SURRATT: City, county support of Catfish Row Museum a good move

Published 4:00 am Friday, October 14, 2022

The recent decision by the Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen and the Warren County Board of Supervisors to allocate $36,500 each to the Catfish Row Museum for a demonstration/teaching kitchen speaks volumes for both organizations’ support for making downtown Vicksburg not only a business center, but a cultural tourism destination.

Since opening in the Monte Carlo Building at 913 Washington St., the Catfish Row Museum’s exhibits have given visitors a look at the area’s culture and history they would find nowhere else. And the addition of the kitchen provides another element that visitors could be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. It will enhance the museum by providing an opportunity for people to learn about the area’s unique culinary culture and history.

The museum has a partnership with Vicksburg resident Ali Hopson, a registered dietitian at Merit Health River Region, and others.

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“The teaching kitchen will be a learning laboratory for life skills to teach local residents how to eat, cook and think more about what is good for our health,” museum founder and Executive Director Linda Fondren said.

Fondren said it will also help drive tourism because the museum will provide engaging and interactive cooking experiences around the foodways of the Mississippi Delta, showcasing the roots of Southern cooking.

“The museum will host private cooking demonstrations, kitchen rentals — a fun and creative way to host a meeting or celebrate with a group,” she said. “We are working with our library and local organizations for kids’ cooking classes — to learn how fun and easy cooking can be. We hope to have the kitchen completed before spring.”

When Linda and James Fondren bought the building in 2011, they bought a piece of Vicksburg’s history.

The building was constructed in 1911 for Christian and Burroughs Co., which built wagons and carriages. It was later used by a car dealership, which stayed in the building until the late 1920s, and later became a 7-Up bottling plant until the 1960s.

The building was later turned into a nightclub owned jointly by Joe Farris and Jesse Smith and called the Monte Carlo, which gained notoriety as a dance hall that booked regional and national Rhythm and Blues acts in the 1970s and early ’80s.

The building deteriorated and in 2007, the city razed its north section, which was damaged during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The Fondrens are rehabilitating and renovating the building and giving it a new use as a multifaceted attraction that will bring people downtown, teach tourists and residents about Vicksburg’s history and culture, feed them and entertain them with live Mississippi Blues.

“What we want to do is build something that will tell people about Vicksburg and its people and attract people to the downtown area,” Linda Fondren said in 2012.

The Catfish Row Museum teaches about the area’s culture and history. The addition of the demonstration/teaching kitchen will not only give visitors lessons in southern cooking, but it will also teach people about nutrition and developing a healthy lifestyle.

To be successful, a museum must educate and entertain. Catfish Row is headed in that direction.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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