Sunday, June 9, 2024

Visiting “Home Town” (Laurel, MS) and the Birthplace of The King (Tupelo, MS)

As semi-regular viewers of the HG-TV series “Home Town”, we wanted to visit Laurel, MS.  For those unfamiliar, the show features Ben and Erin Napier.  With his skill as a master carpenter and her expertise as a designer, the married couple who reside in Laurel (Erin’s hometown), assist buyers with bringing new life to tired mid-20th century homes, many of which are in the Craftsman style.

 



We learned after seeing this mural that Laurel has an active Amtrack Train Depot


To facilitate the visit, we stayed at Harvest Host Panels Up on Highway 84 in Laurel.  Panels Up is a solar system company that sells/installs Battleborn, Victron, and other high-end solar components.  Having RV’d themselves for 7 years, Justin and Stacey, the owners of Panels Up, are well versed in the energy needs of the nomadic lifestyle.   And they are located just 2 miles from downtown Laurel.  Access for our RV set-up at Panels Up would have been tight even with the Jeep detached if other rigs were parked.  Fortunately, we were their only guest that day, so we were parked quickly and easily.

 

Immediately after set-up, we loaded into the Rambling RV Rat Pack Rubicon and began our tour of Laurel.  We thought it apropos to start with a late lunch at the Bird Dog, a café featured regularly on  “Home Town”.   From its small menu of soups, salads, and sandwiches, Mom and I selected the combo of a cup of French onion soup and half of a French dip sandwich on sourdough baguette.  No can do, said the server—their inventory of these sandwiches was depleted.  Instead, all three of us ordered the turkey, bacon, cheddar sandwich on a ciabatta bun that a prior patron told us was “to die for”.  And die you will—from starvation!  The bun was the size of an English muffin!  This wouldn’t be bad if the inside of the puny bun was piled high with ingredients.  Unfortunately, 1 was the magic number—as in 1 thin slice of turkey, 1 thin slice of bacon, and melted cheese that probably amounted to less than 1 slice.  Oh well, on with the town tour.

 

Bird Dog is a cute cafe.  Just don't go there when/if you are actually hungry!


We visited Hellfighters USA Motorcycle Shop.  Wow, what a place!  Though it has plenty of inventory, accessories, and apparel in its 80,000+ square feet, it is not just about motorcycles.  You can buy home décor, souvenirs, knives and even guns there, too!  Hellfighters is also rich in history and nostalgia.  The building itself, erected in 1935, was once the Reliant Garment Factory.  All the plank floors are original.    The second floor is like a museum, with vintage bikes and memorabilia, particularly from the movie “Last Ounce of Courage”, which featured the original owner’s motorcycle “Spirit of America”.  Most importantly, Hellfighters is about sharing the Word of God and community service, donating profits from their store to Laurel’s Mission at The Cross Addiction Recovery Center.

 






That full panel photo wall behind the bikes is one of several covered with the signatures of folks who have visited Hellfighters through the years.  Even yours truly, Rambling RV Rat, signed one of the photo walls.  



What a unique seating arrangement!

"Spirit of America" motorcycle featured in film "Last Ounce of Courage".

How is this for unusual--a wicker "motorcycle"!

If lusting over all the bikes isn't enough, just look at those original 1930s floors!



We walked around town to see Pearl’s Diner, another eatery featured on the “Home Town” series.  Unfortunately, Pearl’s closed for the day before we arrived in Laurel, so dining there was not an option.  We visited Scotsman, the woodworking company owned by Ben Napier.  And it just so happened he was filming some scenes for “Home Town” that day!  However, no personal photos were permitted.  Rats!





Downtown had an interactive art exhibit of musical instruments.  If you used the armrests on the benches, they would play music for you.


We returned to the Jeep and did what any tourist would do:  Seek out the homes the Napiers restored.  (The Visitor Guide says most of them are between 5th and 7th Streets, up to 15th Street.)   There are tour companies that will take you for $25/person and reservations are needed.  But it is much more fun (and economical) to test our memories and use our sleuthing talents to find them on our own.  Did we guess correctly?  Who knows—the Napiers have renovated dozens of Laurel homes in their 8 seasons.  Regardless, we captured photos of some lovely properties in a quaint setting.

 


Most likely not "Home Town" renovations/restorations...


...but these both are gorgeous properties.



These are definite possibilities...






Forget "Home Town", this "Ponderosa" has all the cast of Bonanza on the front lawn!



A construction permit hanging in the new windows.  Erin's signature:  a brightly-colored front door.  Hmm, perhaps this property renovation is for an upcoming episode?





This is definitely a renovation from the show!  The building once housed the Laurel Mercantile.

Inside the Scent Library window display


I can see why the Napiers call Laurel “home”.  It has small town ambiance, Magnolia-lined streets, period street lamps, and lots of Southern charm.

 

We left Laurel on Friday morning with Mom at the wheel.  Dad took second shift when we stopped for fuel in Scuba, MS, which boasts itself as being home to Jack Lewis “Bubba” Dudley, one-time world champion turkey caller (OMG, they have contests for this!)

 

Throughout our travels in MS we spotted 3 huge crucifixes.  They are part of the Christ’s Cross at the Crossroads project.  Though these are towering, the largest and tallest cross for this project (at 198 feet) is in Effingham, IL.

 

One of the 3 crosses we spotted as we traveled through MS.


We arrived at the Campground at Barnes Crossing in Tupelo, MS.  It is a small (54 sites), nicely maintained, and well-appointed RV Park.  Full hook ups, WI-FI, cable, outdoor seating areas at each site, and access to a laundry facility cost $55 night (If you are a Veteran or Good Sam Member, you would get a $5 discount).  Most sites are back-ins on inclined roads.  We were fortunate to get on the first row (Site 10), which was flat and level, and we could pull-through since the reservation for Site 9, the back-in behind us, had not arrived yet.

