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Today is July 16, 2018

Mississippi Seen

Ruins still enchant

Ruins still enchant

Once again motorists can catch this view of Windsor Ruins from Rodney Road. The perspective from here makes the 160 year-old columns seem organic, as if they grew right there along with the trees. Photo: Walt Grayson

Windsor was perhaps the finest home in the South at the time of the Civil War. It was built over a few years in the latter part of the 1850s. It is about seven miles west of Port Gibson on twisty-windy Rodney Road near where the town of Bruinsburg used to be.

Bruinsburg was significant in the Civil War because that is where the Union troops crossed the Mississippi River from Louisiana on their way to lay siege to Vicksburg in 1863. Some of the troops camped in the cornfields at Windsor that first night. (That was the largest amphibious landing in the history until D-Day in World War II.)

As an aside, I followed a pickup through the open gate on Bruinsburg Road one day. I wanted to see the remains of Bruinsburg. The fellows who were driving tractors showed me two old bricked cisterns, one in pretty good shape and another caving in, and said that’s all that was left of the town. Looking at it today you’d never know anything was ever there but cotton fields.

My first introduction to Windsor came in high school at my first radio job. The station was in an old house on South Broadway in Greenville. The living room was the reception area. The dining room had been converted into the boss’ office. The kitchen was the engineer’s shop. The control room was a huge pine-paneled former bedroom on the back corner of the house.

An imposing black-and-white photograph of ancient columns choked in vines hung over the fireplace in the reception area. Since it was a photograph, this was obviously a real place. I thought it was the ruins of a castle in Europe perhaps. So one day I asked the boss where it was and was shocked when he said it was in Mississippi! As a teenager I had no earthly idea anything was in Mississippi.

It was years later before I saw the Windsor Ruins for myself. A photographer and I had been sent to Port Gibson to do a story about something or the other. We had some spare time so I suggested we go see Windsor. I was awestruck, as most people are when they first see the place in person.

The photographer got some shots of the ruins, close-ups and wide shots and shots with the columns fuzzy behind the sharply focused Johnson grass in the foreground.

I did the story we had been assigned for the news that evening but saved the Windsor footage and wrote some verbiage that I’m sure I considered just this side of poetry to go with the pictures. We aired it the next Friday.

It was that story that began to shift my career from covering car wrecks and city council meetings to finding and bringing home features about historic places in Mississippi—and our nature areas and our quirky people and how great a state we are.

Just as my career evolved since I first saw Windsor, so has Windsor itself. For instance, for years it was slowly engulfed by a pine tree farm and for decades became invisible behind the trees until you got right up on it.

But now, the area around it has been cleared by the state and the pines are gone. So once again Windsor can be seen from the road as it used to be a quarter century ago. I’d like to think Windsor has come full circle. But more likely this is just the next plateau of its existence.

Walt Grayson is the host of “Mississippi Roads” on Mississippi Public Broadcasting television, and the author of two “Looking Around Mississippi” books and “Oh! That Reminds Me: More Mississippi Homegrown Stories.” Contact Grayson at walt@waltgrayson.com.

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