Margaret’s Grocery: The Temple that Love Built
Vicksburg is well known for the works of art that can be found throughout the city. The collection of sculpture of the Vicksburg National Military Park is unsurpassed by any military memorial in the country. The incredibly detailed life-sized depictions of the history of Vicksburg by renowned muralist Robert Dafford along the downtown flood wall are portals to the many diverse aspects of the city’s history. Washington Street in downtown Vicksburg is home to Mississippi’s oldest commercial art gallery: The Attic Gallery which specializes in folk art. The works of nationally-known artist H.C. Porter can be enjoyed in her gallery on Washington Street. The cityscape itself, with its historic architecture, is the perfect setting for these works of art.
Just a few miles north of Vicksburg on Old Highway 61 sits an amazing vernacular art environment created by Reverend H.D. “Preacher” Dennis known as Margaret’s Grocery. The site, described as a “theological park” by vernacular art scholar Stephen Young has captured the imagination of visitors from around the world. Through the years it has been one of Mississippi’s most photographed sites.
It all began in about 1985 when Reverend Dennis asked Margaret Rogers to be his bride. He promised that if she did that he would transform her simple store into a place that people from around the world would come to see. See agreed and the transformation began. By the late 1980s the magic of Margaret’s Grocery was being viewed with curiosity and wonder by both locals and travelers along Mississippi’s Great River Road.
Reverend Dennis’ work was never done as he constantly made changes and modifications to the site adding new designs and adding more detail to existing installations. Using large cinder blocks which he painted red, white, pink and yellow the store was slowly transformed into the temple that represented his love for Margaret, his love of God and his love for all mankind. He transformed an old school bus that was donated by the City of Vicksburg into one of the nation’s most monumental works of roadside Americana which was his chapel. The chapel has been removed from the site for preservation and the hopes are that one day it will be returned to the site.
Those who were fortunate enough to meet the Reverend and Margaret Dennis will never forget their incredible kindnesses. One of those fortunate enough to know them is Jackson- based photographer Suzi Altman. She met the couple shortly after moving from New York in 2000. She visited the couple often and after Margaret’s death she played a large role in looking after the Reverend. She has now made it her mission to preserve the site of Margaret’s Grocery. To this end she has established the Mississippi Folk Art Foundation. Suzi is as determined in her mission to preserve Margaret’s Grocery as Reverend Dennis was to create it. You can help preserve the site by making a donation at www.gofundme.com/SaveMargaretsGrocery. You can keep up with what’s going at Margaret’s by visiting www.facebook.com/MargaretsGrocery.
Margaret Rogers Dennis died in 2009. Preacher followed her in 2012. Since his death his shrine is in decline but stills draws visitors from around the world. Vandals have taken things and winds and rains have affected the structures and signs. It is not too late to save what has been the cornerstone of folk art environments in Mississippi.