History and Legends of Yazoo
Founded as shipping port in the 1820s, Yazoo has a rich history that has spawned literary powerhouses, a wide variety of preserved historic architecture, traditional Southern eateries, and legends that speak of otherworldly beings.
Ricks Memorial Library and Yazoo’s Literary Landmarks
The Ricks Memorial Library opened in 1901 at 310 North Main Street, making it the oldest public library building continuous service in Mississippi. Operated by the Yazoo Library Association, this historic building was funded in 1900 by Fannie Ricks in honor of her late husband, General Benjamin Sherrod Ricks, a wealthy planter from Yazoo. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places is 1975. It is also designated as a Mississippi Literary Landmark, due to its association with Willie Morris, former editor in chief of Harper’s Magazine and author of several books, including the best-selling North Toward Home, an autobiographical account of Morris’s childhood in Yazoo and adult life in New York, where he yearned for the Southern life he knew.
From the Ricks Memorial Library, stroll along the Henry Herschel Brickell Memorial Yazoo Literary Walkway. Brickell grew up in Yazoo in the late 1800s. After graduating from the University of Mississippi, he went on to successful career in the literary world, as an editor, writer, and critic, working with several well-known authors, including Eudora Welty. To honor his accomplishments, the Yazoo Historical Society, the Brickell Family Foundation, and the Ricks Memorial Library created the walkway to remind residents and visitors of the important contributions more than 100 Yazooans have made to the literary world.
Triangle Cultural Center
At the other end of the walkway is the Triangle Cultural Center. The building at 332 North Main Street, once a city school, was built in 1904, was purchased by the Yazoo Library Association in 1977, and is currently owned by Yazoo City. It is considered to be one of the finest examples of a turn-of-the-century 20th-century schoolhouse in the state. The large portico of Ionic columns on the front of the building welcomes visitors to the various museums, classrooms, and performance spaces within. Visit in the Sam Olden Yazoo Historical Society Museum to learn about the history of the city and its people, from 45,000-year-old fossils to artifacts from the Native Americans who called this land home, Civil War history, and the role of African Americans in building this Gateway to the Delta. Attend a performance of the Yazoo City School of Dance, or stretch your artistic skills in an art class.
Town Center Historic District
Yazoo’s entire Town Center Historic District is on the National Register of Historic Places and was selected by This Old House Magazine as one of the “Best Old House Neighborhoods” in 2012. Wander through the streets to see various architectural styles. On Broadway, you’ll find the Beaux Arts courthouse and the Lightcap-Holmes House, with its triple windows, Tuscan Doric porch, and Palladian arched doorway, complete with the etched monogram of the builder, Harrison Lightcap. On East Madison awaits the Greek Revival Bowman House, and the Swayze House, with its conical turret roof. The Wilson-Gilruth House, also on Madison, is the largest surviving pre–Civil War structure, likely constructed around 1846.
Of course, all the sightseeing is going to stir up an appetite. Stop in for some traditional barbecue at Ubon’s on Jerry Clower Boulevard. Pick up a bottle of the restaurant’s sauce, from a family recipe that goes back five generations, so you can take a taste of Yazoo home with you. Dive into a pile of crab claws, boiled shrimp, or a luscious fried oyster po’boy at P’Reaux’s Cajun Mudbugs & Shrimp on West Broadway. Pick up a souvenir at the Downtown Marketplace on South Main Street, a collection of nearly 100 vendors of antiques, artwork, furniture, crafts, and more. For whimsical home décor, check out the Dogwood Blossom, also on South Main Street.
Legends of Yazoo
Southern cities with rich histories are sure to spawn local legends, and Yazoo is no exception. You’ll find perhaps the spookiest site in the historical section of the Glenwood Cemetery—“The Witch’s Grave.” According to legend, an old woman who lived on the Yazoo River was alleged to have tortured fisherman she lured to her home. After being chased to her death in the swamps, she vowed to return in 20 years and burn the town to the ground. Then, two decades later, a great fire tore through the downtown in 1904, destroying more than 200 homes and most of the businesses. The cause was never determined, though some witnesses spoke of seeing the flames dancing in the air, as if driven by supernatural winds, despite the weather report of still air. The next day, a group of townspeople went to the cemetery to find the chains around the witch’s grave broken in two.
Another site with unexplained occurrences is the Satartia Bridge. Spanning the Yazoo River between Yazoo and Satartia, this vertical lift bridge has been the subject of several paranormal investigations due to unusual sounds, smells, and sights reported there. Both locals and investigators have reported scary experiences surrounding the bridge, from moaning from the river to the stench of rotting flesh, to misty visions that appear to disappear into the vegetation along the banks. Some believe the ghosts of the Yazoo Native Americans who once lived here are haunting the area. Others say it’s the crews of the numerous Civil War ships that sank in the river. Try crossing the bridge and come up with your own explanation.