Captivated by Collierville, Tennessee
Last updated 4/9/2020 at 5:20pm
"A map? Who needs a map? We have GPS," I told my mother. But the GPS in the rental car was not working, and mom and I, intrepid travelers from California, were lost in Collierville, Tennessee – at about midnight on a narrow two-lane road with no lights to be seen.
The narrow road narrowed even more – and then – as we rounded a tight curve – the headlights illuminated a massive sign: "Welcome to Mississippi." Mississippi? What happened to Tennessee? Mom and I laughed hysterically as I turned the car around.
Lost as we could be, we were finally rescued by a nice man in a firefighter's shirt who I met at a convenience store. When I asked for directions he said, "Just follow me – I will show you the way." We marveled at his kindness, and Mom and I followed our "angel" to the bed and breakfast.
Why were we in Collierville, Tennessee at midnight on a dark night? Because our Southwest Airlines flight from San Diego to Memphis had a four-hour weather delay. But, why were we here at all? Because we wanted to experience Memphis, but also taste a bit of the "small town South."
Our adventure began with a photograph of a log cabin. I was searching the internet for small towns near Memphis when I discovered Collierville.
The photo that popped up was of a rustic log cabin that looked like it was straight out of an old Western film. It had even been a stagecoach stop in its former life. The cabin was built in 1851, and it's amazing that the structure survived the 1863 Battle of Collierville when General Sherman's troops all but devastated the town.
Mom climbed the worn steps and sat on a porch bench. Through the window I could see a wooden table laden with plates and a ceramic pitcher. I could just imagine a kettle over the fire, and travel-weary stagecoach passengers finally able to step on stable ground, then be invigorated by a bit of food and drink.
The log cabin was the initial lure, but I discovered a town with a pervading aura of history. Collierville Town Square was fragrant with many flowers encircling a vintage gazebo.
On green spindly legs, an equally green water tower proclaimed "Collierville" for all to see. During a stroll around the square we discovered fun shops plus a variety of restaurants – all housed in historic buildings.
The anchor of the town square area is a Southern Railroad train depot that is living out its life as a visitor center. Next to the depot is an open-air railroad museum with a formidable 1912 Frisco Railroad steam engine, a 1915 executive rail car, and a very red Southern Railroad caboose.
The 1915 rail car, "The Savannah," was used by executives of the Seaboard Railway. It has remained fairly untouched since a renovation in the 1940s. We wandered the narrow corridor to view the sleeping compartments, kitchen and dining car; and were fascinated by the rich red paneling, vintage light fixtures and shower. Yes, a shower!
However, I'm not sure that it would be possible to even turn around in it. The kitchen was outfitted for some serious cooking with its sturdy metal sink, industrial-sized stove, and an abundance of metal cupboards.
In our search for historic churches we found several, including the 1871 Gothic Revival styled Collierville Christian Church, with light ash-grey walls and stained glass windows. It now houses the Morton Museum. St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, built in 1890, looked like it belonged on a Christmas card, with its red brick walls, stained glass windows and Gothic archways.
One of my Collierville quests was to find a restaurant that served traditional Southern food. Dyer's Café was the perfect choice. In their historic location, Dyer's has been serving food since 1912.
I was smitten with the fried catfish – fresh with only a light coat of breading. The catfish meal included an utterly addictive side of hush puppies, and some light and crispy onion rings. I couldn't resist the marvelous sweet tea. To make the experience complete, our server Jessica was a spark of Southern hospitality!
The Stratton House Bed & Breakfast was our haven of rest in Collierville. Housed in a mansion that was built before the Civil War, it has been owned by the same family for 150 years.
As you turn the corner, the wide porch and grand white columns come into view. The mansion is surrounded by magnificent magnolia trees with moss laden trunks and branches that have drooped to the ground over time. It was as if the trees threw their arms out and said, "Welcome."
With lofty ceilings and tall windows, the house has an airy feel. We stayed in the Yellow Room which had one stained glass window, an antique hand-carved bed and a porcelain claw-foot tub – all remnants of the past.
In the mornings we would relax, enjoy our breakfast, and let the staff pamper us in the hushed, cheery atmosphere of the breakfast nook. Linger and savor are two words that come to mind as I remember the exquisite hash brown soufflé.
Our trip to Collierville unfolded like a sweet-scented magnolia blossom – I was captivated by the fascinating historic sites, savory Southern food and enchanting Southern hospitality.
For further information access: http://www.colliervillechamber.com.
This article was originally published Dec. 19, 2019.