Rodney, Mississippi, a ghost town located about 32 miles northeast of Natchez, is a place where history whispers through the trees, and the streets seem to be frozen in time. This once-thriving town was destined for greatness, but unfortunate events changed its fate.
Today, the eerie remains of Rodney serve as a reminder of the town’s past glory and the people who once called it home.
The Early Days of Rodney, Mississippi
Long before it became the ghost town it is today. This area would become Rodney a popular Mississippi River crossing for Native Americans and an early crossing point for travelers along the El Camino Real, the old Spanish “Royal Road.”
Originally settled by the French in 1763, the town was first called Petit Gulf, named to distinguish it from the larger port of Grand Gulf.
The area changed hands multiple times between different nations, with the British taking control after the French and Indian War, and later, the Spanish taking control of West Florida from the British in 1781.
In 1791, a Spanish land grant deeded the site to Thomas Calvit, a prominent territorial Mississippi landholder. By 1814, the town’s name was changed to Rodney in honor of Judge Thomas Rodney, the territorial magistrate who presided at the Aaron Burr hearing.
Notable Residents and Contributions
One of the area’s earliest and most influential settlers was Dr. Rush Nutt, a physician, planter, scientist, and author of a multi-volume diary of travels on the Natchez Trace. Nutt made significant contributions to the development of the town and the region, including improving the Whitney Cotton Gin and developing a better strain of cotton called Petit Gulf or Nutt cotton.
He also encouraged his neighbors to use field peas as fertilizer, plow under cotton and corn stalks rather than burning them, and popularized contour plowing to prevent hillside erosion. Dr. Nutt’s son, Haller, would later build the famous unfinished mansion of Longwood in Natchez, Mississippi.
The Near Miss for State Capital
When Mississippi was admitted as a state in 1817, Rodney very nearly became the state’s first capital, missing out to old Washington, near Natchez, by only three votes. The town continued to grow, and by 1860, it reached a population of 4,000 residents.
It boasted banks, wagon makers, tinsmiths, barbers, doctors, dentists, general stores, hotels, saloons, the state’s first opera house, schools, churches, and two newspapers.
Unfortunate Events and the Decline of Rodney
Despite the town’s prosperity, a series of unfortunate events severely impacted Rodney’s growth and led to its eventual decline.
Yellow Fever Outbreaks
In 1843, the town was struck by a severe yellow fever epidemic that wiped out many of its residents. National newspapers, such as “The Philadelphia Inquirer” and “National Gazette,” reported the devastating outbreak.
Yellow fever returned to Rodney four years later, further impacting the town’s population and growth.
Fires in Rodney
Rodney faced a series of fires that destroyed many of its early buildings.
The town suffered from at least three documented fires in 1837, 1852, and 1869, causing significant damage to its infrastructure and commerce.
Civil War and the Battle of Rodney
In September 1863, the Civil War reached Rodney. The Union gunboat Rattler was stationed at the town, and several sailors left the ship to attend Sunday service at the Presbyterian Church. Gunshots rang out in the church, and the crew of the Rattler returned fire on the town.
A cannonball was fired into the church, lodging in the brick wall. The cannonball eventually fell out but was replaced years later as a reminder of the battle.
The Great Fire of 1869 and the Mississippi River Shift
In 1869, a massive fire engulfed most of the town, causing widespread destruction.
The following year, the Mississippi River changed course, which spelled disaster for the former port city and resulted in Rodney’s ultimate decline.
Rodney’s Final Days and Abandonment
By 1930, Governor Theodore Bilbo removed Rodney from the state register, marking the end of its life as a town. The population continued to dwindle; today, only one serviceable road runs in and out of the ghost town.
The remaining structures, including the Baptist and Presbyterian churches, serve as haunting reminders of the once-thriving town.
Visiting the Eerie Remains of Rodney, Mississippi Ghost Town
Today, visitors to Rodney can explore the remains of this once-great town and experience its haunting beauty. The Baptist and Presbyterian churches still stand, with the latter featuring a bell partially cast from 1,000 silver dollars donated by church members.
The town has also been the subject of several photography projects, capturing its haunting atmosphere and the eerie quiet that now pervades the streets.
Travel Tips and Recommendations
Visitors to Rodney should exercise caution when exploring the town and its abandoned buildings. The roads leading to and within the town can be rough and unsuitable for all vehicles.
Using a truck or SUV for the journey and following the directions provided by Roadside America is recommended.
Visitors should also respect any remaining residents and private property in the area. The town may be a ghost town, but it still holds memories and history for those who once called it home.
The Haunting Legacy of Rodney, Mississippi
The ghost town of Rodney, Mississippi, is a haunting reminder of its past glory and the people who once called it home. The town’s decline was brought about by a series of unfortunate events, including yellow fever outbreaks, fires, the Civil War, and the shifting of the Mississippi River.
Today, visitors can explore the eerie remains of this once-thriving town and experience its haunting beauty, forever etched in the landscape and the memories of those who know its story.