SMALL-TOWN SPOTLIGHT: INDIANOLA - Mississippi Magazine (2024)

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by Julian Brunt, Photos by Julian Brunt

SMALL-TOWN SPOTLIGHT: INDIANOLA - Mississippi Magazine (2)

Indianola is a small town of a little more than 12,000 citizens, but its population size is no reflection at all to its importance as a growing Mississippi business. This business is the musical genre of blues and the tourism industry it has spawned. Thousands flock to Indianola annually for the musicÂfestivals and to visit the homes and birthplaces of its famousÂbluesmen.

Indianola began like most small towns in Mississippi. In the 1880s, Indianola was a sawmill town, but it soon developed as a farming community. Agri-economy is still a big business, and the surrounding area produces cotton, soybeans, corn, rice, and plenty of catfish. It is located almost in the center of the Delta, midway between the Mississippi River and the rolling hill country, and is intersected by Highways 82 and 49, making it an important crossroads town.

The town has had a number of names. It was first called Indian Bayou and then in quick succession became Eureka, Belengate, and then Indianola. Some people think that the name was from an Indian princess named Ola. But no matter how many names this town has had, Indianola is known around the world as one of the most important stops on Mississippi\’s famous Blues Trail.

First stop in this small town must be the B.B. King Museum and Interpretive Center. It is a $16-million museum that drew 50,000 people in its first year. People travel from around the world to visit this world-class attraction, including all 50 states and 32 countries. The brick building attached to the museum is a cotton gin dating to 1905, and is the last cotton gin still standing in the state. A very young Riley B. King worked here long before he was considered the King of the Blues. The museum offers a variety of exhibits and events, and its goals—to inspire hope, creativity, and greatness—are a beacon throughout the Delta. There can be little doubt that this museum is the economic and cultural heartbeat of Indianola.

Other famous musicians called this small town home, including Albert King, Little Arthur Duncan, Jazz Gillum, and Brew Moore. But the number of other musicians who passed through this town, whether bound for fame or lost to history, are countless. Indianola’s blues clubs were an important stop on the now famed Chitlin Circuit, and enthusiastic blues fans flock here today hoping for an authentic blues experience.

As long as you are in the mood for some good blues, you might want to stop by B.B. King’s Club Ebony. It’s now owned by the museum and is open for special events, and it is another important stop on the Blues Trail. One more blues stop to make is the 308 Blues Club and Café. This joint has a history that goes way back and is a venue that has hosted some of the greats.

Completely off the Blues Trail is the Henry M. Seymour Library, an imposing building that is worth a visit. The first library opened here in 1924 and was located in the S.C. Atkins Drug Store. In 1892, the Indianola Reading Club was formed, and today\’s library houses more than 50,000 volumes and serves the entire county.

The most important festival in Indianola is the B.B. King Homecoming Festival. This much-anticipated event is headlined by the King himself and draws thousands. This is a summertime event, but the date varies depending on Mr. King’s availability. If you can make this blues bash, expect a host of special guests, great eats, and fun activities.

A springtime event for golf and tennis enthusiasts is the Delta Invitational Golf and Tennis Tournament. Started in 1975, this Civic League event benefits the American Cancer Society. The Mississippi Delta Regional Blues Challenge is another popular annual event for blues musicians. It is sponsored by the Mississippi Delta Blues Society of Indianola and is held at historic blues venues around the city. Winners move on to the International Blues Challenge.

As Christmas approaches, Indianola is filled with the holiday spirit with Indianola Illumination—Christmas trees and floats are placed in Indian Bayou, a beautiful cypress-laden stream that runs through the very center of town. Another holiday event is held on the first Saturday in December; that’s when Indianola holds its annual Christmas Parade. Santa will be there, along with beautifully decorated floats.

Indianola is also host to some of the state’s most unique small businesses. Abraham’s is a men’s and ladies’ clothier that runs three generations deep. The building was once a theater, but Helen and Michael Abraham have turned it into a business that draws customers from an 80-mile radius. Helen says, “Customer service is what makes everything work,” and their success is evidence of that commitment. Alice Pieralisi’s Carriage House is a gift shop that has been open since 1996 and offers an eclectic inventory that ranges from pajamas to dinnerware. Goldberg’s has been around for almost 20 years, and owner Jerome Goldberg is quick to tell you, “We have what you are shopping for.” Whether in the market for shoes or sportswear, this store would be a wise stop. Stop by and let Robert Terrell expand your horizons at da’ House of Khafre, a gallery brimming with art, music, culture, educational workshops, and classes on healthy cooking.

