William Faulkner distinctively captured a sense of place in his writing, which made him a giant in American literature and a recipient of the Nobel Prize for literature. Faulkner’s fictional town of Jefferson and Yoknapatawpha County were based on Oxford and Lafayette County, Mississippi, where he grew up and spent the last 32 years of his life writing at his Rowan Oak estate.
Meeting planner readers of Small Market Meetings magazine experienced this special place on a recent familiarization trip hosted by Visit Oxford.
“It was eye-opening,” said Denise Adam, a HelmsBriscoe meeting planner from New York. “I can market it now that I know about it. This is incentive heaven.”
Located in northwestern Mississippi, a little more than an hour’s drive from Memphis, Oxford is home to the University of Mississippi. It easily blends small-town charm and ambiance with a thriving literary, musical and artistic scene that has earned it the moniker the Cultural Mecca of the South.
A Cultural Mecca
The town’s literary credibility was established by Faulkner, expanded by John Grisham — who churned out his first novels while teaching at the University of Mississippi’s law school — and solidified by the numerous writers who journey to the nationally renowned Square Books, where their signed photos line the walls.
Square Books anchors the downtown square, the economic and social hub of Oxford where boutiques, restaurants, live music venues and the South’s oldest department store surround the historic Lafayette County Courthouse and provide great free time opportunities for meeting attendees.
The cultural scene coexists with surprisingly diverse culinary offerings anchored by several James Beard Award-winning and -nominated chefs and restaurants that the meeting planners got to sample and enjoy.
Elizabeth Heiskell prepared a delicious lunch for the group in the gas-lit dining room at the historic Isom Place and displayed the offbeat and humorous personality that has made her a regular on NBC’s “Today Show.”
Best chef in the South
The planners also dined at three of the four Oxford restaurants owned by John Currence, who has won the James Beard Award for Best Chef in the South.
The culinary scene extends just outside Oxford to the small town of Taylor, where the Grit restaurant catered a fantastic final evening meal on the covered porch of Wonderbird Spirits, a distiller of rice-based gin.
The town has a full-service conference center and several hotels with meeting space. The beautiful campus of Ole Miss is a short distance from the downtown square and adds another element to the meeting possibilities in Oxford.
“Full of history, culture and endless culinary experiences, Oxford is the perfect setting for small to mid-size groups,” said Donna Masiulewicz with Timeline Meetings and Events in Phoenix. “I can’t wait to return.”
“I’m not sure Oxford knows how good they have it,” said Adam. “It’s a hidden gem.”
Oxford Conference Center
The Oxford Conference Center can accommodate everything from small corporate and association meetings and conferences to midsize exhibitions and consumer or trade shows.
Meeting Spaces: The Oxford Conference Center has more than 25,000 square feet of bookable space, including 11,000 square feet of column-free space in Oxford Hall that can be divided into five rooms. The center also has a fully equipped 282-seat auditorium, an outdoor terrace, classrooms and an executive conference room.
Meeting Services: The center has a full catering kitchen, a business center, free on-site parking, high-speed wireless internet and state-of-the-art audiovisual equipment.
Lodging: Three on-site hotels — the Hampton Inn by Hilton, Towneplace Suites Marriott and Tru by Hilton — provide a total of 287 rooms. The Hampton also has 1,300 square feet of meeting space.
The luxury boutique Chancellor’s House features memorabilia and photographs of author William Faulkner, including a couple of his typewriters, in the comfortable Tea Room/Library off its lobby.
Rooms: The Chancellor’s House’s 38 rooms include six suites with private balconies. Rooms come with monogrammed terrycloth robes, and some have claw-foot soaking tubs.
Meeting Spaces: The 2,000-square-foot ballroom can host multiday conferences. Board meetings and VIP retreats can take advantage of the Tea Room or the Library.
Dining: The Chancellor’s Grill offers upscale dining, and creative cocktails are mixed in the Chancellor’s Lounge. Guests can enjoy drinks on the outdoor patio terrace or in the Library.
Recreation: The Chancellor’s House is a short walk from Oxford’s downtown square with its variety of shops and restaurants.
