The Briars and BriarVue
Situated atop the highest promontory on the Mississippi River south of St Louis, is antebellum home The Briars. The design of this 1818 house is attributed to Levi Weeks of Philadelphia, PA and built for the Perkins Family. The Howell family purchased the house in 1825, but it was not until 1845 that the Briars had its place in history solidified.
In February 1845, Varina Howell was married in a simple ceremony that took place in the parlor in front of the fireplace. Her betrothed was a well established Mississippi man. A graduate of West Point, Mexican War hero, member of the U.S. Senate, War Secretary under Franklin Pierce and also a member of Congress, this man was no other than the soon to be President of the Confederate States of America Jefferson Davis.
Today the home and outbuildings are used for weddings and special events, as well as a Bed and Breakfast. The building situated most closely to the precipice of the bluff is the BriarVue, constructed in the early 1980’s. It serves as a bar and restaurant with a spectacular view of the river and the low lying grounds of Louisiana.
The Mamie S Barret
While not the easiest attraction to view from the river, it is a sight that should be seen. The Barret is a connection to the river’s not so distant past, when paddle wheeled ships where the dominate form of transportation commerce. The trip is best made as part of a land based expedition from Natchez followed with paddling on Old River. A determined paddler could paddle the 10 miles from the Mississippi River, up the Old River Chute and then to the Barret if desired. The now abandoned steamship lies about 20 miles south of Natchez and 10 miles from the river she formerly plied.
The Mamie S Barrett was constructed in 1921 at the Howard Shipyards, Jefferson Indiana, for a cost of $145,000 dollars. Her steel riveted hull was 147 feet long, 30 feet wide, 5 feet deep and built to accommodate a crew of 27 with 11 officers. For 2 years she served as the flag ship and general packet ship for the Barret Barge Line. After 1923 The Barret changed hands quite a few times, swinging from low to high and back to low again.
In 1923 the Mamie S Barret was acquired by the Corp of Engineers for use on the Tennessee River in the area of Florence, AL. During her time with the Corp she moved off the Tennessee River and back on to the Mississippi to work with the Corps Rock Island District. In 1935 she was renamed the USS Penniman and then in 1942 upfitted with a bathtub and an elevator for President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Mississippi River Inspection. The Barret had reached her peak.
1947 began the year of The Mamie S Barrets’ decline. She was decommissioned by the Corp and sold to a construction company in St Louis. In 1948 she was purchased by Major Spencer and Mrs. Lela Merrell, and her named changed to the Piasa. The Piasa was moved to the Harbor Point Yacht Club in West Alton IL. Throughout the 1950’s she would make paid excursions on the river. These would be her last trips under her own power.
Throughout the 1960’s the ship underwent many changes. Boilers were removed, a dance floor and restaurant installed and the engines removed. One of the boilers was fashioned into a lighthouse that is still at the Harbor Point Yacht Club to this day. By the early 1980’s she had outlived her usefulness, sold and moved to Eddyville KY on Lake Barkley where she served as a restaurant and tourist attraction until 1987.
The Barret was again purchased and moved down the Mississippi River to Vicksburg to serve as yet another restaurant and tourist attraction. This lasted up until 1991. The Mamie S Barret’s death begins here. Without any real home, she is first shipped down to Vidalia LA, after which in a series of paperwork swaps, she becomes stranded on the banks of Old River in Deer Park LA. She remains here today, her story largely forgotten, slowly rotting away.
Using the address 253 S. Prong Rd Vidalia LA 71373 in any GPS or online map/direction service will take you to the Barret.