Delta Diamonds is another Indianola business that has stood the test of time. Looking for the perfect watch, a gift of jewelry, or have jewelry that needs repair? This 30-year-old business is the right stop; it even offers custom engraving. Francine’s Boutique is a new arrival in this Delta town, but it is making a name for itself with a fashion statement few can match. Owner Verna Pollard Shay says, “I will dress a woman for wherever she wants to go.” Also check out the hand-painted furniture that is one of the shop’s specialties.

The Crown is an Indianola institution and is as unique a shop as can be found. It started as an antique shop but expanded in 1976 with a tea room. Later, gifts were added, and then a lunch-only restaurant. In 1986, when the smoked catfish paté was added, things really started to change. Make sure to look for their brand, Taste of Gourmet, for great gift ideas. Paul’s Jewelry has been in business for 60 years, and owner Rodney Iverson will re-set loose stones and repair, manufacture, or engrave jewelry to your custom order. Paul says, “This is your one-stop jewelry shop. We offer quality jewelry at affordable prices.” The Silver Exchange is another great option for jewelry, but it also offers clothing, gifts, and home accessories. Owner Ann Labella will be more than happy to help you make your selection.

The Indianola Pecan House is one of the largest in-shell pecan buyers in the state and offers everything pecan you can imagine. There are gifts, gourmet foods, and pecans in every guise; envision sea-salt pecans, Cajun roasted, or even garlic-flavored pecans. There are also chocolate, cinnamon, and honey-roasted flavors, but owner Tim Timbs says the original praline pecan is the best seller. Young Ideas is a family business that’s been around since the early 1970s. This shop offers a great selection of clothing for babies, children, juniors, and women.

The Delta is famous for a lot of things, but great food has to be at the top of the list. Nobody tops the barbecue, tamales, or comeback sauce in the Delta. Tourists hitting the Blues Trail are lured down Highway 49 to feast like they never dreamed possible. Southern food is recognized as one of the most sought-after regional cuisines, and Indianola’s contribution is nothing short of delicious.

There are many places to eat in Indianola, but just across the street from the B.B. King Museum is the Blue Biscuit. This is the only eatery in town that offers live music combined with 72-hour pulled pork, making this stop a can’t-miss. Trish Berry says, “We built this place ourselves and just got carried away.” The restaurant does have a very special feel about it, and the food is internationally acclaimed. During the first weekend in June, they hold the Blue Biscuit Festival, and they pack the house. All the food is good, but the burgers stand out, as do the traditional sides like hushpuppies and hoecakes, but don’t miss the barbecue. Chuck McCarty’s NOLA offers white-tablecloth food and a laid-back atmosphere. Start a meal with the Pimiento Cheese Bites, and then move on to killer shrimp and grits, or Iron Skillet Flounder. There’s also a good selection of steaks and pasta specialties. Another place to visit while here is Betty’s Place. Betty and Wayne Campbell have been running it for about five years, and it is already gaining an international reputation. This family has been cooking for three generations, and everything that comes out of the kitchen is great. The ribs are high on the state’s list of the very best, and they are smoked only with pecan wood. The catfish are just plain heaven-sent. Peasoup’s is another Delta standard that is well worth a stop, and the menu includes po-boys, seafood, and traditional dinner selections. The fried seafood platter will have you asking for seconds. Just next door is the original location of the Lost Pizza Company. Owners Brooks Roberts and Preston Lott insist on the freshest and best-quality ingredients. If you are in the mood for a pizza, this delightful restaurant is one to return to many times.

Indianola personifies the new Delta. It has firm roots in its agricultural past, but the future is barreling down Highway 49 at an amazing rate. Can you imagine this small town as an international tourist destination? It is well on its way, but still keeps its small-town charm, friendly people, and an entrepreneurial spirit that it grows as fast as Johnson grass. This small town offers a great combination of the Old South and good things to come.

SHOP:

Abraham’s
Carriage House
The Crown
da’ House of Khafre
Delta Diamonds
Francine’s Boutique
Goldberg’s Shoes and Sportswear
Paul’s Jewelry
Indianola Pecan House
Silver Exchange
Young Ideas

SEE:

B.B. King Museum and Interpretive Center
Henry M. Seymour Library
B.B. King’s Club Ebony
308 Blues Club and Café

DO:

B.B. King Homecoming Festival
Delta Invitational Golf and Tennis Tournament
Christmas Parade
Mississippi Delta Regional Blues Challenge
Indianola Illumination

EAT:

The Blue Biscuit and Blue Biscuit Bungalows
Betty’s Place
Blue Corner Café
Catfish Café
Clegg’s Café
The Crown Restaurant
The Gin Mill
Gramama’s Kitchen
Lost Pizza Company
NOLA
Peasoup’s

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SMALL-TOWN SPOTLIGHT: INDIANOLA - Mississippi Magazine (2024)

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