Road Trip: Searching for the Civil War Ghost Towns of Dixie
(Graphic: Laura Dreyer)
(All photos by Greg Keraghosian unless otherwise noted)
Have you ever visited a place that doesn’t exist? Better yet, a city that once thrived only to decline to the point that it was reclaimed by nature?
After more than a couple of wrong turns, I can now say that I have, and I even met one of the four people who still live there.
Welcome to the lost town of Rodney, on the southwest fringes of the Mississippi backwoods. Some have tried to find Rodney and failed—it’s not on any map and GPS doesn’t work there—but I’m going to tell you how I found it through a mix of arrogance, Google Maps, unheeded directions and dumb luck. It was among the most thrilling day trips of my life, and for anyone with even a touch of history dork in them, I highly recommend it.
The legend of Rodney is almost too good to be true.
It was the owners of The Winery at Williams Landing in Greenwood, Miss., who first told me about Rodney.
In the mid-1800s, the city was three votes away from being the capital of Mississippi and had around 500 residents. It was a bustling port town by the river with a high literacy rate, an integrated church, two newspapers and an opera house.
Then things went south for Rodney. First, the Civil War happened. Then came two nasty fires. Around 1870, the Mississippi River literally turned on Rodney, changing its course—a natural phenomenon that happens every thousand years—away from the town and dealing it an economic death blow. By 1930, the town was taken off the state register by the state governor, leaving behind a handful of residents and a bunch of decaying buildings that are still sagging from the weight of time.
I’ve heard of broken hearts, but when you have the chance to visit a town dumped by the greatest river in the land, you have to do it. I’ve visited all kinds of ruins, from Rome to Syria, but this hit me much closer to home—it’s a reminder of our mortality, how forces outside our control can burn us at any time.
Neither the wine bar owners nor my host, a writer who knows all about Mississippi, could tell me exactly how to find Rodney. Their best advice was to drive south to Alcorn State University, then ask for help from there.
Rather than listen to these knowledgeable locals, I decided to come up with my own, completely unconfirmed route. Before I found Rodney (when, not if), I wanted to stop by another quirky ghost from the past: the Windsor Ruins, west of Port Gibson. So I followed this route from Greenwood on Google Maps: