Oxford History

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Oxford, Mississippi began with little more than a few stores and many lofty dreams. The vision that began the town was centered on education - to become the home of the first state university in Mississippi. Many steps lay between what Oxford was then and what Oxford would become.

Early in the 19th century, Native Americans inhabited the area that is now the City of Oxford. This changed on February 9, 1836 with the Chickasaw Indian Cession, a treaty that instigated the removal of most of the Indians in North Mississippi. Soon after, as in most other areas of the young nation, settlers began pouring into North Mississippi from the Carolinas and Virginia. They came looking for homes and fortune and found Oxford. Recognizing the need for order, Lafayette county, named after Marquis de Lafayette, the French hero of the American Revolution, was created in 1836.

The land that was soon to become Oxford was donated that same year by three residents of Lafayette - John Chisholm, John D. Martin, and John L.Craig. The donation of fifty acres was centrally located and was to be named Oxford, after the university town of Oxford, England. The land had previously been owned by Princess Hoka, a Chickasaw Indian maiden. Although no pictures of Princess Hoka have survived, she is famous locally as the namesake for the fondly remembered Hoka Theatre. Almost a year after the land was donated Oxford received its charter.

The original dream became a reality in 1841 when Oxford won the vote in the Mississippi Legislature to become the home of Mississippi's first university. The University of Mississippi opened its doors to eighty students in 1848 and has since become a landmark of Oxford and the heart of the South.

In 1861 the Civil War broke out and wreaked havoc on many parts of the South. Oxford was no exception. The War claimed many things in Oxford -- structures, livelihoods, and most importantly, lives. The University of Mississippi saw many students leave to fight and never return. In all, almost 2,000 men left to fight in the bitter conflict. Town structures, including the Square and the Lafayette County Courthouse, were attacked and destroyed. As a result of the destruction that the Civil War inflicted, Oxford floundered until 1869 when a new government was appointed. Despite existing in the aftermath of war and an outbreak of Yellow Fever in 1878, Oxford endured, and before long thrived.

Neither people nor towns with dreams can be defeated and by 1890 Oxford was a prosperous, bustling town with a bright future. Buggy speed limits were passed and ordinances were set in place to help with many issues of the time. Included in the issues that warranted ordinances being passed were livestock grazing on city streets, hog handling, and the need for houses to be connected to the new sewer line. Oxford's growth made it an attractive place to settle. Among those who settled here was the family of William Faulkner in 1902.

Even with all its success, the hard times were not over for Oxford. America's Great Depression began in 1929 with the Stock Market crash. No town was spared the economic hardships associated with it and few jobs were to be had in Oxford. If work was available the wages were sometimes as low as ten cents per hour. Faced once again with threatening demise, Oxonians persevered as they had before. It was during this time, however, that the University of Mississippi was contracted to establish University High School, the primary school for white youth. Even in times that tried the entire country, the ever-present, ever-prosperous central focus of Oxford was developing. University High School remained the primary school until 1963. Soon after, the town was integrated and one of the most successful school systems was formed and flourished.

Today, education is still highly prioritized in Oxford. The University of Mississippi prospers and the school system thrives. Many people come to Oxford solely because of education and many people stay because of much more than that. Oxford is known worldwide as a cultural, historical, educational sanctuary. Featured in such publications as Southern Living,Modern Maturity and CondeNast Traveler, Oxford's appeal is known far and wide.

Besides good food, enticing shops and a diverse lifestyle, Oxford has amenities and events - year-round - to attract anyone. There are different Ole Miss sporting events to enjoy any time of the year. April hosts both The Oxford Conference for the Book and the Double Decker Festival, equally popular events. June, also a busy month, sees the LOU Summer Sunset Series, the Oxford Film Festival and the Yoknapatawpha Summer Writers' Workshop. The Annual Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference is in July and August is consumed with the onslaught of football season. Visitors and residents alike can take advantage of events at any time, such as the Artist Series, Thacker Mountain Radio at Off Square Books, Brown Bag Luncheons, and Lecture Series. No matter the time, no matter the occasion, there is something for everyone in Oxford.

Oxford has come a long way since its meager beginnings 175 years ago. Judging from its track record, Oxford will go further yet.