Oxford, MS – Home of The University of Mississippi and William Faulkner

April 14, 2012 · 0 comments

in Best Road Trips, Excursions and Day Triips

Oxford, MS is the most unusual town in Mississippi

Greetings again friends, this is Bill Taylor writing about a road trip we enjoyed. You already know that Oxford, MS is a college town. Oxford is home to The University of Mississippi, more affectionately known as Ole Miss. Be prepared for a bucket-full of surprises when you visit Oxford, Mississippi. No where in the the deep south is  a city more tightly knitted around a major university. This town lives, breathes, prays and curses in Red and Blue. The widespread attraction of Ole Miss creates a sense of expectation and excitement unique to this city. The Oxford Convention and Visitors Bureau keeps an up to date listing of local events.

Oxford, Mississippi was founded in 1837 and named for the town of the same name in England. They chose the name in hope of having a university established here. The city achieved that goal when the University of Mississippi opened in 1848.

Some towns just put-up-with the college they host. Not Oxford! UM, or Ole Miss is not just a university, it is the heart and soul of Oxford. Wealthy Alumni return to Oxford to buy condos. They love the electric atmosphere which permeates the area even when nothing special is happening. Eli Manning and Shepherd Smith both own homes here and John Grisham recently owned a home west of town.

The Square is the Central Feature of Downtown Oxford

Wide Street around the Square – Oxford, MS Lafayette County Courthouse

The hub of downtown Oxford is the square. The stately Lafayette County Courthouse Building is the centerpiece of the square. The original courthouse was burned by Union Troops in 1864. This building replaced it in 1872 and was built by federally appropriated funds. A wide one-way street gracefully surrounds the square providing ample parking for most days. There are shops, offices, restaurants, beautiful people and traffic. The J. E. Neilson Co., a department store on the square since 1839, has found its way into the National Registry of Historic Places.

Square Books Store, on the south side of the square, is the most complete, enjoyable book store in the state. It is common to find famous authors doing readings from their book inside the store. Don’t miss it! I hope to do a complete post on Square Books at a future time.

Big things happen in a little towns

Fox News from Oxford, MS Square Statue of William Faulkner in Oxford, MS

On a visit to Oxford, we noticed a larger than usual crowd filling the square. A stage had been erected, TV equipment, lights, cameras, sun screens were erected in front of the City Hall. Shepherd Smith anchor of the Fox News was doing his show from the Square. Hilary Clinton had spoken at The University of Mississippi that afternoon and her presence had drawn attention to the city. The Fox News podium had been erected on the northeast corner of the square.

As we watched the newscast, its focus dramatically shifted to the Breaking News, revelation that the governor of New York, had been caught in a sex scandal. The story unfolded as we watched. It was entertaining to watch the show as it shifted focus from the story of the hour, Hilary Clinton in Oxford, to the story of the hour in the nation.

Oxford’s Most Famous Citizen

The most famous Oxford citizen passed away in 1962. He was William Faulkner, a Nobel Prize winning author. There is a statue for him on the small lawn of the Oxford City Hall.

Faulkner’s characters and stories were on people and places around Oxford. He renamed them, I suppose to protect the innocent, but the references are easily noted. His home Rowan Oak, built in 1844, is a historic treasure just off old Taylor Road on the south side of town. Rowan Oak is open daily for  tours.

  “Ole Miss” is at home, in Oxford, MS

Beautiful Ventress Hall A Park on the UM Campus

The campus of the University of Mississippi is old, historic, beautiful, yet compact. Even the football stadium is a comfortable walk from the center of the campus. Visitors are awed by architectural features of the old buildings, and even new buildings maintain the tradition with upscale modern features. Parks that populate the campus area use acres of space in mid campus. During school these pleasant outdoor areas are filled by hundreds of students lounging, studying and laughing.

Major universities provide an impetus for cultural and academic development throughout the area. Arts, crafts, antique stores and all the other icons are found in Oxford.

The University of Mississippi is an Historic Campus

The Lyceum oldest building on UM Campus

Chartered in 1844, the university opened its doors to a class of 80 students in 1848. For ten years it was Mississippi’s only public institution for higher learning.

