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Central Mississippi

Although it is more than 150 miles from the Gulf Coast, Jackson — Mississippi’s capital and largest city — was not spared from Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Among the buildings damaged by the massive storm was the Old Capitol Museum.

“The roof was ripped off and thrown into the street,” said Mary Current, group tour manager for the Jackson Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Seeing a silver lining and opportunity from disaster, the state Legislature funded a major renovation and restoration of the Greek Revival building, which reopened in 2009.

“When they restored this building, they took it back to the way it was in 1839” when it originally opened, including the 100-foot dome, said Current.

The beautifully restored rooms are filled with interactive multimedia exhibits that explain the workings of the Legislature, the governor and the state Supreme Court. Motion-activated sound systems let you hear a lifelike governor sitting behind his desk reading a letter he is writing, while senators in the Senate chamber debate issues of the day.

The Old Capitol Museum is emblematic of changes throughout Jackson’s vibrant but comfortable downtown, where streets and buildings are undergoing renovations to welcome new businesses, restaurants, residents and visitors.

New high-tech state history and civil rights museums, rising across the street from the Old Capitol, are set to open on the state’s 200th birthday, December 10, 2017.

Even the new Capitol, which took the place of the old one in 1903, is undergoing a major facelift and is midway through a two-year, $8 million renovation that has the 180-foot dome sheathed in scaffolding.

Jackson’s former charm is evident in azalea- and tree-lined neighborhoods such as Belhaven, where author Eudora Welty lived from 1925 until her death in 2001. Welty’s brown and tan Tudor Revival house is a fascinating glimpse into the life of the Pulitzer Prize-winning author.

“It is exactly the way it was on the day she died — the books she was reading, what was on the dining room table,” said Current. “She was a wonderful, wonderful woman.”


Flavors of Jackson

Current noted that Jackson surprises groups with its rich music, food and festival scenes.

“People come here for our festivals; we have some real cool festivals,” she said. “And we have a lot more iconic locally owned restaurants than chains.”

You can try the famous pig ear sandwich at the Big Apple Inn, a brew at Hal and Mal’s, a redfish sandwich at Walker’s Drive-In or traditional Southern dishes at Bully’s.

The Fairview Inn, an antique-filled bed-and-breakfast, serves groups lunch, dinner or tea in its upscale restaurant and will arrange for a wide range of costumed characters, from Civil War to civil rights, based on a group’s interest.

The Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum on a 40-acre site in town provides well-organized programs for groups.

“We are very flexible with groups,” said executive director Lise Foy.

Groups can arrange for storytellers dressed in period clothing, watch demonstrations of old-fashioned tools, have a hay ride and live bluegrass and country music, and dine in the site’s Ethnic Heritage Center.

Visits begin in the large center, with more than 35,000 square feet of displays on the history of agriculture and forestry in Mississippi, including lifelike dioramas with motion-activated sounds. On a huge model-train layout, visitors can push buttons to start the trains and activate miniature activities such as welding and lumbering.

The next stop is Small Town Mississippi, which represents a rural town of the 1920s. Along its main street, you can stop in the newspaper office, the doctor’s office with its herb garden out back and the filling station, where gasoline was hand pumped for 15 cents a gallon. The nondenominational church at the head of Main Street is still the site of frequent weddings, and at the general store with its wooden floors and old-fashioned display cases, you can play checkers with bottle caps on the front porch.

In nearby Ridgeland, the Mississippi Crafts Center also caters to groups while displaying and selling the creative work of its 350-some members.


Crafty Ridgeland

“If we know a group is coming, we can not only put together a tour and demonstrations, but arrange for lunch,” said director Nancy Perkins.

The Craftsmen’s Guild of Mississippi operates the 20,000-square-foot building, which replaced a small log cabin on the nearby Natchez Trace Parkway in 2007.

The center has studios and demonstration areas along with a large retail space filled with a variety of media, from quilts, baskets and wood-carved items to contemporary metal sculpture, fused glass and handcrafted jewelry.

However, Perkins said the guild’s main mission is to preserve the crafts and to encourage people to develop new ones.

“We are the keeper of these crafts,” she said.

Rapidly expanding Ridgeland has become a major shopping and dining center in the state and promotes itself as a great hub for exploring central Mississippi.

The Renaissance at Colony Park, dubbed a lifestyle center, has a variety of upscale shops and restaurants located in Mediterranean-style buildings spread throughout a landscaped setting with fountains, sidewalk cafes and a village center. The nearby Township at Colony Park is a mixed-use development with apartments, restaurants, shops and offices.