Gateway to the Blues Visitor Center on the Move

 Gateway to the Blues Visitor Center on the Move

If you visit our offices at the Tunica Visitor Center anytime soon, you will see construction.  You’ll also see a historic Mississippi wood frame train depot, built at the end of the 19th century, that was moved recently from Dundee, Mississippi, to be renovated and become the Gateway to the Blues Visitor Center.

According to Webster Franklin, CEO of the Tunica Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, the building was donated to Tunica County by Edgar and Janet Hood, and has been used as a grain shed for the last several years. 

“This is the last original train depot left in Tunica County,” said Penn Owen, chairman of the Tunica Tourism Commission.  “The railroad even pulled up the tracks 40 years ago. We knew that this forlorn and forgotten depot was the perfect icon for the new Blues attraction.” 

W. C. Handy, a band leader known as the Father of the Blues, first heard an element of “blues” music while waiting for a train at the Tutwiler, Mississippi depot.  The Hood family says he played often at the depot in Tunica.  Handy would publish the first “blues” song, “Memphis Blues.”  His composition “St Louis Blues” would become a jazz standard.  And it all started at a train depot.

“Trains and train stations have always played an important role in the story of the Blues,” said Scott Blake, the museum planner.

Many of the Delta blues musicians of the 1920s, 30s and 40s worked on local farms. On the weekend they took the train to town and played music.  Musicians would venture to Memphis and Beale Street, a great training ground for new songs, techniques and the occasional gig.  Some of the greatest blues musicians would leave the South on the trains and move to St. Louis, Kansas City and Chicago where they remained to created urban, electric blues.

The depot will be restored while retaining its rustic feel, and become the main entry to the new 4000 sq. ft blues museum.  Visitors will be able to get directions, book hotel rooms, connect to the Internet, and learn about the Mississippi Blues Trail and Tunica Attractions.  Over 500 blues artifacts from the Harrah’s Collection will be showcased in this “primer” to the blues music.  The current visitors center attracts almost 40,000 guests annually.  The new Gateway to the Blues is anticipated to increase visitorship to 100,000 per year.

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