College town, author’s haven, and history-rich southern junction, Oxford (pop. 14,000) lies in north-central Mississippi, equidistant from St. Louis and New Orleans. Located on land ceded by the Chickasaw Nation, Oxford was incorporated in 1837. It was named after the British university, in the hope that Mississippi’s first public university would be located there, and the University of Mississippi did indeed open there in 1848.
Union troops set fire to much of the town in 1864 during the Civil War. Oxford’s Lafayette County Court house was built in 1873, restored in 1981, and is currently undergoing further restoration. The building and its neighboring public square have remained a vital center of commerce, culture, and activity for Oxford. Efforts continue to designate it a historic preservation district in the face of redevelopment pressures.
In 1996, the Oxford-Lafayette County Heritage Foundation became troubled by the pace of development in the older parts of town, where houses were being razed for condominiums. Foundation members banded together to save places too valuable to lose, and the old train depot topped their list. In rail’s heyday, the Mississippi Central Railroad linked Oxford to the Gulf of Mexico and the Ohio River Valley. It was a central part of daily life for the university and the city for 70 years, but its original use waned. Grants were secured to resurrect the languishing landmark and much of the structure had to be dismantled and reconstructed, including walls, roofing, and floors. The restored Ole Miss-Oxford Depot reopened in 2003 as a rental facility for conferences, lectures, receptions, and other events.
The Oxford Preservation Commission, established in 2000, plays an active role in recognizing and preserving local historic districts and landmarks. The city’s comprehensive land use plan also emphasizes protection of historic neighborhoods.
Author John Grisham and many other writers have also called Oxford home and William Faulkner’s home, Rowan Oak, is a popular destination. Oxford produces a walking map and guide for visitors and hosts a variety of community-based celebrations. Oxford and the University of Mississippi have also been involved in the development of a regional heritage tourism program called the Mississippi Hills Heritage Area. It covers 24 counties in the largely rural northern Mississippi region.
Designated a Preserve America Community in January 2007.