In December of 1979 or so, my parents had taken me to Jackson, Tennessee for my birthday. We had eaten at the Old English Steak House, and had visited the small towns of Beech Bluff and Mercer. What I recall about Mercer was that it had a rather large and historic downtown area along the railroad track and the Main Street which ran perpendicular to it. I recall that one of the large buildings was called the Mercer Opry, and was a place where country music shows were held on the weekends. I hadn’t thought much about Mercer in years, but our recent trips to Brownsville for fife-and-drum workshops reminded me of it as we often pass the exit for Mercer Road as we head to Jackson, so I looked the town up recently in Google Earth, and was distressed to see how few buildings appeared in the downtown area. That fact convinced me that I needed to revisit the little town and photograph what was left before anything else disappears. Of course, the culprit has been rain. Most of our Saturday trips to Brownsville have been in the rain, and this weekend was part of a four-day sequence of storms and flooding, so today was the first day pretty enough for me to take the Nikon out after work and think about heading that way.
Although much is gone, there are still some historic buildings along Main Street, including one that has been turned into a small antique store and ice cream parlor called Mayberry’s. A large two story building across the street was once a general store, and there is an historic church in the next block. Along McGlathery Avenue were a number of historic homes, some of them well-kept, others decrepit and abandoned. There was also a former service station that apparently has become a car customizing service, but it seemed to have an old Mercer fire truck beside it that has been restored.
The former railroad right-of-way has become a road called Sturdivant Crossing Road, which I headed down, as it leads to a place on the Hatchie River where all roads end, a place called Hatchie Station. But because of four days of heavy rain, the road was closed due to high water, and I had to detour around and onto Hatchie Station Road instead. Although there is nothing at Hatchie Station except residences, it was a worthwhile trip, as both Sturdivant Crossing Road and Hatchie Station Road end in old and odd bridges across the Hatchie River, and the setting is lovely, with plenty of water, woods on the other side of the river, and the sun setting in the west.
The bridge from Hatchie Station Road was nothing but steel beams, with no deck, leading across the river to nothing. The one from Sturdivant Crossing Road (which at Hatchie Station was renamed Stafford Lane) hadbeen gated off, but was once a railroad bridge for the old Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railroad, which headed from Mercer and Hatchie Station to Vildo in Hardeman County, and from there to Somerville in Fayette County before heading to Eads, Lenow, Cordova, Shelby Farms and Memphis. There had also been a highway that ran from Somerville to Jackson, appearing on maps as late as 1959, but that too was long gone. As I photographed both bridges, I met a man named Stafford, who explained to me that the first bridge at the end of Hatchie Station Road was a bridge that had been started but never finished, and over which no traffic ever passed. He said that while there were several theories about why the bridge was never completed, the most frequently-heard story was that the bridge had been a joint venture between Madison and Haywood Counties, but that the two counties had a falling-out over it, and so Haywood withdrew its support and the bridge was never completed. As for the old railroad bridge, Mr. Stafford said that it had become unstable, so he gated it off, but he didn’t know why the road that led to Somerville had been abandoned. I thanked him for his time, and headed off toward Bemis (a former company town which might be worth photographing in the future), and Jackson, where I sat down to dinner at The Blacksmith Bar and Grill
With lots of conflicting options with what to do on my Friday night (the first in many weeks that I hadn’t either had a gig or been out of town), I wasn’t sure what I wanted to choose. My drummer homeboy Mike Mosby had one of his Locked and Loaded events going on, Bristerfest was kicking off in Cooper-Young, Eden Brent was at the Center For Southern Folklore, and the Clarksdale Caravan Music Fest was going on down in Mississippi. But when I saw that my homeboys in the C3 Band were going to be playing at West Alley BBQ in Jackson, Tennessee, I decided to drive up there, both to catch their performance, and to check out the barbecue, which my homeboy Courtney Brown (C3’s drummer) had said was really good.
West Alley BBQ proved to be something like a large juke joint, with two older men tending to oil drum cookers outside along the side entrance. The look of the place would not have been unfamiliar to people who know Ground Zero in Clarksdale, but there were some elements that seemed more in keeping with Red’s Lounge instead, although the place was much bigger. The pulled pork was delicious, just as I had been told, and the club kept great roots blues playing over the speakers until it was time for the band to come up on stage. As I have discussed earlier, C3 is a blues power trio, with a repertoire that stretches from blues to funk to soul. Their performance on this particular night was augmented by a guest harmonica player that sat in, a visiting drummer that gave Courtney Brown a breather, and a superb female singer that closed out the night with a rousing rendition of Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools.” It was definitely a night to remember in Jackson, and West Alley BBQ will be a place to keep checking up on.
West Alley BBQ & Smokehouse
215 W Main St
Jackson, TN 38301
Unfortunately, the end of the Colt Ford show was marred by a violent incident in the parking lot that led to a youth being taken to the hospital, Jackson TN, 9/20/12
Colt Ford (@coltford) live at the Carl Perkins Civic Center, Jackson TN, 9/20/12