Tupelo, Mississippi, (population 36,058) is located in the northeast corner of Mississippi. Chickasaw Indians were the first inhabitants of the Tupelo region. Native Americans remained in the area until 1832, when the Treaty of Pontotoc transferred the land to government ownership.
When the Mobile and Ohio Railroad wanted a right-of-way through the aristocratic town of Verona five miles south, that town refused. The tracks were laid two miles east of Harrisburg, in a marshy land covered with Tupelo trees. The community of Tupelo, named after the gum trees, developed around the tracks. Eventually it was the site of the convergence of three railroads: Mobile and Ohio, Kansas City, and the Memphis and Birmingham.
In 1866, Lee County was formed from portions of Itawamba and Pontotoc counties, and Tupelo was chosen as the county seat. In 1870, Tupelo was incorporated and a free school system was adopted. Tupelo was the first city to provide electric power through the Tennessee Valley Authority, prompting a visit by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1933.
Tupelo is also the birthplace of Elvis Presley. Born in a two-room house built by his father, grandfather, and uncle, the site is now open to the public to tour. The house has been restored to its original condition and decorated with period furniture.
The Mill Village neighborhood was built in the early 20th century to house workers for the Tupelo Cotton Mill. The Mill Village Historic District is listed both on the National Register for Historic Places and as a local historic district. Deterioration of the neighborhood led to a recent effort to revitalize its assets. The city of Tupelo replaced old water lines, rebuilt more than 1,300 feet of sidewalk, transformed a vacant lot into a park, and placed street banners to identify the neighborhood. As a result, individual residents began improving their properties, and new businesses opened in the area.
The Oren Dunn City Museum collects, preserves, and exhibits artifacts illustrating the history and heritage of Tupelo. The City of Tupelo Historic Preservation Commission partnered with the museum for the exhibit “Preservation 101” — a primer to educate the Tupelo community about historic preservation. The exhibit included a section on heritage lost, preserved, and endangered in Tupelo.
Each year, the Tupelo Historic Preservation Commission recognizes positive efforts in preservation in Tupelo. The commission selects two properties, one residential and one commercial, to recognize for its exemplary preservation efforts. Additionally, each October, the commission publishes its “Ten Most Endangered Historic Properties” list. By publicizing buildings in need of repair, it is the goal of the commission to encourage their preservation.
Designated a Preserve America Community in July 2009.
For more information
Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau
National Register “Discover Our Shared Heritage” Travel Itinerary: Indian Mounds of Mississippi