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New life in an olde towne; the city of Clinton combines a lively college atmosphere with attractions for visitors of all ages.


Located just across the street from Mississippi College, 01de Towne Clinton is reinventing itself as a congenial artistic and shopping destination. Students often cross College Street to wander into the heart of Olde Towne, home to art galleries, coffee shops, and other funky little places.

Michelle Campbell is in many ways a typical Olde Towne resident; her home, the Potter House, was built in 1870 and also houses her art gallery, Colorwheeler. A bedroom and dining room double as showrooms for Michelle's brightly colored canvases and ceramics, while her hallway showcases works by Tom Slater, Gwyn Barber, and Elizabeth Clanton, artist friends from Michelle's stint at Gail Pittman Studios.

Campbell has show hours in the afternoons and is also open by appointment--but when she's not home, she's likely just down the street at the Mad Hatter, a newly renovated coffee shop, art gallery, Italian restaurant, and performance hall rolled into one, thanks to the vision of owners Alissa Deamonti and Steve Hixson, who opened their first location next door in early 2003. The spot was so popular that within weeks, Deamonti was casting around for a bigger space. She found it right next door. The expanded space has allowed Deamonti to install a small gift shop and indulge her cooking skills in the new kitchen.

"I do my own sauces, I stew my own tomatoes, I use fresh ingredients. I make my own pastas from scratch," Deamonti said. Open for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and nighttime entertainment, the Mad Hatter's new digs promise to be one of the most popular stops on the street.

Another relative newcomer to Olde Towne is Jessica Myrick, who bought Gravity Gallery, Coffeehouse, and Cafe in 2003. Myrick expanded the menu and the musical offerings while keeping the art on the walls and the funky living room furniture that give Gravity its special homey atmosphere. "I added a kid's menu because I have a kid," said Myrick, who now serves beignets around the clock as well. But not everything is different about Gravity. "Of course, we did not change the chicken salad recipe at all!" she said.

More opportunities for art abound at the Community Gallery at Olde Towne Events, where visitors may even get a glimpse of collage art crafted by one of Clinton's famous citizens, mystery novelist Nevada Barr, who came here as a park ranger. Other featured artists include B.R. Arbuthnot, Joan Blanton, Sam Beibers, Jessie Grigsby, and Ron Lindsey. And right across the street is the new studio of watercolorist Wyatt Waters. (For more on Waters, see "Wyatt Waters and the Art of Cruisin8," pg. 40.)

Antique lovers should count on stepping over to Pette's Place on North Monroe Street. The merchandise here runs the gamut from massive antique dining sets to a huge grizzly bear to a one-legged mannequin dressed as a soldier. "We tell people the bear got him one night," said Paulette "Pette" Montgomery. This building is a bit more modern than most in Olde Towne, dating back to the '60s, according to co-owner Jim Montgomery. Now with an R.J. Horner server from Vicksburg and an 1892 NCR cash register from Ellisville dominating the entranceway, Pette's Place is the realization of an antique lover's dream. "We're not collectors, we're accumulators!" said Pette. "Anything unusual, we like."

Visitors will also enjoy browsing in nearby shops Second Time Around, the Butter Churn, and Attic Treasures, each of which holds a little bit of everything for collectors and treasure hunters.

A sharing and caring ethic permeates the small community--Gravity Gallery was one of Campbell's first exhibit spaces, and she painted tables for the Mad Hatter and hangs some of her art in the Community Gallery. Deamonti was the first to build a display for what became the Lighted Christmas Village event last year, and others in the Clinton art community have painted murals of window displays for various businesses.

Steps away from Olde Towne, the lovely grounds of Mississippi College, of MC, bring their own energy and vitality to this city. With a diverse list of alumni, from Apollo 8 flight director Clifford E. Charlesworth to author Barry Hannah and NFL star Fred McAfee, the oldest private college in Mississippi and second-oldest Baptist college in America now serves more than 3,400 students. The college also boasts a long list of accomplishments, including ranking in the top 8 percent of all private colleges in the United States in the number of graduates who go on to earn doctoral degrees.

