Thursday, July 2, 2009
Greenville, Mississippi - "Where Main Street Meets the Levee"
The last stop on our Mississippi Delta tour was the town of Greenville, located on the Mississippi River. Although Greenville is still an important river port located about halfway between Memphis and New Orleans, one can only imagine the river traffic it once saw when cotton was still "king."
The historical marker pictured here stands in front of the building that housed the former headquarters of the Delta Democrat Times, Greenville's newspaper. Listed now on the National Register of Historic Places, this building was memorialized in "Where Main Street Meets the River," the memoirs of the newspaper's Pulitzer Prize-winning editor, Hodding Carter.
Pictured below is the Greenville Inn & Suites, a small boutique-type hotel, located at 211 South Walnut Street, where we stayed on the last night of our trip. The hotel is located near the foot of the levee where Main Street begins and was once the river port's U. S. Customs House. This historic building is worthy of its own story, one that I plan to write in another post.
From the hotel, we could walk anywhere that we chose in downtown Greenville, including the casino riverboats docked on the other side of the levee. Not being casino-goers, we decided instead to take a walking tour of Greenville's Historic Main Street. Before we started up Main Street, we walked to an area of blues clubs on Walnut Street just a few blocks from our hotel. Finding that most of the clubs were not yet open, we took the opportunity to photograph stars, imbedded in the sidewalks with the names of well-known Delta Blues musicians, before we headed back toward Main Street.
Greenville is the county seat of Washington County, and the historic courthouse can be seen below. The courthouse would have been a very long walk from the hotel, so I snapped a photo of it as we were driving into town earlier in the afternoon. As the Mississippi Department of Archives and History marker pictured below states, the courthouse was built in 1891 in the Richardson Romanesque style of architecture.
Another marker stands on the courthouse lawn marking the location of the Courthouse Arboretum. It tells the story of how Dr. Orville Blanton, son of Harriet Blanton Theobald, "The Mother of Greenville," planted a garden of native trees there in 1895. Interestingly, the Greenville Garden Club is recognized as the first of such clubs in the State of Mississippi.
Located on Main Street, just a few blocks from our hotel, was the historic Hebrew Union Congregation, pictured below. According to the marker, the congregation was organized in 1880, and was once the state's largest Jewish temple. Worshipping there over the years were two of Greenville's mayors, its first merchant, public officials, and many of the city's leaders in education, law, literature, business and civic affairs.
Greenville, Mississippi, like many other old, historic cities that line the banks of the Mississippi River, was a melting pot of emigrants who arrived at their destinations on riverboats carrying passengers from their ports of entry into the United States. Early settlers in the Mississippi Territory often arrived first in the Port of New Orleans and embarked on the long journey up river, where many of them settled in Natchez, Vicksburg, and Greenville. A large number of these European settlers already embraced the Catholic faith, and in 1858, St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church was organized in its present location at 504 Main Street.
In 1907, the Gothic Revival styled church, pictured above, was built. As the historical marker below states, the building was designed and financed by Father P. J. Korstenbroek, who served as the parish's priest for 33 years. Later, Father Korstenbroek was immortalized by one of Greenville's better citizens, William Alexander Percy, in his well-known work, Lanterns on the Levee. The marker also states that many of the stained glass windows in the church came from the Munich studio of Emil Frei.
After our walk down Greenville's Main Street, we drove out to the Chinese Cemetery, where I took a picture for my blog about Mississippi cemeteries, Cemeteries of Dancing Rabbit Creek.
The next day, as we drove across the Mississippi River Bridge, headed for Lake Village, Arkansas, I couldn't help but think of the Great Flood of 1927 that took so many lives of those who lived in or near the town of Greenville. The impact of that flood, similar in many ways to the flooding of the Ninth Ward in New Orleans after Katrina, resulted in the loss of much property and the lives of many people.
But our walk down Greenville's Walnut Street and Main Street the afternoon before had reminded us that in spite of the toll that history sometimes takes, this small Mississippi Delta town's rich and diverse cultural heritage has survived it all.