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Monday, January 4, 2016

Oxford Obsessed: A Classic Look at a Southern Staple

by Sydney Blanchard

Cozy, pastel-painted homes portion themselves out among the tree-lined streets of Oxford, Mississippi. This far north, the flat, coastal state turns hilly, and cars bob up and down the road, lurching at each change in altitude.

Old, proud buildings boast their histories in the town's Square, the epicenter of life in Oxford. It's a football town, sure, but it's a town filled to the brim with culture, with history, and with delicious food.

Oxford doesn't preen or parade; it waits patiently to unravel itself to curious passersby.

It's impossible not to fall in love with Oxford.

I don't think I've ever been so taken by a town as I was with Oxford. I was smitten the moment we pulled into the city, seduced by the crisp fall air and the halcyon blue sky.

To an outside observer, it almost seems there are two Oxfords: there's the old Oxford, a college town swathed in its history and literary tradition, hoping to make peace with its Civil Rights-era past.

Then there's the new Oxford, teeming with the ambition and excitement of a town filled with academics and ready to be known more for their place in the culinary world than for their place in history books.

The old Oxford is inextricable from the new, and both versions of Oxford merit exploration and awe.

By the end of our four-day tour of Oxford, I was ready to pack my bags and move into one of the humble, soft-hued homes that ripple outward from the center of the town.

Below you'll find my guide to Oxford, highlighting the things that historically have made Oxford worth visiting. Next week, Blair will share her take on this new, revitalized, millennial Oxford.

Hop on the Double-Decker Bus Tour

View from Visit Oxford's Double-Decker Bus in Oxford, Ms.

Oxford is relatively small and easily navigable, but Visit Oxford's Double-Decker Bus Tour helped me get my bearings so I could venture out and explore the town on my own later. We were lucky enough to be accompanied by local historian and fifth-generation Oxonian Jack Mayfield, who talked us through the tour of the town. Check out the Spring 2016 bus tour schedule, and be sure to procure tickets in advance.

Tour the Beautiful Ole Miss Campus

barnard observatory
The Lyceum at Ole Miss

Founded in 1848, the University of Mississippi is the largest university in the state. Walking or biking around campus is the best way to get a feel for it. College students roam about well-manicured lawns and beautiful architecture. Check out the University's art museum, scope out the Grove, or visit the Southern Foodways Alliance offices located in the Barnard Observatory.

Scarf a Southern Plate Lunch at Ajax Diner

Ajax Diner, located in the Square

Located alongside seemingly every other restaurant and business in Oxford's downtown Square, Ajax Diner serves up "good eats" on the cheap. Nothing makes my tastebuds dance like a real Southern plate lunch. You can't go wrong with any of their menu items, but I opted for meatloaf with fried okra and butter beans.

See Where Faulkner Lived and Worked 

rowan oak
A panorama of a room at Rowan Oak, William Faulkner's Mississippi home

The great Southern gothic writer William Faulkner spent his adult years at his Greek-revival home Rowan Oak in Oxford, his own little postage stamp of native soil. Strolling the grounds of Rowan Oak and touring the house itself, it's clear to any writer how Faulkner could find inspiration there. The home is maintained by the University as a museum, yet the gardens remain in ruin, just the way Faulkner liked it. Oxford is also home to the graveyard where Faulkner was laid to rest in 1962.

Listen in on Thacker Mountain Radio Hour

square books
Sign outside of Square Books in Oxford

I've never experienced anything quite like Thacker Mountain Radio Hour. Each week in the spring and fall, the Thacker Mountain Radio Hour is recorded live from the Off Square Books store in the Square in Oxford. This live show, similar to NPR's A Prairie Home Companion in format, features musical acts and author readings and is open to the public and free of cost. As a public radio aficionado myself, this was the highlight of my stay in Oxford.

Chow Down on Catfish at Taylor Grocery

taylor grocery
Eat or we both starve! The famous Taylor Grocery sign.

While not technically in Oxford, Taylor Grocery outside of Oxford is a local favorite. The music is jumping, the atmosphere irreverent, and the whole fried catfish worth the drive. Writing covers about every inch of Taylor Grocery which used to function as more of a grocery store than a restaurant. This place has a BYOB policy, so make sure to bring a brown bag.


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