Hernando, Mississippi, (population 6,812) is the county seat of DeSoto County and is named for Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto. De Soto was the first European to describe the Mississippi River. On his 1541 quest for gold, he passed through uncharted areas of the Southeast and made contact with Native Americans. The land on which Hernando now sits was once the home of the Chickasaw and Choctaw tribes of northwestern Mississippi. Hernando was called Jefferson when it was settled in 1832, and then incorporated as the municipality of Hernando in 1836.
For many years, the local economy was based on agriculture, particularly dairy cattle and crop farming. By the mid-1970s, higher paying jobs in nearby Memphis were pulling much of the workforce of this town of nearly 2,000 across the state line. Efforts to recruit industry and build a more diversified economy were successful, with the population doubling between 1990 and 2000.
The Historic DeSoto Museum, housed in the former First Presbyterian Church, one of the oldest surviving churches in Hernando, was built with private and public funds. Each of its displays tells the story of another chapter of the story of DeSoto County. In an area dedicated to African American history, visitors can see a slave deed and learn about the attempted assassination of James Meredith, the first African American student at the University of Mississippi, who was shot just south of Hernando. One of the gems of the museum is an 1850s dogtrot cabin, connected to the museum via a wooden plank road similar to the one that once connected Hernando to Memphis. The cabin is used to demonstrate life in pioneer days and hosts bluegrass musicians from all over the area for live performances every Thursday night.
Hernando has an active Historic Preservation Commission and became the first Small Town Main Street in Mississippi’s Main Street program in 1997. More than 75 percent of the buildings on Hernando’s historic Courthouse Square have been renovated and are being used for a variety of purposes. The square preserves a Spanish grid design, and new infill construction is required to be compatible with historic downtown architecture.
Hernando’s Main Street Association/Chamber of Commerce host a variety of annual events including July 3rd Picnic and Parade around the Square, a recently instituted Movies on the Square series, and the Hernando Music and Heritage Festival, one of the fastest-growing events in the Mid-South. Another popular event in the historic downtown is the Hernando A’Fair, a single-day arts and crafts fair organized by the Hernando Optimist Club. Each May, more than 200 artisans and craftspeople from across the Southeast draw an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 people to Hernando’s scenic Courthouse Square. Most recently, a Farmers Market has become a big draw. Revived after a 20-year hiatus, the market’s 300-400 patrons also eat breakfast or lunch at local eateries and patronize retail establishments, while supporting local farmers.
Hernando is home to four National Register-listed Historic Districts, two Mississippi Landmarks, and two individually listed National Register properties. Hernando’s current walking tour brochure is being updated with additional points of interest. It will include GPS coordinates and be available on several Web sites.
Designated a Preserve America Community in October 2009.