Main Streets 2016: Mississippi
Still known among locals as “Possum Town,” the name it was given by Native Americans, the small city of Columbus, Mississippi is known for its historical charm, community pride — and, of course, southern hospitality. Its handsome downtown, centered on Main Street’s historic district, was voted one of the top 10 “Wonderful Small Town Central Business Districts in the South” in 2013 by Southern Business and Development magazine.
Columbus was also the winner of the 2010 “Great American Main Street Award” for its strong downtown ethics and its passion for embracing historic preservation, while also building strategic partnerships that have helped boost the local economy. The organization Main Street Columbus has been pivotal, together with many downtown property owners, in bringing about this positive movement for the city.
Each May, the award-winning Market Street Festival draws more than 40,000 to its two-day celebration of music, arts, crafts and food, along with a car and motorcycle show and the “Mardi Gras Madness” 5K run. The festival occupies 12 city blocks, and has been named a “Top 20 Event in the Southeast” by the Southeast Tourism Society for 17 years running.
Beginning at Main Street and running along the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway is the Columbus Riverwalk, a 2.2-mile, paved and lit walking and biking trail that glimpses both history and nature and is enjoyed by hundreds every day. If you’re still strolling, walk up Main to visit the childhood home of Tennessee Williams, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “A Streetcar Named Desire” who is often called America’s greatest playwright. Formerly the rectory of nearby St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, the Williams birthplace also serves as the city’s welcome center.
Columbus is also home to the Friendship Cemetery, which makes one of several claims — and the one recognized by the National Park Service — to be the birthplace of Memorial Day. In 1866, the year after the Civil War ended, a group of Columbus women decided to decorate the graves of both Confederate and Union soldiers with flowers. That observance became the prototype for the nation’s annual day of remembrance. It also led to the Columbus cemetery becoming known as the place “where flowers healed a nation.”
Main Street photo courtesy of Carmen Sisson
Market Street Festival photo courtesy of Luisa Porter – Commercial Dispatch