January 31, 2007
Crossing Bolivar County: Alligator
Alligator is located on U.S. Highway 61 in northern Bolivar County between Clarksdale and Cleveland.
To get there, drive north on from Cleveland. You'll pass Renova, Merigold, Mound Bayou, Shelby, Duncan and Hushpuckena, then you'll spy a small green sign pointing to the left labeled "Alligator."
What in the heck is Alligator?
Alligator is a small town nestled next to a long twisting lake that at one time is rumored by locals to have been populated by alligators.
According to Mayor Robert Fava, Alligator was so named because the lake itself is in the shape of a big green 'gator.
Once you take a left off of Highway 61, you'll see a large sign welcoming you to the town. Continue down the road and after a couple curves, you'll see a large two-story brick home on your left that belongs to Ronnie Fava, a local business owner.
Ronnie said, "My house was built around 1899 or 1900 by R.E. Butler."
Keep coming along the road, known as Lake Street, and you'll see a historical marker on your right dedicated to Fred Coe, (1914-1979), a notable pioneer of the television industry hailing from Alligator.
At the corner of Roger Street and Lake Street, there's a convenience station, Mary Ann's Variety Store, where you can stop in and talk to the locals.
Hanging from the ceilings of the store are trinkets and knick-knacks available for purchase as well as smokehouse sausage, bacon, pork chops, beer and a variety of cold drinks and great snacks.
Souvenirs are also available at the store, such as T-shirts featuring Alligator slogans and postcards that say, "Where in the heck is Alligator, Mississippi?" with a big 'gator on it.
Next door sits Mary Ann's Antique Shop, which is owned by the mayor's wife, Mary Ann Fava.
The sign in the window says 'open,' but should you find the door locked, just venture next door to the variety store and talk to the man behind the counter, who will most likely be Mayor Fava or his son Bob.
Look across the street to see a mural painted by some of the town's ladies on the back of one of the old buildings. You can't miss its beautiful brightly-colored flowers that cover the entire rear wall.
Journeying on down the way, you'll see a sign that reads "Gators Grocery and Deli" at the corner of Lake Street and Main Street.
Make a left and scoot into one of the many parking spaces available in front of the row of brick buildings on your left as soon as you round the corner.
The buildings are painted bright shades of blue, red and yellow, so they are unmistakable.
Enter the blue building on the end and you'll enter an old-fashioned grocery with wooden plank floors and a tin ceiling.
The man who greets you inside with a smile is Ronnie Fava, whose home we passed earlier.
Gaze at the alligator-themed menu on the wall of the deli area and order a variety of sandwiches or snack foods. Grab a cold Co'Cola from the cooler and you'll be set for continued exploration of the town.
Ronnie explained a little of his association with Alligator.
"I'm really from Shelby, Miss., but I've been here for about 42 years and bought these buildings at that time. This blue one has always been a mercantile store. The red one next door was a dry goods store at one time. The yellow building is an old post office."
According to Ronnie, the buildings are circa 1900. He told about the way the town was when he first moved here.
"I think they had two or three doctors here at one time. Across the street there was a big two-story building that had a hotel in it and all. Probably the year after I got here that closed down. Then the railroad closed down several years later. The railroad used to come through all the time."
Pointing out the store window, he said, "The railroad depot used to stand right there where that metal building is now. They had passenger trains and mail trains that came through. I came here in 1962 and you couldn't even get down the streets on Saturday night. There would be so many people that you could not walk down the streets. We usually closed about one o'clock at night and there were so many people, you could hardly run them out of the store to close!"
Ronnie described the buildings down Main Street.
"On down the street was full of buildings. There are two old stores down there. One of the dry goods stores, you look in the window and it's still got old clothes in it. The man who owned it is still living. He's about 90 years old, though he doesn't run the store anymore."
After you finish exploring the old row of storefronts, turn left back on to Lake Street. Take a right on Burchfield Street and you'll see one of the town's old gins on your right side.
Ronnie commented, "This gin's got all the machinery still left in it. They went to modern technology and those machines couldn't handle what they were doing. They're real old buildings, probably the 1930s or '40s. I was here when they quit ginning, but it's been a while ago."
Of course, don't trespass, but from the road, you can still see the machines through the broken windows of the building ... just sitting there, waiting to be used, reminiscent of a bygone era.
Turn around to head back to Lake Street and take a right. Follow the road to the end of town. You'll pass two big lakes on your right and keep headed straight to find the Alligator Indian mounds.
The road is beautiful out this way, lined on either side by huge trees and tangled vines.
A little ways down on your left, you'll see a grouping of Indian mounds with horses grazing on them.
Ronnie said, "You can see them from the road. They'll be on the left hand side going down. Ole Miss used to come over here and excavate them, but they haven't been over here in a pretty good while now."
If you're in Alligator on a Sunday, you'll want to stop in at Traveler's Rest M.B. Church and attend worship with the members.
To find the country church, keep headed out west of Alligator past the Indian mounds on the road. You'll come to a bend after you've run along beside the bayou for a while and you'll see a small painted sign identifying the church.
Follow the pointer on the sign to the right, across the bridge, down a gravel road. You'll come into some open fields, but keep going, the church is right ahead! As you round a bend, you'll see a little white church nestled in the trees.
The sign above the church house door reads, 'The little church on the hill where everybody is somebody.'
Sunday school is at 9:30 a.m., with worship service at 11:30 a.m. on Sundays.
Come back out on to the main road and turn to the right, continuing along beside the bayou.
Follow the bends and curves in the road until you see where the road turns from pavement to gravel. At that crossing, make a right, cross another bridge across the bayou. Immediately upon getting across the bridge, turn right again and head straight out this road for several miles.
A few miles down on your left you'll see a majestic old cemetery on your left on top of a little mound surrounded by farm equipment.
On one of the headstones you'll read the name 'Lombard.'
The Lombards were one of the old families who used to live in the Alligator area, farming a lot of the land in these parts.
These are just a few of the sights you may enjoy visiting in Alligator. Many of the old buildings are no longer standing, having been demolished over the years or destroyed by fire or vandalism.
Always remember to stop by this friendly little town on your way along Highway 61 for a cold soda and snack at either Mary Ann's, the Gator or Bruno's Quick Stop.
Make sure to talk to the people you see along the streets. Truly, it is the people that make a town. And, the people of Alligator are just as nice as they always have been.
Stop by and see for yourself!
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