Inn at Ole Miss Hotel and Conference Center
In the heart of the beautiful University of Mississippi campus, the Inn at Ole Miss is just 150 feet from the tree-shaded Grove, famous for its pre-football game tailgating, and just one mile from the Square in downtown Oxford.
Rooms: The Inn’s 146 guest rooms are a mix of basic and deluxe rooms, two-bedroom executive suites and one-bedroom tower suites, along with a president’s suite with full kitchen and dining room.
Meeting Spaces: Included in the more than 10,000 square feet of flexible meeting space are the 5,600-square-foot Gertrude C. Ford Ballroom, which can be divided into four soundproof sections; two boardrooms; and a 50-seat auditorium in the nearby Triplett Alumni Center.
Dining: The newly opened McCormick’s Bar and Grill, formerly a breakfast room, serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. The wooden bar top is being built by Ole Miss alumnus Ben Napier of the HGTV show “Home Town.”
Recreation: The inn has a state-of-the-art 24-hour fitness center and a seasonal outdoor saltwater pool. Nightly shuttle service runs to the downtown square.
Opened in the fall of 2015, the Graduate Oxford is part of a chain of university-themed hotels. Its 3,000-square-foot lobby, stocked with vintage books, pulses with the energy of Ole Miss students who use it to study. All details of the hotel reflect the university or Oxford.
Rooms: The 136 rooms include standard guest rooms and suites with patios.
Meeting Spaces: The Graduate has nearly 1,800 square feet of meeting space that can be divided into the 600-square-foot Mae Room and the 1,200-square-foot Helen Room. A private terrace and courtyard allow for expanded seating. A boardroom is also available.
Dining: Along with two on-site restaurants, there is a creative culinary team that oversees catering and custom event menus. The Coop rooftop bar and restaurant has great views of the downtown square, and the first-floor Cabin 82 cafe pays homage to the Neshoba County Fair. There is also a lounge bar.
Recreation: The Graduate has a 24-hour fitness center and offers complimentary bike rentals and shuttles. It is within walking distance of the downtown square.
Courtyard by Marriott
The Courtyard by Marriott opened in 2016 near both the downtown square and the University of Mississippi campus.
Rooms: There are 121 rooms, with a mix of standard rooms and eight two-story suites, including a two-bedroom presidential suite.
Meeting Spaces: The Courtyard by Marriott has two meeting rooms totaling 6,000 square feet and can hold meetings for up to 350 people. The rooftop terrace can also be used for events. State-of-the-art audiovisual equipment is included.
Dining: The Bistro Restaurant is open for breakfast and dinner. Starbucks coffee is served all day. The Green Roof Lounge is open for dinner.
Recreation: There is an indoor pool and a fitness center, and tennis courts are just a half-mile away. The hotel is within walking distance of the square.
Ole Miss Athletic Facilities
All rentals include the furniture in the clubs. There are additional fees for cleaning, security and outside catering if not using Centerplate/Aramark.
Pavilion at Ole Miss
The basketball arena seats 9,500 with an additional 1,700 premium seats and more than 225,00 square feet.
Courtside Club: can hold 220 guests.
Pavilion Club: can hold 184 guests.
All-American Club 1-4 and All-American Club 5-8 are suitable for small board-type meeting of up to 28.
The football home of the Ole Miss Rebels seats 64,038, the largest stadium in the state of Mississippi.
South Club: can hold 316 guests along with 144 drink rail seats.
Rebel Club: can hold 154 guests along with 96 drink rail seats.
Field Club: can hold 195 guests.
Oxford-University Stadium at Swayze Field is home to the Ole Miss baseball team seats 10,715.
Diamond Club: can hold 230 guests.
Dugout Club: can hold 104 guests.
The Starnes Athletic Training Center is just north of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
M-Club: can hold 79 guests.
The Jefferson was built in 2016 from a variety of reclaimed materials about five miles from downtown Oxford on 90 acres that includes an eight-acre lake and small forest.
