Mississippi County, Arkansas. The place where I grew up. Named from the Mississippi River which borders the east side of the county.
Saturday, September 28th, we took a day trip to Mississippi County to visit a couple of different locations. I grew up in a town not far from either of the places we visited.
Pronounced “dice”. The town was founded as Dyess Colony in 1934 as part of the Roosevelt administration’s agricultural relief and rehabilitation program during the Great Depression. The town is famously known as the boyhood home of Johnny Cash. You can read more on the history of Dyess here.
Our first stop was Dyess, to see Johnny Cash’s boyhood home. While I was in college (2010-2014), my Alma mater, Arkansas State University), started restoring this home. They were in contact with the Cash family and restored it to closely resemble the original home. Not only has Arkansas State restored the Cash family home, but they have also preserved the Dyess Colony circle which includes the theatre, pop shop, and administration building.
Inside the welcome center (old pop shop) is where you’ll purchase tickets as well as any souvenirs you may want. The welcome center is connected to the old theatre, which is now a room with a projector that plays an informative video. They have an original projector that Johnny’s brother, Tommy, operated and carved his name into.
Next to the welcome center you’ll find the administration building and inside is a museum that includes artifacts, pictures, ledgers, and information regarding the Great Depression, the FDR New Deal, and the Cash Family.
Down the hallway of the old administration building, you can find composite pictures of all the graduating classes in Dyess. Johnny graduated in 1950, and you can find his class at the very end of the hall closest to the staircase.
After observing each room in the administration building, we headed outside and took a small bus just 5 minutes down the road to see the Cash family home. Our tour guide (I did not catch his name) was a Dyess native and shared with us some history of the area as well as some present day information.
Walking into the house just takes you back, almost like you traveled back in time. While there were several items in the house staged to represent the era, there were also several original items in the home. The piano as you walk in is the original piano of Johnny’s mother, Carrie. The linoleum in the bedrooms is original linoleum that was laid in the house, and found under layers of flooring. The afghan on his parents bed, was also his mother’s. And the picture above Johnny’s bed was one he cut out of a magazine and framed himself.
An observation I made was that the house was much larger than I expected. There were 2 bedrooms, a good size living room, a full dining room, and a kitchen. This was 1 of 500 homes built during the New Deal by FDR, and came with 20 acres for the family to farm.
The backyard included an outhouse, a smokehouse, and a chicken coop. From the backyard you can see for miles, and I could imagine the sight of cotton as far as the eye could see back in those times. They planted 2 rows of cotton on the side of the house for people to see that come in from all over the world.
Wilson started as a company town in 1886 by Robert E. Lee Wilson, who built a cotton empire around the town. Today, Wilson is owned by Gaylon Lawrence Jr, billionaire. I won’t bore you with the history, but if you’re interested you can read more here.
Next, we headed to Wilson for lunch at Wilson Cafe. When I was a child, Wilson Cafe was owned by my grandparent’s good friends the Franks’. They would have a catfish buffet Thursday-Saturday nights and we would always meet my PawPaw there after he got done with his UPS route in the area. In the picture below, you can see my brother and I pigging out on some good food.
The Wilson Cafe was ran down, like the rest of Wilson, before Mr. Lawrence bought it and started restoring. In December of 2013 the cafe and tavern were both re-opened for the first time in years. This was my third time eating at the newly re-opened cafe, and each time it’s been delicious.
John and I both got burgers and fries, along with him a green zebra beer and me a bourbon creamsicle. The burgers were great, he said his beer was different but good, and my creamsicle was a little too “bourbony” for my taste but alright. We ate on the back screened in porch, as it was a nice day out.
Behind the Wilson Cafe, there was a couple of Mural’s which I wish were easier to read, but they are in a narrow space so I did the best I could to get a couple pictures.
After lunch, we walked around the town square. From the square you can see the old Lee Wilson & Company buildings over the rail road tracks. These buildings have been repainted and restored in recent years, but I’m not sure what they’re used for today.
We wandered into White’s Mercantile, owned by Holly Williams (Hank Jr’s daughter), and browsed. I had been to her original shop in Nashville, and this one was laid out very similar.
Lastly, I hoped to checkout Wilson’s newly opened welcome center but there was nobody there. With signs around town boasting of a fall festival, we made our way to it knowing there would probably be a welcome center booth.
The Fall Festival was in the old cotton patch field (where the local school played football when I was in school), and was of course geared mainly towards kids. They had bounce houses, food trucks, pumpkins, crafts, and all kinds of things. I had some ice cream from the Ben & Jerry’s food truck, then found the Wilson Welcome Center table set up and got myself a couple t-shirts.
On our way home, I stopped and snapped a few pictures of the MissCo sign in front of cotton fields. Cotton is my favorite crop to watch grow, and I’m sure it’s because it brings back fond memories of the cotton field in my backyard growing up. I love driving through the county in the fall and seeing all the row crops and the farmers working hard in the fields. Some people may think it’s crazy, but the sight of those fields is one of the main reasons that I decided to make a career in agriculture.
I also snapped a picture of the new mural close to the Black Oak gin on our way home, it’s in a different county but still very much a cotton community.
If you’re ever in Arkansas and want to visit small agriculture based towns, these are close enough together to make a day of it. Both towns are located about 45 minutes North of Memphis, and if you’re a Johnny Cash fan the day trip is worth making.
“Take me home my heart is heavy and my feet are sore. Take me home I don’t wanna roam no more. – Johnny Cash