The Lyceum is the oldest building on the campus. It was constructed from 1846 to 1848 and it originally housed all classes and faculty offices for the university. Today, with two wings added to the original building, it houses the university’s administration offices.

The law school at the university was established in 1854 and is one of the oldest in the USA. The School of Pharmacy, a leader in its field,  is also located on the campus at Oxford.

In 1903 the school began the University of Mississippi  School of Medicine on the campus at Oxford. In 1955, the school was moved to Jackson, MS. It is now The University of Mississippi Medical Center. It is one of the best schools of medicine in the US and has pioneered many practices now standard practices in surgery. Many of its students come from counties in Mississippi and practice in Mississippi after graduation.

The university houses the first ever commercial blues recording, in the largest blues music archives in the US. The recording was a record by Mamie Smith, entitled ‘Crazy Blues’, recorded in 1920

Oxford has great places to eat

Ajax Diner on the Square – Oxford, MS

There are lots of good places to eat. The Ajax Diner draws large crowds for Southern Cooking. The Old Venice Pizza Company serves quality Italian fare. Boure’ does Cajun dishes as good as can be found in the hill country. The City Grocery offers fine dining and meets all expectations.  These are just a sampling of what’s available. There are good places to eat not located on the square. For a small city, Oxford sprawls in four directions, and there’s good food in each section.

School Athletics, a primary focus of major Universities

The University of Mississippi is a sports crazy school. It fields major sports in most disciplines for women and men. It is a Division One school in the NCAA. Football, the Ole Miss Rebels, (I know they changed the name, but I like the old name.) get the most attention. A culture of sports which defies description prevails on many campuses. People who don’t even like football can’t resist going to games. It doesn’t seem to matter if the home team is winning or losing, huge crowds turn games into weekly festivals. Of course, there is a large group who so totally love ‘the game,’ they are go cross-eyed-mad if their team doesn’t win a national championship every year or two.

Walk of Champions through The Grove

Even non ‘Ole Miss’ fans, catch the excitement when the team comes down the Walk of Champions from the dorm, through the Grove to the stadium. The Grove is a large park mid-center of the campus filled with stately Oaks. But on ‘Football Saturday’, it is stuffed with tailgate titans who sip from champagne flutes or drink long-neck beer and yell “Hoddy Toddy,” (whatever that means). The team gives high fives to those closest to the walkway. Each team member feels like an international celebrity as he marches to the grueling grind of nose bleeds, broken dreams and fractured limbs known as big-time college football.

Archie Manning and Johnny Vaught

A huge part of the gloried past of Ole Miss Football is wrapped up in legendary coach Johnny Vaught, whom I had the pleasure of meeting when I preached Dizzy Dean’s funeral service. I rode from the funeral home to the cemetery wedged between Roy Acuff, Bear Bryant and Johnny Vaught. I felt like a Volkswagen Bug in a Cadillac parade.

Enter the Ole Miss Stadium

Johnny Vaught was the coach when a young red-headed recruit named Archie Manning showed up. Archie was electrifying when he stepped onto the field wearing his now retired, ‘Number 18.’ The campus speed limit was made 18 mph to honor his contributions to the school. His son, Eli Manning, helped provide one of the best winning records the school has enjoyed since his father, Archie Manning was an All American football general for Ole Miss.

There’s a well written, colorful story in a 1969 Sports Illustrated issue retelling the defeat of nationally ranked Tennessee during the Archie era at Ole Miss. It tells the story of the notorious “Archie Who?” buttons. The buttons were invented to insult Archie and Ole Miss. Instead they launched Archie’s popularity.  Everybody loves an underdog, especially when the underdog shines through and over performs. Archie could and Archie did.

Archie no longer goes to school at Ole Miss, but visits as often as he can and is remembered each time you see a ‘Speed Limit 18’ sign. Archie is kinda like the Yankee who moved to Mississippi. The Yankee posted a sign in his front yard which read: “I wasn’t born in the South, but I got here as soon as I could.” In my opinion, if you go to Oxford once, you will go again as soon as you can.

I’m gonna pull over for awhile now. You keep rolling up the miles and dialing up the smiles. It’s always a good day for a road trip.

Bill Taylor

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