Meeting Spaces: Three indoor meeting spaces and a covered porch total 14,075 square feet. Indoor features are a 7,200-square-foot Grand Hall, 2,600-square-foot Lakeside Room and 2,400-square-foot Faulkner Room. The Grand Hall has a 20-by-167-foot built-in stage. Waterfront walkway and lawn can be used for outdoor activities and concrete patio may be used for a tent. The site can accommodate groups of 50 to 1,700.
Meeting Services: Catering prep space is available for approved caterers, and full-bar service is available at a 40-foot bar in the Grand Hall. Three portable bars are available. There is parking for 650 cars, with 500 overflow spaces available.
There are many opportunities for meeting attendees to immerse themselves in literary, culinary, musical or artistic culture in Oxford on their free time or as part of a meeting.
• The Square — One of the iconic and most popular sites in Oxford is the historic Square that surrounds the Lafayette County Courthouse in the center of town. The Square is filled with shops, boutiques, art galleries, restaurants and coffee houses, including Square Books, whose walls are lined with autographed photos of hundreds of authors.
• Wonderbird Spirits — Opened in 2019 less than 10 minutes south of Oxford, Wonderbird Spirits is north Mississippi’s first distillery. It uses Mississippi Delta rice as a base for distilling gin — the only distillery outside Japan that makes gin from rice. The distillery offers tours, tastings and private event space for catered dinners.
• Double-Decker Bus Tour — An original red double-decker bus imported from England in 1994 offers guided tours of the University of Mississippi campus, historic Oxford sites and sites associated with author William Faulkner, including his grave.
• Ford Center — Attend a concert, ballet or musical performance at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of the University of Mississippi. In 2008, the Ford Center hosted the first presidential debate between Barack Obama and John McCain.
• Rowan Oak — William Faulkner lived in this antebellum house for more than 30 years while writing works based on the surrounding area that won him Pulitzer and Nobel prizes. On tours of the house, you can see the small writing desk where he wrote most of his books and the outlines of a novel he wrote on the walls of his study.
• Lyric Oxford — The Lyric Oxford was renovated in 2019 into an event and concert space with multiple bars and state-of-the-art equipment. Located just off the Oxford square, it offers a regular schedule of concerts and is available for receptions and meetings.
Oxford is a culinary treat, with several James Beard Award-winning and nominated chefs and restaurants adding complexity and diversity to traditional Southern meals.
1. Sipp on South Lamar — A wine and tapas bar located on the historic Oxford square, the Sipp pairs innovative seasonal cocktails with one of Oxford’s most extensive wine lists and more than 100 whiskeys. Its private dining room seats up to 30.
2. City Grocery — One of four local restaurants by James Beard Best Chef South winner John Currence, City Grocery features a rotating menu of innovative fine Southern dining in a casual atmosphere of exposed brick and pine floors in a historic 19th-century building in downtown Oxford.
3. Snackbar — Another Currence restaurant features James Beard nominated chef Vishwesh Bhatt, who uses his Indian roots to inspire many of his seasonal dishes using local ingredients. Raw oysters and innovative cocktails are served at the restaurant’s cozy bar.
4. Big Bad Breakfast — Start the day off next door to Snackbar with a hearty breakfast with innovative options such as house-cured Tobasco brown sugar bacon and bruleed grapefruit at another Currence restaurant.
5. Saint Leo — A 2017 James Beard Award semi-finalist for Best New Restaurant, Saint Leo features wood-fired Italian cooking from locally sourced ingredients just off the Oxford Square.
6. Ajax Diner — The funky Ajax Diner has served up Mississippi cuisine for more than 20 wyears on Oxford’s downtown Square. It is known for its comfort food like chicken and dumplings, turkey and dressing, and classic casseroles.
7. Bottletree Bakery — A long-time Oxford feature, the bakery serves sandwiches, soups, salads and breakfast items in addition to its delicious homemade European-style pastries and breads baked daily from scratch.
For more information on planning a meeting in Oxford contact:
Visit Oxford Mississippi
If you are interested in hosting a FAM for readers of Small Market Meetings, call Kyle Anderson at 866.356.5128 or email him at kyle (at) smallmarketmeetings.com.