It’s been a couple of years since we’ve been to Dockery; there have been some articles in the last several months about it and this area, including Searching for the Crossroads in the Mississippi Delta in the AJC.
From Smithsonian Magazine:
The plantation was founded on the vision of Will Dockery, a graduate of the University of Mississippi, who took a $1,000 gift from his grandmother and purchased tracts of Delta wilderness in 1885. Over a decade, the transformed the land into a cotton plantation. Eventually, the company town had an elementary school, churches, post and telegraph offices, a resident doctor, a ferry, a blacksmith shop, a cotton gin, cemeteries, picnic grounds for the workers, its own currency, and a commissary that sold dry goods, furniture, and groceries. To ship out the cotton, Dockery built a railroad depot and a spur route, named the Pea Vine for its twisted path, was laid from the main station in nearby Boyle (Patton’s “Pea Vine Blues” pays tribute to the line). At one time, roughly 3,000 people lived on the plantation’s 40 square miles.
That concentration of people — a big consumer base — made Dockery an incubator for blues musicians. Howlin’ Wolf moved there, Brown notes. Robert Johnson moved there. “Part of the draw was that they could go to the commissary on a Saturday or hang out at the railroad station or street corner and they could draw a crowd and make enough money to make a living,” Brown says.
The pics here are from our latest visit and some before.
In Trekking the Mississippi Blues Trail: B.B. King Museum, Parchman Farm, Dockery Farms, and More in Acoustic Guitar (2016):
Dockery Farms is a Southern institution—a plantation, but of another kind, almost progressive, as developed by the Dockery family, who turned their vast cotton operation into a self-contained community, with a school, churches, stores, railroad, doctor, even a cemetery. The impact of Dockery Farms on the Delta blues is summed up on its marker, which ponders, “Birthplace of the Blues?” and replies, “The precise origins of the blues are lost to time, but one of the primal centers for the music in Mississippi was Dockery Farms.” That designation is, in large part, due to one of its famous residents—Charley Patton, born in the late 1800s and generally acknowledged as “founder of the Delta blues.” Patton’s two markers commemorate his birthplace in Bolton, outside the Delta, and his gravesite in the Delta’s Holly Ridge.
The Clarion Ledger rightfully listed it among the Top Ten Blues Trail Markers along with Muddy Waters’ cabin on Stovall Plantation, the one for James ‘Son’ Thomas, B.B. King’s birthplace in Berclair, Robert Johnson at Little Zion Church near Greenwood
Mavis Staples’ father, Pops Staples, learned to play from Charley Patton at Dockery
In 2015, Rosanne Cash wrote for Atlanta Magazine in Southbound about how her Delta trip inspired her album The River and The Thread:
By the 1920s Dockery Farms housed and employed more than 3,000 people and had all the amenities of a small town. When dictating his memories to his son, Joe Rice Dockery, he spoke with deep fondness of his friends, his fellow landowners, and his employees and said, “If you once drank out of the bayous you never left.”
In the evenings, after a hard day’s work, the boardinghouses were turned into “frolicking houses,” and crowds of sharecroppers would drift over to hear these men play on their steel-stringed guitars. There was no electricity, so they put candles in front of mirrors to cast a glow across the fields.