"Not only has Mississippi College had an impact in Mississippi but throughout the world because of the people who have been educated there," said Clinton mayor Rosemary Aultman.

The 1860-built Provine Chapel on the MC campus played an important role in antebellum history. "It was from there that the Mississippi College Rifles left for the Civil War," said Aultman. Spared by General W.T. Sherman on his march to Georgia, the chapel was later reportedly visited by architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who praised it as one of the finest examples of neo-Grecian style he had ever seen.

The arts certainly have their place at Mississippi College, the only Baptist school to offer a Master of Fine Arts degree. The school's centrally located "quad" is the new home of an exquisite sculpture of Jesus washing the feet of a disciple that was created by internationally recognized artist and MC art professor Samuel Gore. The two-ton statue is larger than life-size and dominates the view across campus.

"It feels like heaven," Gore told the campus newspaper The Mississippi Collegian when the piece was set in place. "I believe its message will preach long after I'm gone."

The performing arts are also an important part of life here on campus. Longtime MC faculty member and prolific composer James Sclater will debut his latest orchestral and choral work, titled "Lux Aeterna" (Psalms of Light), April 26. The work will be performed by the Mississippi College Singers and Chorale, the Jackson Choral Society, and members of the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra.

Families with children will also find no shortage of activities and attractions in Clinton. The Clinton Community Nature Center (CCNC) on Dunton Road may not be so easy to find, but this oasis of natural beauty is too good to miss, according to Aultman. "It is a jewel in the middle of our town," she said. "Not only is it a learning and teaching experience, but it's also a tremendous asset of historical areas and natural beauty."

The 33-acre tract, donated by the Price family in 1992, boasts a wealth of flora and fauna, including a clan of raccoons who leave fresh mud tracks on the volunteer-built bridges throughout the preserve. CCNC president Prentiss Cox delights in pointing out special areas along the center's two-and-a-half miles of trails, from a massive bodock tree to the smallest sprig of resurrection fern growing on a tree stump. Educational kiosks and informational markings written by Mississippi College biology professor Bill Stark make the trek an informative and peaceful one.

Children should definitely make the trip through Grapevine loop at CCNC to see "Tree The Elephant," a broken loblolly pine that mimics the posture of an elephant with an upraised "trunk," long "tusks," and a solid black "eye" that seems to gaze at visitors. When in bloom in the spring, the Butterfly Garden is home to large numbers of the ethereal insects, including the Monarchs, who are losing their traditional breeding and migration grounds in Mississippi, according to Cox.

Also here at the center is the old Sumner Hill school site, one of the first African-American schools in Mississippi built with grants from the Rosenwald Fund. CCNC has preserved the old cistern and used interviews with former students to put together an interactive living history exhibit, an event planned in conjunction with this year's Nature Day on May 1.

Another snapshot of Mississippi history can be found at the very edge of the preserve, where visitors can find four-tenths of a mile of the original roadbed of the Natchez Trace. The legendary trail connecting Natchez and Nashville served as a main road throughout much of early Mississippi history before being decommissioned by the state highway system and then revived as a historical parkway.

The new Natchez Trace Center, slated to open in late summer, should provide an interesting stop for parents and kids traveling the Trace once it's completed through Clinton, Aultman said. "We've waited so long for this section to be built," she said. "1 think it's going to be exciting to be able to introduce that history to our children." Plans for the facility include historical displays, information about Clinton and the surrounding area, and educational and recreational events.

All these sights and more await visitors to this diverse city--whether you're a shopper, an artist, a history buff, a nature lover, a kid, or just a kid at heart, you'll always find a place to have fun in Clinton.
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Author:Whitehead, Julie
Publication:Mississippi Magazine
Date:Mar 1, 2004
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