Fire destroys blues landmark

Published 8:03 am Tuesday, September 15, 2015

PORT GIBSON — Fire destroyed two historic buildings including a blues landmark in downtown Port Gibson Monday night.

The blaze destroyed the long-abandoned headquarters of the blues performance group the Rabbit Foot Minstrels and a former Masonic lodge on Carroll Street, Claiborne County Emergency Management spokesman Ray Coleman Sr. said.

The fire also heavily damaged a brick storage shed.

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“This building is where they used to play,” Coleman said of the former filling station and hotel that once was home to the traveling blues and comedy troupe.

A Mississippi Blues Trail Marker at the corner of on the north side of the building was also heavily damaged.

The fire started about 8 p.m. in the Minstrel’s building and within minutes had fully engulfed the building, said Port Gibson Fire Chief George Hudson who was at band practice at Hudson Jewelry, two doors to the east of the of the destroyed building.

“When I walked out the door, it was fully engulfed,” he said.

The Minstrel’s moved into the building around 1918 and used it as their home base while traveling around the country until 1950. Notable members of the group include Ma Rainey, Ida Cox, Louis Jordan and Rufus Thomas.

The fire spread through dry brush behind the Minstrel’s building into the former Masonic lodge. The cause of the blaze had not been determined Monday night.

“These old buildings are made of hard pine. The buildings were abandoned and always had vagrants in and out,” Hudson said. “The only one that had anything in it we saved.”

About a dozen Port Gibson and Claiborne County freighters fought the blaze for about an hour before notifying Warren County Emergency Manager John Elfer they needed assistance controlling the fire that was threatening at two other downtown buildings.

“We notified Mississippi Emergency Management Agency that Claiborne County needed help and we came down here to supplement their efforts,” Elfer said. We were glad we could help. That’s what it’s all about — mutual aid.”

Weary firefighters battling the extremely hot blaze welcome the help.

“We were about give out,” Hudson said. “We had a good bit of manpower but it got really hot quick.”

The fire melted streetlights along Market Street and damaged siding at a building on the west side of the main street though the seat of Claiborne County.

Warren County firefighters from Culkin, Fisher Ferry, Northeast and Eagle Lake Fire Departments arrived about 9:30 p.m.

They had been at a firefighting training class at Culkin’s fire station when they got the call, Warren County Fire Coordinator Jerry Briggs said.

“We let Port Gibson and Claiborne County pull back and take a break and got it under control,” Briggs said.