Nestled among the rolling hills of Lafayette County in north Mississippi, Oxford was little more than a few shops and inns when it was chartered in 1837. On land previously owned by a Chickasaw princess named Hoka, it lay at the heart of a county named for a French hero in the American Revolution. In hopes of locating Mississippi’s first university within its borders, Oxford’s visionary founders named it after the famous university town in England. Four years later, by a margin of only one vote, the Mississippi Legislature granted the town’s wish and named it home to the forthcoming University of Mississippi, setting into motion a vibrant future for Oxford and Lafayette County as one of the South’s most prominent centers of education, commerce and culture. The university opened its doors to the first 80 students in 1848.
In pre-Civil War years, a variety of stores and specialty shops lined the Lafayette Courthouse Square in downtown Oxford, much as they do today. As a hub of commercial, intellectual and spiritual activity, Oxford thrived during the earliest days of the war. Eventually, however, the bitter conflict took its toll, depleting the town of work-aged men. The Square essentially burned to the ground in the wake of Union troops who had occupied some of its finest buildings. After a lengthy period of re-establishing the community, the stately courthouse and several surrounding stores were also rebuilt.
William Faulkner, who proudly called Oxford his home, immortalized the vivid characters that walked Oxford’s streets, managed its stores and lived in its historic homes in his literary works. Faulkner’s widespread acclaim and narrow focus on the inhabitants of Oxford – which he called his “little postage stamp of earth” – put his neighbors and other townsfolk at the somewhat uneasy center of national and international attention. Since Faulkner’s death in 1962, however, the town has embraced his work and his legacy, now touting itself as “the literary center of the South.” Truly, Oxford seems to be a breeding ground for novelists, having since been home to the likes of John Grisham, Willie Morris, Barry Hannah, Cynthia Shearer and Larry Brown, along with dozens of noteworthy journalists, poets and other writers and artists.
Faulkner’s antebellum home, Rowan Oak, has been preserved and restored as a historic site by its owner, The University of Mississippi, which hosts public tours daily. The author’s grave, located in St. Peter’s Cemetery just off the Square, is also among numerous historic landmarks and points of interest in the area.
The University of Mississippi’s steady-growing student population has helped pave the way for important growth in industry and commerce in the area. Now home of one of the most progressive cities in the state, Lafayette County also boasts a cultural richness unlike any other. The historic Courthouse Square is filled with an eclectic assortment of enterprises and plays host to a diverse artistic scene with entertainment guaranteed to please any palate. Lined by ornate balconies, brimming with color and life, downtown Oxford’s resemblance to a diminutive New Orleans has earned it the title of “The Little Easy.” Overflowing with charm and a history unlike any other, Oxford’s uniqueness captivates its visitors like a true Southern classic.