Vicksburg Heritage Walking Trails
Photography by MICHAEL BARRETT
Vicksburg, Mississippi, with its staggering bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River, has a well-deserved position of prominence in Civil War history and tourism, with thousands visiting the city’s national parks and monuments each year. So popular is the city with history buffs that they recently developed a self-guided walking tour allowing visitors and locals to learn about less-publicized elements of Vicksburg’s history. Five distinct trail routes – known as the Vicksburg Heritage Walking Trails – wind throughout downtown and the historic district with 35 markers at points along the way, each one explaining a piece of the city’s history between the 19th and the 20th century.
“It was just unveiled in December 2017, so it’s very new,” says Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau Deputy Director Laura Beth Strickland. “A lot of people come to Vicksburg to explore our Civil War history, which is great, but we are also excited about another way for people to learn about our city, and to spend more time downtown.”
The trails begin on Washington Street overlooking the Old Depot Museum. A steep decline away from the museum leads to the Mississippi River, where it passes alongside levee murals describing the city’s history. Along the riverfront, where the steamboat Natchez waits for exploring visitors to reboard, a marker describes Vicksburg’s famed catfish row. The area, once home to wharves where workers loaded and unloaded cargo to and from the river, now serves as an art park and playground.
The trails also have a strong architectural focus, with historic homes, churches, and government buildings marked along the route. “We have really diverse architectural influences here in Vicksburg, and looking at what was built after the war and how the city came back really tells a story,” says Morgan Gates, a tour guide who helped write content for the markers. “I’m partial to the Old Courthouse Building, which I call the Eiffel Tower of Vicksburg. It’s an iconic symbol of the city.”
Markers also explore how Vicksburg grew and recovered after the civil war, mentioning the establishment of sharecropping and the building of banks and a new city hall building downtown. The markers aren’t meant to completely encapsulate the city’s history but rather to entice visitors with interesting snippets of history and allow them to learn more on their own.
“I’ve been a guide for a long time so I’m pretty well versed in the city’s history, and I was still surprised by some of the things I found creating the markers,” says licensed National Parks Service guide David Maggio. “Vicksburg’s city hall used to be in the second floor of a store. When they built the new one in 1903 the contractor somehow didn’t get his last payment fast enough and he locked all the doors and windows to the building before he left town. So, the police department had to come cut all the locks off before they could use the building for the first time. We didn’t put that on the marker, but I enjoyed learning about it,”he says, laughing.
Another marker pays homage to one of the city’s more devastating historical moments – a 1953 tornado that killed 38 people, including many children. “It was a terrible tragedy. The tornado happened when a new Disney movie had just come out and families were watching it downtown. The tornado ended up coming through town and destroying The Strand Theater, where the movie was playing. It was just happenstance,” Maggio says.
The Vicksburg CVB helped implement the project, which began more than four years ago when Mayor George Flaggs appointed a committee to research economic development through tourism downtown. The group eventually recommended the trails, and grants from the City of Vicksburg and the National Parks Service’s Lower Mississippi Delta Initiative funded the project.
“Sometime last year I got a call from Tim McCarley, who said they wanted to do a walking tour,” says Maggio, who researched the markers along with several other historians. “He and his boss, Victor Grey-Lewis (Vicksburg community development director), already had a list of 37 places that were potential marker sites, and they knew the routes they wanted the trails to take.”
The Vicksburg National Military Park, Vicksburg Main Street, Old Court House Museum, Gordon Cotton, and the Vicksburg-Warren County Chamber of Commerce Community Fund also contributed to the project. “A lot of people put a lot of input into this project,” says Gates. “David and I helped build a lot of the narrative around the sites, but it was Tim (McCarley) who took our ideas and writings and turned it into reality.”
A farmer’s market is planned for the Depot museum area, Gates says. “So, it’s going to be a bustling area and a great spot to begin the trail. The hardest part about making these markers was not being overly wordy, because I do ghost tours, and I like to spice things up. We had to do a lot of pruning so things would fit, but I also learned a lot through that process.”
The trail markers deliver dozens of interesting historical accounts, intended to give people “a good feeling for the city of Vicksburg,” Maggio says. Organizers hope this history will keep people downtown and lead them to other sights in Vicksburg, dining, and entertainment.
“We have great restaurants and great food, and the downtown is growing more and more,” Gates says. “We hope people come and explore the trails and then stay a day or two and see what else Vicksburg has to offer.”
Want to go?
For more information, visit visitvicksburg.com.