Oxford, Mississippi at a Glance
Location: North Mississippi
Access: About 70 miles southeast of Memphis, Tennessee, via Interstate 55 and Mississippi Highway 6
Major Meeting Spaces: Oxford Conference Center
Hotel Rooms: 1,300
Off-Site Venues: Lyric Oxford, Powerhouse, Burns-Belfry Museum, Wonderbird Spirits, Lamar Yard
Visit Oxford, Mississippi
Where the last vestiges of the Appalachian Mountains taper away in northern Mississippi, there sits Oxford — pleasantly hilly, home to a major university, shrouded in the mystique of a great American novelist and perpetually hospitable.
Oxford’s resident population is only about 25,000, but it basically doubles in size when students at the University of Mississippi appear, and it grows even larger on an SEC football weekend when Vaught-Hemingway Stadium fills to its 64,038 capacity. Even a baseball game can draw 10,000 fans.
Oxford becomes a pilgrimage destination during football season, especially a 10-acre parcel on campus called the Grove. The socializing and good times at the Grove — which fills with tents and tables and adult beverages — are as big of an attraction for some people as the teams playing at the stadium.
Locals say that a miracle occurs overnight after the games because the Grove is pristine the next day, waiting for students and visitors to stroll in the shade, have a quiet conversation on a bench or admire the campus architecture, particularly the Lyceum, an academic building that now houses university administrative offices.
Oxford is easy for meeting planners to explore and even easier for attendees to enjoy.
Where to Meet
The Square, with the 1872 Lafayette County Courthouse at its center, is the hub of non-campus activity, and meeting planners’ binary choice is whether to meet within walking distance of the Square or just a few minutes’ drive away.
The 136-room Graduate Oxford, among the first in the Graduate hotel collection, and the 38-room boutique Chancellor’s House are at the Square, while the 146-room Inn at Ole Miss and the 121-room Marriott Courtyard are a short walk away. Each has meeting space commensurate with its size.
The city-owned 11,000-square-foot Oxford Conference Center, two miles east of the Square, has three hotels adjacent to it — Hampton Inn, Tru by Hilton and Town Place — for a combined 287 guest rooms. Conference center sales manager Dana Faggert, noting that some meetings use one hotel near the conference center and one at the Square, explains just how accessible her facility is to the rest of Oxford: “If it takes me more than 10 minutes to get anywhere, I think traffic is heavy.”
Where to Eat
Meeting planners do their attendees a favor by turning them loose for a dine-around saying, “You can’t go wrong.” Almost four dozen restaurants, bistros and specialty food purveyors are on or near the Square — and there’s not a franchise in sight — with another 80 or more restaurants elsewhere in town. A foundational figure in Oxford’s culinary reputation is Chef John Currence, a James Beard Award winner and “Top Chef” competitor, who has four restaurants.
“Visitors are amazed at the variety and quantity of our food offerings,” said Kinney Ferris, executive director of Visit Oxford. Downtown, try a Currence property (City Grocery or Snackbar), go Greek at Volta, sample Southern fare at the Ajax Diner, get protein at the Oxford Grillehouse, relax in the bistro atmosphere at Saint Leo or enjoy pizza and live music at Proud Larry’s.
Where to Play Indoors
Venues for off-site functions are diverse. Just off the Square is the Lyric Oxford, a popular live music venue in what was once a stable owned by novelist William Faulkner’s family. It has a stage but no permanent seats, so it is very adaptable for functions, according to Lindsay Dillon-Maginnis, the Lyric’s head of production.
The Powerhouse began as, well, a powerhouse that supplied Oxford’s electricity. It is an event space now, with two 40-by-70-foot rooms with 24-foot ceilings and exposed brick walls. It’s also home to the Yoknapatawpha — more Faulkner influence — Arts Council.
Black history is the focus of the Burns-Belfry Museum. The distinctive red-brick building just off the Square was built in 1910 by a post-Civil War Methodist Episcopal congregation organized by citizens who were former slaves. Its exhibits detail landmarks from the war through the 1960s civil rights movement. If you book the space, ask how author John Grisham played a role in the museum’s preservation.
Where to Play Outdoors
North Mississippi is so pretty that it’s a shame not to get outdoors when the weather is good. In town, Lamar yard is part bar/restaurant, part performance venue with a small outdoor stage and part grassy playground, albeit with artificial turf, with picnic tables, cornhole boards and more.
At a time when craft bourbon distilleries dominate, Oxford has something different — a craft gin distillery 10 miles out in the countryside. Wonderbird Distillery uses Mississippi rice in its process and offers groups tours and an expansive front lawn adaptable for tented or open-air receptions, dinners and other activities.
A third breezy location is the Farmstead on Woodson Ridge, a 128-acre facility where meeting planners can schedule receptions, meals and classes in yoga, art and cooking.
Where to Go Special
Tapping into Oxford’s literary heritage is easy. First and foremost is visiting Rowan Oak, William Faulkner’s home. Hardy visitors can walk a half-mile trail from the University of Mississippi Museum, but groups usually drive up to the modified Greek Revival house. Explore upstairs and downstairs, see Faulkner’s typewriter, inspect movie memorabilia from his screenwriting days and ponder his work style by inspecting the outline of “A Fable,” which he scribbled on the wall of his office/writing room.
A pilgrimage site for literature lovers, Square Books (yep, it’s on the Square) is famous for author events, its quantity of books that focus on Mississippi and the South, and its casual hospitality. A cafe sits between the history and fiction sections, and you’re welcome to enjoy a tea or cappuccino and a book on the store’s 90-foot-long balcony. Around the corner on the Square is another retail landmark, Neilson’s, Mississippi’s oldest department store.
If your meeting doesn’t include a scheduled visit to the Ole Miss campus, find time before leaving Oxford to contemplate the statue of James Meredith. Military veteran Meredith integrated Ole Miss in 1962 in what was one of the most important events in the civil rights movement. The university’s Civil Rights Memorial, unveiled in 2006, honors Meredith and those who fought for all citizens to have equal educational opportunities in the South. A marker on the Mississippi Freedom Trail is nearby.