Ride offers a journey back in time

Published 7:00 pm Sunday, March 24, 2013

In one of my first exploratory expeditions outside of Brookhaven into the South Mississippi wilderness, I discovered another jewel of our area – The Longleaf Trace.

The Longleaf Trace is touted as South Mississippi’s premier hiking, biking and equestrian trail. The 10-foot wide, 41-mile long linear park certainly lives up to its reputation.

The Longleaf Trace is a Rails-to-Trails conversion stretching from Prentiss to Hattiesburg, or visa-versa, depending on your perspective. The trail is fairly flat, perfectly paved and exceptional for riding – devoid of both cars and dogs.

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Begun in 1995 and competed nearly five years later, the Trace is now in its 13th year of operation. Patti and I, and our friend Bill Perkins, had the opportunity to bicycle a portion of the Longleaf Trace this past weekend.

Starting in Prentiss, we made a 36-mile round trip up to the Lott circle rest stop and back, through both Carson and Bassfield.

It was the perfect day and perfect ride to start the season. The weather was exquisite on this particular Saturday morning. Blue sky, bright sunshine and a cool breeze graced us as we rode though the budding foliage.

The surrounding beauty of the South Mississippi countryside made the ride most enjoyable. We met a number of visitors to our area along the way. Several of the riders originated from Hattiesburg, and we met others from as far off as Oxford and Louisiana.

The good folks at The Dwelling Place church blessed us on our journey. Church members gathered at Faler Park in Bassfield to share a fresh cooked hamburger, chips and drink, along with some good old-fashioned Christian fellowship with their community and those of us riding through. We thoroughly enjoyed our lunch and appreciate their ministry.

The highlight of our trip, also in Bassfield, was a visit to the AF Carraway Store. This store is a literal living time capsule. From the screen doors on the front porch, appropriately adorned with Colonial Bread signs, to the wood floors, table displays and an old manual cash register, the store exudes nostalgia.

According to the store’s current owner, Neal Burns, the AF Carraway general merchandise store has been serving the area since 1919. Burns said the last of the Carraway family passed on in 1993. An employee there for more than 61 years, Burns continues to carry on the tradition. He runs the establishment by himself with a little part-time help on Mondays.

Groceries, tools, nails, candy, seeds, household items – you name it, Carraway’s has it. In fact, if they don’t have it, you probably don’t need it.

Based on the window displays and front-of-store placement, I’ll have to guess that the featured item of the week at the AF Carraway Store is cast iron skillets – A wide variety of them – all made in the USA.

Also on prominent display are USA-made dungarees. Burns says he tries to sell American-made products whenever possible. To be honest, I’m guessing these items weren’t on special this week only. I imagine they have been staple items of this store for generations.

Burns admits, there isn’t many of these general merchandise stores left. In the 94 plus years AF Carraway Store has been in business, I expect little has changed. No computers here. You can’t “friend” them on Facebook or follow their twitter feed.

For those riding the Trace feeling disconnected from their social network, don’t expect to stop in at AF Carraway’s for any free Wi-Fi either. There isn’t any. But that’s just another good reason to go there.

When the longing hits you for a step back to a simpler time, take a step though the “Colonial Bread” screen doors at AF Carraway Store in Bassfield. It’s the real deal.

Rick Reynolds is president/publisher of The Daily Leader. Contact him at rick.reynolds@dailyleader.com.