I always plan ahead for any trip I take just because I want to know what a destination has to offer. I knew Vicksburg had plenty of museums, the national military park, and lots of local restaurants. But no amount of planning could have prepared me for discovering the fascinating history of bottled Coca-Cola, a beautiful historic courtroom, the gargantuan Illinois State Memorial, and one of the best catfish meals I’d ever eaten.
Explore a Museum
One thing is certain about Vicksburg: with seven museums in town you’re almost certain to find at least one you want to explore. Some of the museums are quirky, others astounding, and all of them make for a good time learning about local history.
The Jacqueline House African-American Museum features a massive multi-media collection of newspapers, yearbooks, and photos in the former home of local Jacqueline Robbins Rose.
The Lower Mississippi River Museum is a fascinating exploration of America’s involvement with the mighty Mississippi River. The one-story exhibition space explains the history of the river over the centuries and the work of the Army Corps of Engineers to alter the river and make it safer for boats to navigate as well as properties along the river. But the biggest draw to the museum is the M/V Mississippi VI, a massive river boat that was used for many years exploring and working on the river. Visitors can explore the five decks including the engine room, galley, officers quarters, and bridge.
The Old Depot Museum is in fact located inside an old railroad depot near the riverfront. The two floors of the museum features several miniature train exhibits, a collection of model Civil War gunboats, and several paintings. The biggest feature, literally, is the massive diorama of the Siege of Vicksburg. Meticulously detailed, the diorama lays out the battle lines on both sides and gives a birds eye perspective of how the battle took place during the Civil War. It’s great to see this diorama before exploring the national military park.
Perhaps the most interesting and architecturally beautiful attraction in town is the Old Court House Museum. Built at the end of the Civil War the Greek Revival style courthouse contrasts sharply with the Art Deco style new courthouse across the street. Inside visitors will find two floors to explore with hundreds of exhibits and artifacts including antique furniture, antebellum clothing, Civil War-era weapons, and exquisite China sets. But the most impressive is the courtroom on the second floor with the original wrought iron railings and wooden chairs.
The Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers
Vicksburg was built in one of the many bends of the Mississippi River, but the downtown area sits along the Yazoo River. These two rivers combined make the riverfront area a beautiful place to explore.
Downtown between the Old Depot Museum and Clay Street is the Vicksburg Riverfront Murals. These murals were painted on the 20′ tall flood walls built to prevent the Mississippi from flooding downtown businesses and streets, similar to the Paducah Wall-to-Wall Murals in Kentucky. From time to time a small riverboat will dock at the boat ramp on the other side of the flood wall and visitors will pour into town for a few hours.
Take a drive along Washington Street to explore more destinations along the riverfront like the Ameristar Casino. Just beside the casino is the Mississippi Welcome Center. Even if you don’t need a map be sure to stop here to enjoy the view standing between the Old Vicksburg Bridge and newer bridge for I-20 crossing the Mississippi River.
Discover the History of Coca-Cola
Did you know in 1894 Coca-Cola was bottled for the very first time in Vicksburg? This is just one of the interesting things you’ll learn about the most popular soda in history while exploring the Biedenharn Coca-Cola Museum.
The beautifully restored building on Washington Street, the main street in downtown, features a museum with dozens of photos, newspaper clippings, and artifacts from the early days of bottling Coca-Cola. At the end of the self-guided tour visitors can browse the massive collection of retro Coke bottles (some never opened), quirky Coca-Cola collectibles, or grab a cold drink from the soda fountain.
Learn History at Vicksburg National Military Park
The Siege of Vicksburg was a major engagement during the Civil War fought just outside the downtown area at what is now the Vicksburg National Military Park. Like many other military parks visitors can explore a one-way 16-mile loop drive while learning about the people who commanded various units during the siege. Monuments, memorials, and statues commemorate many of these people, including the impressive Illinois State Memorial.
Canon emplacements layout the locations of opposing forces along the rolling hills of the battleground. Short trails meander through the fields and pulloffs provide a place to leave your car. It’s entirely possible to enjoy the scenery and learn some history from the comfort of your car, but you also have the option of getting out to stretch your legs.
The USS Cairo Gunboat and Museum is one of the biggest attractions in the park. The Cairo was an ironclad sunk in the Yazoo River during the Civil War. The gunboat was eventually salvaged, reassembled as best as possible, and put on permanent display beneath a massive tent. The museum showcases many of the artifacts recovered from the gunboat such as personal items, medical equipment, and tools. Visitors can even walk through the salvaged ironclad to get a feel for what it might have been like to serve on such a vessel at one time.
Delve Into Delicious Local Food
After a long day exploring museums and driving through the national military park it would be understandable if you were starving, and Vicksburg has you covered. There are more than a dozen great local restaurants in the downtown area.
Cottonwood Public House has a good selection of craft beers from across the region, and they also offer cocktails and domestic/import beers. The menu is divided into two very simple categories: pizza and not pizza. Although the “not pizza” menu is pretty good, I recommend the Margherita Pizza with torn basil, tomato, and buffalo mozzarella.
Just behind the Lower Mississippi River Museum is Rusty’s Riverfront Grill. This causal dining restaurant has plenty of seating on a quiet end of town. The bar menu includes white wine, red wine, beer, and cocktails. When you’re ready to order your food you can choose from a good list of appetizers, large selection of seafood meals, simple sandwiches, or ribeye steak and grilled chicken.
The best view from a dining table in town is without a doubt at 10 South Rooftop Bar & Grill. The top-floor restaurant has roll-up doors with stunning views of downtown and the Yazoo River from must about any table on the floor. They have a pretty good alcohol menu including beer, wine, and signature cocktails; I quickly became a fan of the 10 South of the Border Margarita with Cuervo 1800, Grand Mariner, Agava Nectar, and Key Lime Juice. The lunch menu is similar to the dinner menu but with smaller portions and slightly different options. They offer everything from catfish to pulled pork, salads and burgers, sandwiches and more.