The history of Meridian, Mississippi (population 39,968), began in 1831, one year after the Choctaw Indians vacated their territories in Mississippi. Richard McLemore of Virginia settled in the area and offered free land to draw more people into the region.
When the railroads linked to the area in 1855, Meridian began to grow. During the Civil War, the town was the site of a confederate arsenal, military hospital, and a prisoner-of-war stockade. It was also the headquarters for a number of state offices.
In February 1864, General William Tecumseh Sherman's army destroyed the city's railroads and much of the surrounding area. Despite this, the railroad tracks were swiftly repaired and the city continued to grow, its economy flourishing by means of timber, cotton and the railway.
From 1890 until 1930, Meridian was the state's largest city and a leader in manufacturing. Much of the existing skyline was built during this period. The Grand Opera House, now restored as the Mississippi State University Riley Center for Education and the Performing Arts, opened its doors in 1890. The Threefoot Building, an art deco masterpiece and today an upscale hotel, became Meridian's tallest skyscraper and Meridian's Carnegie Library, which now houses the Museum of Art, was constructed.
Today, many of Meridian's historic neighborhoods feature fine homes and buildings typical of their eras. The city has nine recognized historic districts and neighborhoods, and its collection of historic buildings in the downtown district is the largest in the state. Meridian’s Railroad Museum, Peavey Museum, and Jimmie Rodgers Museum all contain historically significant collections reflecting local culture and heritage.
Another attraction is the historic Dentzel Carousel in Highland Park. The carousel was manufactured in 1896 by Gustav Dentzel of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for the 1904 St. Louis Exposition and was purchased by the city in 1909. It is housed in the only remaining original carousel building built from a Dentzel blueprint. From 1984 through 1995, the animals, chariots and canvas oil paintings were meticulously restored to their original beauty. The animals were found to have their original paint hidden under six to 10 layers of paint. In 1986, the Department of the Interior designated the Highland Park Dentzel Carousel and Carousel House as National Landmarks. The city purchased the carousel in 1909 for a mere $2,000, but today the carousel is valued at more than a million dollars. The City of Meridian views the Dentzel Carousel as a unique community and national treasure. Restoration continues as needed on a yearly basis to insure that the carousel remains both a source of enjoyment and a well protected part of Meridian’s and the nation's history.
Designated a Preserve America Community in January 2008.