Circa 1820 – 1930
Port Gibson, Mississippi (Claiborne County)
Located near the confluence of Bayou Pierre and Little Bayou Pierre, Port Gibson was established on March 12, 1803, making it the third-oldest incorporated town in the state. Serving as the county seat of Claiborne County since its incorporation, Port Gibson was spared when Gen. U.S. Grant made the town the first objective in his campaign to capture Vicksburg in 1863, supposedly saying the town was “too beautiful to burn.”
Many of the antebellum homes, churches, and commercial buildings that lined the streets during the Civil War still stand, and Church Street in particular hosts a wealth of beautiful architecture combined with graceful old live oak trees. Many blocks of Church Street are contained within the Market Street-Suburb St. Mary Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. Seven churches and one synagogue stand on the aptly-named street, ranging in style from exotic Moorish to the stately classical.
Church Street long ago became part of U.S. Highway 61, and the heavy commercial traffic that has gradually increased over the decades has already done harm to many of the historic buildings and has diminished the residential appeal of the street. An effort by the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) to expand U.S. 61 to an expressway is nearly complete, with the Port Gibson section of highway one of the last to be upgraded. The Port Gibson Heritage Trust and many other interested citizens have banded together to encourage MDOT to re-route the highway outside of town, leaving Church Street to recover its residential character. MDOT has resisted the idea, pushing forward with its plans to use the existing right-of-way to expand the roadway to meet modern codes despite local opposition. The controversial project has never undergone the normal mandated federal and state preservation reviews because MDOT insists that it will be using only state money to complete this federal highway project.
2017 Update – In Progress
It appears, for now, the feud over widening Port Gibson’s Church Street is over. MDOT has backed away from its stated intention to take the new Highway 61 down Church Street and is looking into rerouting the highway around town.