Monday, January 17, 2011

A Place called Rodney

Way, way, WAY off the beaten path of US Hwy. 61 South between Vicksburg and Natchez, in the rural hills and backwoods of Jefferson County, Mississippi, are the crumbling remains of a town which was once a thriving and bustling center of commerce and culture on the Mississippi River — a place called Rodney.

Rodney was founded in 1828, but it was in the 1840's and 1850's — during the heyday of steamboats and cotton — that Rodney became one of Mississippi's most prosperous towns and the busiest river port between New Orleans and St. Louis. In fact, it missed being named the capital of Mississippi by three votes. By 1860, the town had approximately 4,000 residents, and was home to two banks, two newspapers, 35 stores, a large hotel, an opera house, and several saloons.

But, sadly, Rodney's days of prosperity were short-lived. By 1863, the Civil War was raging through Mississippi, and Rodney's economy collapsed, its homes plundered. In 1869, tragedy struck and the town was almost completely destroyed by a fire. But the greatest and final blow contributing to its downfall was dealt by Mother Nature herself when, sometime around 1869, the course of the Mississippi River began to change, leaving Rodney high and dry. Cut off from the river traffic that had been its lifeblood, Rodney's fate was sealed, and it began to die a slow death.

In 1930, Mississippi Governor Theodore Bilbo issued an executive proclamation abolishing the town, but if you don't mind traveling WAY off the beaten path and dodging a few potholes along the way, you can visit what remains of Rodney today.

This past weekend, my husband and I did just that ... and, although it was sad and painful to see, I am so glad I was able to capture with my camera a little of the fascinating history of the place called Rodney.

I didn't begin this story with the words, "Way, way, WAY off the beaten path ..." for nothing.

To find and get to Rodney, you have to really, really want to go ... and I would recommend leaving your Mercedes at home and taking your four-wheel drive GMC Sierra instead.

Once you leave US Hwy. 61 South, MS Hwy. 552 meanders through rural Jefferson County, and its nice yellow-lined pavement eventually gives way to a rough and rocky pothole-filled gravel road. The good news is that the gravel part isn't very long, and the roads were dry the day we went.

About 12 miles from Hwy. 61, the gravel/dirt road finally leads you to what is left of Rodney, and, in my opinion, it was worth dodging all those potholes to get there.

This is one of the first scenes you see upon arriving ...

The beautiful little white church at the end of the road was once home to the Rodney Baptist Church.

I love its different architectural styles ...

The doors were open, so I ventured inside, not knowing what to expect. Unfortunately, it wasn't nearly as charming inside as it was on the outside.

However, I did find a couple of things of interest. Down front, there was a pedestal table with a framed document lying on top of it.

As I got closer, I saw that it was the Church Covenant, and sitting on top of it was an offering basket with a few dollar bills and some change in it.

It gave me chill bumps to think about the goodness of the people who had left the offerings at that old abandoned church. I wondered if they were from the area around Rodney, or if, perhaps, they were visitors who had heard about Rodney, and took the time to see it for themselves.

I also noticed these dusty flowers and wondered about the person who put them there.

If I had had something to dust them off with, I would have.
I like this shot of one of the windows, with the trees showing through the wavy old panes of glass ...

As we left the church, I stood there for a moment taking in the surroundings, and found it difficult to comprehend that what I was seeing was once part of a thriving cultural center on the Mississippi River.

The town wasn't deserted, and can't really be called a "ghost town," because there are still a few people living there, along with numerous deer camps scattered around the area. A lot of the old buildings have caved in or fallen down, and the ones left standing appear to be on the verge of disappearing into the landscape, too.

As far as I can ascertain, this is all that remains of the Rodney Town Hall.

The building appears to have had a balcony and porch at some point in time.

I love this old window which was almost completely covered with vines ...

The Mississippi Lodge #56 of the Free and Accepted Masons was located in Rodney from the 1850's to the 1920's, and, during Rodney's heyday, it was not unusual for traveling thespians on the showboats to use the Masonic Hall for their performances.

Sadly, here is the lodge as it looks today ...

I'm going to end this chapter here at the Masonic Lodge, but tomorrow I will take you across the street to explore one of the oldest surviving churches in Mississippi, the Rodney Presbyterian Church, circa 1830-31.

