- story and photos by Ellis Anderson
Surrounded by rolling fields and forest, Picayune is the peaceful place where the land begins to gently climb up from the lowlands of the Mississippi coast and the Pearl River basin to the east.
Picayune is the largest town in Pearl River County and with nearly 11,000 people, it’s around the size of Bay St. Louis. As a quiet bedroom community for workers at Stennis Space Center (just ten miles away), there’s not a lot of glitz and glamour. But for a quick, entertaining getaway for coast residents, it has some attractions that make the drive worthwhile.
According to Picayune’s website, “when the railroad came through in the 1880s the then known community of Hobolochitto turned to one of its prestigious residents Eliza Jane Poitevent Nicholson, better known by her pen name “Pearl Rivers,” to name the area. Mrs. Nicholson was the owner and publisher of the New Orleans Daily Picayune named after a Spanish coin called a “picayune”. She chose to name the city after her beloved newspaper.”
Eliza grew up in the countryside around Picayune, honing her skills as a poet. Shortly before the Civil War, at the age of 20, she accepted a job with the Daily Picayune newspaper in New Orleans as their literary editor - a bold move at the time for a young, single woman.
Eliza eventually married the publisher, who was 30 years her senior. When he passed away in 1876, leaving enormous debt and the business in bankruptcy, Eliza took the paper’s helm. She became the first woman newspaper publisher in the country.
Two years later, Eliza married the paper’s business manager, George Nicholson. The Picayune paper flourished in a large part because of Eliza’s innovations, like advice and society columns. The couple spent much time in their Waveland home (Nicholson Avenue is named for them, and a “Pearl Rivers” historical marker stands on Beach Boulevard where their house once did).
Much of Eliza’s early poetry was about the beauty of the natural landscape that surrounded her as a youth in Picayune. There’s no better place to get a sense of what she loved so well than Crosby Arboretum.
Picayune, MS 39466
Wed-Sun: 9 AM- 5 PM
Last admission is 4 PM
The arboretum came into being when the family of local philanthropist L.O. Crosby, Jr. (1907 – 1978) established a foundation that transformed a strawberry farm into “an interpretive center for native plants of the Pearl River Drainage Basin.” The arboretum opened in 1986 and, in 1997 teamed up with Mississippi State University to “expand resources.”
We started our visit at the Visitor Center, a short, shaded walk from the parking lot. Inside, we found a charming gift shop, with everything from nature inspired jewelry to note cards. There’s a small gallery space too, where visitors can find rotating exhibits of nature photography and art.
The staff is friendly and helpful and eager to share their obvious love of the place. One can pay the nominal entry fee (adults - $5, seniors/military - $4, children under 12 - $2. Members visit for free), purchase refreshments and get a map before setting out on the walking trails. Stock up on turtle food too, it will soon have great entertainment value.
Our first destination was the magnificent Pinecote Pavilion, a short stroll from the Visitor’s Center. Constructed in 1985, it was designed by internationally recognized architect Faye Jones. The design awards it’s won through the years would run off the page, and when you’re standing beneath its soaring beams, looking out across the pond, you understand why.
The fall is the perfect time to visit and stroll - there are fewer mosquitoes and milder temperatures encourage longer exploration times. Click here for a list of bloom times at the Arboretum.
And don’t miss the annual October native plant sale on Saturday and Sunday, October 21 and 22. You’ll be able to pick up plants, shrubs and trees, all native to the South Mississippi area – like Possumhaw Holly, Sweetspire and Two-wing Silverbell. You can preorder plants by phone until October 7th, picking them up the weekend of the sale. See the Arboretum’s Facebook page for complete details and a list of available plants.
Check your calorie counter at the door. Besides, don’t you deserve to splurge after that rigorous workout at the arboretum? Our group started off with the fried green tomatoes and worked our way through red beans with a grilled pork chop (also available with half dozen fried oysters - $8.50). Other side offerings are grilled catfish, fried catfish, chicken or pork chop and smoked or hot sausage).
The menu is busting with gumbos, po-boys, seafood platters and pastas. If you manage to resist and want to eat “healthy,” don’t despair. There are stir-fry options and “Sugar Blasters” plates.
The prices will make the most miserly of friends walk away grinning. The hardest thing about eating at Two Sisters? Saving room for the homemade pecan pies and cobblers.
Waddle out to your car after lunch and head on over to the Teddy Bear House Museum. It’s not far, located in a former gym, just off Highway 11 (1299 South Haugh Avenue, Picayune).
If you have doubts about paying the $10 entry fee to look at some children’s toys, get over it.
If you’ve ever driven up through the Mississippi Delta on Highway 61, north of Vicksburg is a general store and gas station that comprises the town of Onward. Its single claim to fame is that President Teddy Roosevelt came to hunt bears there in 1902. Unfortunately, bears were hard to come by then. After three days, it looked as if the president wasn’t going to bag one.
Some enterprising (and heartless) locals tracked one down with a pack of dogs, and dragged the wounded beast back to Onward. They tied the poor creature to a tree and brought out the president so he could shoot it. Teddy Roosevelt, horrified, stoutly refused and ordered the suffering bear to be put out of its misery.
The incident made national headlines, with Roosevelt praised for his good sportsmanship and honesty. Soon stuffed bears were being marketed as Teddy Bears. The trend's lasted for many generations. One German company named Steiff has been making Teddy Bears for more than 130 years and the brand has become extremely collectible.
There’s no way to prepare yourself for the impact of seeing 17,000 bears. Our very knowledgeable guide, Brenda, started us off in the Teddy Roosevelt room, absolutely stuffed (no pun intended) with cartoons, stories, statuettes, and a vast array of historical items that reference Roosevelt and the Onward incident. It’s hard to leave the room, because you know you’ve missed a lot, no matter how long you stayed.
One entire room is devoted to Steiff collectibles – both contemporary and antique. There are vignettes, created with 550 animated bear figures (including a whole circus!!!). Bears dance and swing and pop out of barrels. You’ll marvel over bear clocks, hats, mugs, chairs, carvings, toothbrushes, canes.
The entire project is the brainchild of Ricky Lenart, a New Orleans artist who, according the Bear Museum website, began the unintentional bear collection in the early 80s. Once he had been gifted with a few, friends began showering him with bears from all over the world. Eventually, the collection became intentional and massive.
Yes. One couple has been married on site, others are sure to follow.
Something tells us Pearl Rivers would be delighted.
"The Haunting at The Teddy 'BOO' House Museum." Get Special Evening Tours for 2 Weekends Only on Friday/Saturday, October 21/22 & 28/29, 6-9 PM.
Tickets: Adult (13-up) Advance $10, At Door $12
Kids (3-12) Advance $$6, At Door $8
Call for Tickets (601)778-BEAR(2327)
The Teddy Bear House Museum's
2nd Annual Halloween Party & Costume Contest.
Sunday, Oct. 29th, 2-5PM. All Ages!
Tickets: Advance $12, at Door $15