Oxford, Mississippi is like that understated cool kid that was a couple years ahead of you in high school; you know, the one you wanted to be like, but never could quite emulate their style.
The town’s background is somewhat like other southern towns. It survived near-devastation during the Civil War, and rebuilt itself to become a force in both the academic and arts world.
Today, Oxford is perhaps best known for being home to Ole Miss (that’s University of Mississippi to you non-SEC fans) and the beautiful Grove (where tailgating takes place); however, this town is going to be thrust into the national, and perhaps even the international stage as it host the first 2008 presidential debate.
Regularly featured on such lists as the “Best 100 Small Towns in America,” “100 Best Small Art Towns in America,” and “Best Places to Retire,” it’s apparent that Oxford appeals to many.
That said, what can you do here? Quite a lot, actually. Here’s just a sampling:
You can… Explore Ole Miss campus:
The university is rich in history and played a large role throughout some pivotal points in the South and America for that matter. For instance, The Lyceum, the oldest building on campus, served as one of the hospitals during the Civil War. However, perhaps the building, which now is home to the administrative offices, is best remembered for the riot that took place in 1962 when James Meredith, the first African-American enrolled on campus. You can still see the bullet marks on the building’s front columns.
The university is also home to the Blues Archive, recognized as having the most extensive collection of blues records and more on the subject; and the Center for Study of Southern Culture that promotes regional studies.
You can… Find the Faulkner Connections:
Then there’s Rowan Oak, his home. Now owned by the university, the home is opened to the public for tours.
It may be odd to list a lawyer’s office as a place to see, since many don’t want to think about lawyers on vacation. However, the -now Freeland & Freeland, Lawyers was once the home to James Stone & Sons, another attorney. Now exactly what does this have to do with Faulkner? Well, Phil Stone happened to be a friend of Faulkner’s and a great encourager of writing.
Faulkner’s final resting place is a Saint Peter’s Cemetery, located northeast of the Square.
You can…Experience the Square:
They say that the heart of any town can be found downtown. This is certainly true for Oxford. The historic downtown Square is where it’s all at. Here you’ll find the Lafayette County Courthouse, listed as a National Historic Landmark. The Square is filled with all types of quaint shops and eateries. Browse the literary selection at Square Books, an independently-owned bookstore. At the nearby (as in a couple of blocks) Off Square Books, their annex store that opened in 1993, is home to the live radio show, Thacker Mountain Radio. Even if you don’t buy something, you at least have to visit Neilson’s, the oldest department store in the South. And of course, this is just the start of what you can find while walking around the Square.
You can…Get Outdoors
Discover what this region of Mississippi has to offer by getting in the outdoors. There’s Holly Springs National Forest as well the nearby (about 25 miles) Wall Doxey State Park and John W. Kyle State Park.
Don’t forget to… Eat
When you are in the town that’s home to the Southern Foodways Alliance and the 2nd Annual Oxford Town BBQ Throwdown, you know you can expect to be treated to some southern gastronomical pleasures. Let me recommend a few places for you. For a quick meal, Abners Famous Chicken Tenders (started by a former Ole Miss football player) features everything chicken tenders (PDF file). If it’s barbecue that you’re craving, head to Handy Andy’s. The restaurant is also known for its burgers as well. For some good, souther dishes, visit Ajax Diner, serving lunch and dinner. The Downtown Grill serves lunch and dinner. There’s also an early bird’s special menu and the all-important dessert menu. For shrimp and grits, there’s no other place than City Grocery, which serves lunch and dinner.
Don’t forget to…Sleep
Photo credits: (top left) The Rebels in the Tunnel, flickr, creative commons by lordsutch; (top right) Walk of Champions at Ole Miss, flickr, creative commons by DAveA; (mid upper right) The Lyceum, flickr, creative commons by lordsutch; (mid upper left) Rowan Oak, flickr, creative commons by Gary Bridgman; (mid right) Faulkner’s Grave in Oxford, MS., flickr, creative commons by drstout; (mid left) Lafayette County Courthouse, flickr, creative commons by killmylandlord; (bottom mid right) Inside Square Books, flickr, creative commons by Glynnis Ritchie; (bottom left) Best Southern Meal You’ll Ever Eat (Ajax Diner), flickr, creative commons by Glynnis Ritchie; (bottom right) City Grocery, flickr, creative commons by wood_tang