We will also climb to the top of the steep bluff behind the church to visit the old Rodney Town Cemetery. I hope you will join me tomorrow ... for the best part of the adventure is yet to be!


racheld said...

This is such a sad joy to see---I've seen it only through the eyes and lenses of others, and just thinking of the loss of this grand little town---an OPERA HOUSE, for Goodness' Sake!!

I've only read of Bilbo's exploits, of course, but it seems that his propensity for shutting things down and putting people and things in their place extended to a greater level than I'd thought. What a shame!

How DOES one ABOLISH a town?? I wouldn't have thought the word in his vocabulary.

There's a teensy used-to-be town in Alabama that we drive through now and then, just wandering---it's called Repton, and though it has not half the history, it's a sweet place to look at and try to visualize the lives and fortunes of those who lived there long ago.

It's melting into the Earth, as well, and someday soon, only photos and memories will remain.

Thank you for memorializing this important bit of our history; before long there will be only shadows of the prosperous time, and it's wonderful to see the shapes of what was, and what might have been.

Marlene said...

I loved every single frame of "our" trip to Rodney. This is my kind of adventure and I thank you for inviting us along. Can't wait to hear the rest of the story!

Unknown said...

How incredibly sad. Is anyone trying to save any of these buildings?

Dot Moore said...

This is wonderful. I was born and educated in Mississippi and have never heard about Rodney. Would love to travel there someday. Thank you for this delightful roadtrip.

Deb said...

you have such a great eye for make everything so very interesting....if I ever get to Mississippi I'm definately going to try to find Rodney..

Tonja said...

What a powerful picture! The first one of the church! There it stands...and I'm sure someone could come up with the appropriate words to explain the significance of that! I immediately thought of a beautiful summer wedding in masons jars, and barefooted bridesmaids! Wouldn't that be unique? What a place this must have been!

Thank you for your concern for us. Yes, Alexs has been very bad and I have been quite painful as well. My arthritis has been awful! It was so cold last week...then Sunday it was sunny and, it raining, cold and 43 degres! It's crazy. This kind of weather is really bad on Alex. We are always so happy to see spring!

Marjorie (Molly) Smith said...

I love to visit Rodney, We haven't been there in about 6 yrs. I really need to make a trip and capture more shots before it is gone. All of the pictures I took back then have been lost when my computer crashed. I love the canon ball in the last shot, how wonderful it has remained since the Civil war without being dug out by some treasure hunter.
Thanks for sharing, cause for now I must enjoy your photos untill I am able to venture out again myself.

Jenni said...

Oh MY WORD! Girl, you have realllly got my interest and curiosity at a fever pitch now...

If those dusty old streets could talk, or the walls of that church....

I can't wait to see your next installment.

Thanks for a fascinating history tour!


The Quintessential Magpie said...

This just breaks my heart. I'm speechless, Janie. As a preservationist, I want to quickly gather up all of those buildings and save them. I'm surprised the state doesn't have it on a "most endangered" list. Sigh. How far have the mighty fallen?



Julie @ Sweet Chaos said...

1828! That's impressive! Yes, and saddening. I adore coming to your blog and learning about these places. Thanks for all your hard work and the time you put into it. It is very much appreciated. One day, when I can have the free time --and gas isn't so high...--I'll make road trips and discover these places too.

These buildings are beautiful still. But in dire need of saving.

Amelia said...

My grandmother was born in Rodney in 1896. Her parents (George and Julia Schober) and one infant sister (Onienta) are buried in the cemetery up behind the Presbyterian Church. When I was a child in the 1940's and 50's my family would spend weekends at the old family home there. What wonderful memories my sisters and cousins and I have of being set free to play, ride horses, and roam around Rodney! My mother, now in her 90's, recently sold the last remaining acreage our family owned in Jefferson County. The main house was used as a hunting lodge (in the 1980's and 1990's I think) for a number of years - but it eventually deteriorated to the point that it had to be torn down. My husband and I still have some of the cypress doors that came from the house as well as the old hand-crank telephone that hung on the wall. I haven't been back to Rodney in years, but going back for a visit is definitely on my "bucket list."