 



Lots of unique bird houses hanging at the Park office.

And check out those gardens!


We headed to the Elvis Presley Park, which includes 3 main attractions: the Presley Museum, Assembly of God Church where young Elvis and his family worshipped, and the home where Elvis was born, situated in its original location.  The beautifully-landscaped grounds also include a theater, chapel, event center, and, of course, a gift shop, with access to them all included with any ticket you purchase.

 

I purchased an early Father's Day gift for Dad--an Elvis duck for the Jeep.


It costs $12 to visit 1, $20 to visit 2, and $25 to visit all 3 main attractions (Geezers can get a $5 discount on the full package).  I shelled out my cheese money for the full-blown Elvis experience.

 

The Museum is small but informative, although you can get most of the facts from the concrete Circle of Life that surrounds the birthplace.  The Museum has some memorabilia as well.  All photography is prohibited in the Museum.

 

Then we went to the home where Elvis Aaron Presley was delivered on January 8, 1935, by Gladys Love Presley.  Unbeknownst to me, Elvis was a twin!  Sadly, just 35 minutes earlier that day in January, his brother Jesse Garron was stillborn.

 

Elvis’s birthplace was 2 rooms encompassing a mere 300 square feet.  As a stuffed rat whose family lives fulltime in a 440-square-foot 5th wheel, I found the cabin comfortable, cozy, and highly functional.  It was built in 1934 by Elvis’s Dad (Vernon), Grandfather, and Uncle for a sum of $180, which Vernon borrowed from his employer.  (Vernon borrowed money often—even the $2 needed for the marriage certificate for his elopement with Gladys Love).



The fireplace is original to the home...

...as is the kitchen stove.


I learned the Presleys were a close-knit family, but they were working class poor.  Vernon got himself in a real pickle, and he was sent to prison for check fraud.  He was pardoned by the Governor after his wife Gladys organized a letter-writing campaign.  But by the time this transpired, the Presleys had lost their home due to lack of payment.    They moved to various locations in Tupelo, relying on government assistance and the help of their Church friends. 

 

So, seeking a better life, the family moved to Memphis in 1948, when Elvis was 13.  It was in Memphis that Elvis got his big break in 1955.  And the rest is history.  The King of Rock ‘N Roll transcended genres, from rhythm & blues to country, from pop to rockabilly, and he never strayed far from his gospel-singing origins.   

 

Bronze statue depicting Elvis at 13 years old, when his family moved to Memphis.


The City of Tupelo purchased Elvis’s birthplace in 1957.  A humble Elvis, never forgetting his roots, contributed the proceeds from a concert performance there in 1956 to facilitate the mission of preserving his birthplace in its original location, expanding the Park grounds, and enhancing the Elvis experience for future generations.

 

Hence, the Assembly of God structure where the Presleys worshipped and enjoyed fellowship with their Church family was moved from its original location (about a block away) to the Park grounds.  But the only things original are the building’s frame, a few Church pews, and a lectern.  My full-access ticket included an interactive, 3-D, holographic presentation at the Church (no photos allowed).  It recreated the day that youngster Elvis, with his parents by his side, had his first public performance singing for the congregation.  




The 3 pews and lectern at the front of the Church are the only original furnishings.

 

We visited the bronze statue, the chapel, and the Reflecting Pond.  We also watched a few short re-enactment clips from Elvis’s boyhood in the theater.



A very unique art exhibit featuring 2 separate statues, Elvis as an 11-year old unassuming country boy and Elvis as the larger-than-life entertainment icon.





Visiting Elvis Presley Park and its attractions was a Rambling RV Rat 5-cheese experience.   I can't wait to get to Graceland later this summer!

A rare photo of me AND both my parents!

 


There are 2 Kings in this photo, yours truly and the King of Rock 'N Roll.




At the time we planned our trip here, we were unaware that the Tupelo Elvis Festival was in progress.  Our lack of knowledge precluded us from attending special events like the singing competition and the Elvis impersonator contest.  But we were fine just walking downtown to get a flavor of what it offered.

 

Johnnie's Drive In - That is Elvis's boyhood booth to the left.


Art exhibit throughout the Downtown area featured Elvis-themed guitars.


This statue is placed at Fair Park, where Elvis participated in a talent show in 1945 at age 10, placing 5th in the competition.  He returned to the scene in 1956 to do the homecoming concert from which he donated all proceeds to Presley Park.

Same statue, different view, capturing the late afternoon sun.

 

Tupelo isn’t just all things Elvis.  It is also home to a National Battlefield from the Civil War. The Battle of Tupelo (also known as the Battle of Harrisburg) occurred July 14-15, 1864, with the Confederates making several attacks against Union Forces.  Thanks to a brigade of the US Colored Troops helping defend Union positions, the Confederates were unsuccessful in severing the Union supply lines that were vital to success in the campaign to capture Atlanta.

 


Furthermore, nearby Mile Marker 269.4 along the Natchez Trace Parkway offers yet another opportunity to walk along the original Old Trace.  It is at this location that we visited the graves of 13 unknown Confederate soldiers.

 


We walked down this section of Old Trace...


...to view the graves of 13 unidentified Confederate soldiers.


We have thoroughly enjoyed our touring of MS!  We have sat on porch swings, sipped refreshing mint juleps and sweet tea, enjoyed the fragrance of magnolia trees, and experienced Southern living.  I sure am glad we had a chance to set a spell!