876 Beck erected this High Victorian Italianate brick domicile, considered the finest example of the style in Vicksburg. R.F. Beck died in his 50th year in 1891 and his wife married the family chauffeur; the house remained in the family until 1971.
TURN RIGHT ON SOUTH STREET.
1015 South Street
This two-story Victorian house from around 1885 displays elements of the Queen Anne Eastlake style on its projecting western bay. Turned spindle balustrades enclose the upper tiers.
First Presbyterian Church
1501 Cherry Street at southeast corner of South Street
Reuben Harrison Hunt was born the son of a merchant, planter and Civil War veteran in 1862. At the age of 20 Hunt was in Chattanooga, Tennessee working as a builder and carpenter with the Adams Brothers architectural firm. He opened his own design firm and until 1935 was responsible for nearly every important building in Chattanooga. He also designed churches and public buildings across the South. Although he was not an architectural innovator Hunt interpreted the important design trends of the age. Here he delivered a Romanesque Revival confection rendered in cut stone for Vicksburg’s Presbyterians in 1908. Look up to see differing sizes of windows as they climb the prominent square tower.
1420 Cherry Street at northwest corner of South Street
At one time Cherry Street boasted the most impressive homes in Vicksburg but this house, raised by Theresa Blum in 1902, is just about the last souvenir from that time. Blum was the widow of Solomon Blum a well-connected businessman and merchant who hailed from Delhi, Louisiana. Theodore Link, a German-American architect from St. Louis whose portfolio included the Mississippi State Capitol in Jackson, drew up the plans for the town’s finest Neoclassical residence in 1902. The symmetrical structrue is distinguished by a quartet of full-height Ionic columns supporting an entrance porico and matching Ionic pilaster framing the house.
Church of the Holy Trinity
900 South Street at southeast corner of Monroe Street
Architect Edward Jones graced Charleston, South Carolina with some of its finest churches before the Civil War. Following the war he picked up his career in Memphis, Tennessee where he became one of that river town’s busiest Victorian architects. Jones found time to pick up a commission in Vicksburg from the town’s Episcopalians in 1870, sketching out the specifications for this brick Romanesque Revival church highlighted by a 170-foot steeple. When construction ended after almost a quarter-century in 1894 its admirers touted Holy Trinity as the finest ecclesiastical building in Mississippi. The builder was William Stanton who would evolve into an architect as the project progressed. His son, Harry A. Stanton, is considered the first native born, professionally trained Mississippi architect. Of the nearly two dozen stained glass windows in Holy Trinity are six that honor fallen soldiers on both sides of the Civil War, the only known stained glass windows known to do so.
819 South Street at northwest corner of Monroe Street
In 1900 Andrew Carnegie sold his United States Steel Corporation to banker J.P. Morgan for $400 million to become the richest man in the world. He then set out to give that money away. One of his pet projects was funding libraries and Carnegie would eventually help build over 2,500 around the world, including this one in Vicksburg in 1916. The Carnegie Foundation picked up $25,000 of the $28,000 price tag. Architect Edward Lippincott Tilton, who specialized in designing Carnegie libraries and did over a hundred of them, gave the town its grandest Mission Revival building crowned with a red tile roof. The Spanish-influenced style was popular in Vicksburg in the early years of the 1900s, especially for stuccoed houses. The Vicksburg Library Association had been operating from rooms in the new City Hall since 1903 and eagerly welcomed its spacious new quarters, remaining here until 1979.
TURN RIGHT ON WASHINGTON STREET.
First National Bank
1301 Washington Street at southeast corner of Clay Street
Vicksburg attracted its share of national architects during its boom years and prominent New York designer W.W. Knowles contributed the Beaux Arts appearance of this eight-story high-rise completed in 1907. Knowles had been lured to town by wealthy cotton broker W.C. Craig to build the Tudor Revival showcase on Cherry Street known as the Great Hope Manor. This was the tallest building in Mississippi at the time of its construction. A century later the office tower has lost its once prominent cornice but a recent facelift has restored much of the classical detailing down below.
TURN LEFT ON CLAY STREET TO RETURN TO THE YAZOO CANAL AND THE START OF THE TOUR.