Port Gibson, Rolling Fork win grants|Each will have $10,000 to promote town history

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 23, 2009

Port Gibson and Rolling Fork are two of five communities in the state chosen to receive $10,000 grants from the Mississippi Development Authority to preserve and promote their historic assets.

“The thing about cultural heritage tourism is we don’t have to build it for them to come. We already have it, and this program is just about preserving the cultural heritage assets of our state’s smaller communities and making it available to tourists and locals alike,” said Sarah McCullough, MDA program area manager of cultural heritage tourism. “Some of these small towns just need a little boost.”

Rolling Fork is about an hour north of Vicksburg on U.S. 61 and Port Gibson is about 30 minutes south. Rolling Fork’s population is 2,091 and Port Gibson’s is 1,667.

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MDA’s Certified Cultural Corners Program was launched in 2008 in five pilot towns with populations of less than 20,000. They were Holly Springs, Oceans Springs, Philadelphia, Woodville and Cleveland. This year, the other communities selected for the program are Pontotoc, Aberdeen and Bay St. Louis. The program aims to develop five distinct regions of the state and promote them both individually and collectively.

“Port Gibson certainly fits into this program because of the extravagant architecture on Church Street, which is really unlike any other in the state. Also, there is a lot of Civil War and civil rights history in the area,” McCullough said. “In Rolling Fork there is also the Civil War history, as well as American Indian history and a blues legacy.”

It is not clear how the grant money — which Port Gibson, Rolling Fork and the other 2009 designees will receive this summer — will be spent. McCullough said MDA representatives will meet with city leaders in the coming months to identify the cultural heritage aspects of each community and decide on which kind of projects will best enhance and promote them. Each MDA grant requires a $10,000 local match.

The five pilot communities have all found public art to be one way to preserve and present events, people and places of cultural heritage significance, said McCullough. Other uses of the money could include developing interpretive signs, beautifying existing structures, commissioning a mural or producing marketing materials, but McCullough noted there are very few restrictions.

“We have to be flexible because all of these communities are different and they all have different needs,” she said. “It really just has to be something that reflects and preserves the region’s culture and heritage.”

The projects taken on at the five pilot communities likely will be completed in four to six months, said McCullough, while it may not be until summer of 2010 before the people of Port Gibson and Rolling Fork begin to see their projects take shape. Once the projects are completed, they will be marketed along with other Mississippi Certified Cultural Corners Communities — the benefit of which will be three-fold.

“First, it’s to promote the preservation of Mississippi culture and heritage as a whole. Second, it is to make these communities aware of their own cultural heritage and realize it as an asset — not only for visitors but also for locals,” she explained. “The end result, of course, is tourism promotion and the economic incentive it can provide.”


Contact Steve Sanoski at ssanoski@vicksburgpost.com