For 180 years, “The Square” has been the heart of Oxford, pumping life into this northern Mississippi town that calls itself the cultural mecca and art center of the South.
Founded in 1837, Oxford became home to the state’s first university, and rose from its own ashes after it was burned down in the Civil War. Today, it’s best-known as the home of the University of Mississippi and the former home of Nobel Prize-winning author William Faulkner, and The Square is Oxford’s downtown hub.
A fixture here since 1839 is Neilson’s, the South’s oldest department store. Originally a small log cabin, Neilson’s has moved, grown and changed with the times and the town. With three separate buildings, Square Books has hosted readings and book signings by such renowned local authors as John Grisham and Willie Morris — and it stocks every title in print by Faulkner, who lived at Rowan Oak, just south of the Square, for more than 30 years. The store is also the broadcast location for The Thacker Mountain Radio Hour, a weekly radio show featuring live music and author readings.
West of the Square in the old Burns Methodist Episcopal Church, the Burns-Belfry Museum and Multicultural Center was founded after the Civil War by freed slaves who settled in the area known as “Freedmen Town.” Grisham donated the building in 2002 to the Oxford-Lafayette County Heritage Foundation, asking that this landmark be dedicated to preserving the area’s rich and diverse cultural history.
Head south to University Avenue and you’ll find world-class academics, art and athletics on the beautiful main campus of “Ole Miss.” The University of Mississippi Museum and Historic Houses complex and the Ford Center for the Performing Arts are a short distance from The Grove, a grassy parcel surrounded by shade trees that, as a famous spot for football tailgating, can draw upwards of 100,000 fans on a home-game Saturday.
Back in the Square, special events and activities throughout the year bring the community together. Highlights include the Double Decker Arts Fest, a two-day celebration of food, music and the arts, the Oxford Square Alliance Holiday Open House, and the Oxford Blues Festival.
USA Today has called Oxford one of America’s best college towns, and its public schools have been ranked among the nation’s best. With The Square as its center, this is a place to come savor — or to put down roots, and stay.
All photos courtesy of Visit Oxford
Oxford, MS is home to a 2016-17 LifeChanger: Shannon Robbins