Published: September 2015
Go, See, Do: Exploring Five Mississippi Hills National Heritage Area Destinations  

Known as Mississippi Hills National Heritage Area, the region consists of 19 full counties and 11 partial in the northeastern part of the state and is recognized for its lasting cultural and historic impact on the country. Distinctive and full of character (and characters), there is so much see and do (and eat) within the individual towns and cities.

Check out these following five destinations for an idea of what “Hill Country” has to offer.

RiverwalkColumbusMSColumbus

Go: Not only is Columbus rich with history, but it also offers a riverwalk, a charming downtown and a growing culinary scene. Whether you spend a half day or longer here, it’ll leave a lasting impression.

See: Home to three National Register Historic Districts with 676 properties, the city is second to Natchez in the number of standing antebellum homes. Many of them like Amzi Love/Lincoln, Whitehall and Waverly Plantation (in nearby West Point) are open for tours throughout the year.

Of course no visit is complete without stopping by the Welcome Center. More than just a place to get TennesseeWilliamsHouseWelcomeCenterColumbusMSinformation, the 1875 Victorian structure was the first home of playwright Tennessee Williams, who was born in Columbus in 1911. The home was the former rectory for St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, where Williams’ grandfather was a priest. On display throughout the house are personal items like the Poet Laurel wreath that was placed on his coffin, and his grandfather’s gold cross that was referenced in Williams’ play “Night of the Iguana.” Upstairs features his life in large panels set up in Acts and Scenes, much like his plays.

The Welcome Center isn’t the only place with a connection to a literary figure. Mississippi College of Women, known as the “W” is where Eudora Welty started her undergraduate studies in the late 1920s before transferring to the University of Wisconsin. The campus is home to 23 buildings listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.

friendshipcemeterycolumbusMSDo: If you seek out historic cemeteries during your travels, be sure to visit Friendship Cemetery. It was here in 1866 that four women took it upon themselves to decorate the graves of Confederate and Union soldiers, which started Decoration Day.

See the Catfish Alley Blues Marker located around 4th Street South. This area was the center of economic and social lives of African-Americans.

 

Enjoy lunch at either Old 82 or Cafe on Main, and then head to Columbus Riverwalk and Trail for a leisurely stroll along the Tombigbee River. End the evening with dinner at either Huck’s Place or J. Broussards.

Tupelo

Go: Tupelo is perhaps best known as being the birthplace of Elvis, but that’s only a portion of the city’s story. Come for the King and stay for a destination with a charming downtown, tasty local restaurants and more.

ElvisPresleyBirthplaceTupeloMSSee: Young or old, music fan or not, people are simply drawn to Elvis Presley. Explore his early years at the Elvis Presley Birthplace. Tour the original 450-square-foot shotgun house where Elvis was born Jan. 8, 1935, and learn about the first three years of his life. See the first picture made of Elvis at the tender age of 2 1/2, and hear how Elvis saved the house in 1957. Also, see the church Elvis attended as a child.ElvisPresleyBirthplaceChurchTupeloMS After the congregation outgrew it and built another church, the original structure was sold to a gentleman who turned it into a two-room house and lived there for 43 years. In 2008, the foundation bought it, moved it to the museum and restored it. Step inside and be transported back to a 1940s-style Pentecostal service, much like the ones Elvis attended, through a multimedia show. Don't forget to visit the museum, featuring various Elvis and Elvis-related artifacts, and then swing through the gift shop for a pair of Elvis glasses.

For those who want more of the King, check out the Elvis’ Tupelo itinerary that features such places as the Tupelo Hardware Company and the Homecoming Statue located at the former fairground.

With over 150 rare and unique automobiles on display, Tupelo Automobile Museum TupeloAutomobileMuseumis one of the largest of its kind in the country. What makes it even more fascinating is that it’s a personal collection. Curated by Frank Spain, the collection is continued by his wife Jane and the foundation. Highlights include an 1886 Benz, a 1948 Tucker and many more. Of course, being Tupelo there is a connection to Elvis. On display is his 1976 Lincoln Mark IV. There’s also B.B. King’s 1984 Chevy El Camino and 1978 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost to view as well.

Do: Not only is Tupelo home to the Mississippi Hills National Heritage Area Exhibit Center which provides information on the region, but also home to the headquarters of the Natchez Trace Parkway. The 444-mile parkway covers three states - Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee. There is a handful of access points to the parkway in Tupelo.

CaronGalleryTupeloMSSpend some time (and possibly some money) in downtown. Browse such shops as the 105-year old Reed’s Department Store and Reed’s Gumtree Bookstore, and The Main Attraction & Coffee Bar. Find the perfect gift in either About the South or Caron Gallery. The gallery features Mississippi artists and their works in jewelry, pottery, oil paintings and more. Check out their event calendar before so your visit can coincide with an artist demonstration or another event.

Tupelo doesn’t disappoint when it comes to eating. Choices for lunch include such places as Romie’s Grocery, Johnnie’s Drive-In or Fairpark Grill. End the evening with dinner at Kermit’s Outlaw Kitchen, or Park Heights Restaurant and dine on the rooftop. Truthfully you won’t walk away hungry from any place you chose.

New Albany

LathamsHamburgerInnNewAlbanyMSGo: Heralded as being “in the Heart of the Mississippi Hills,” New Albany is the birthplace of Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning author, William Faulkner. The quaint southern town has some of the same attributes as a southern lady: refined and hospitable.

See: Perhaps the best place to begin your visit is at the Union County Heritage Museum. Through various exhibits, learn about the history of both the county and the region, as well as the people called the area home. Don’t miss the artifacts on loan from Smithsonian that were unearthed from Ingomar Indian Mounds. Located outside the town of Ingomar, a short drive from New Albany, the mounds date to back to over 2,000 years ago. One of the mounds stands at nearly 30 feet and is said to be one of the largest in the Southeast.

Also at the museum is the William Faulkner Literary Garden, situated a block from his birthplace. It features many of the plants he referenced in his works, paired with quotes.

At 44-miles, Tanglefoot Trail is the state’s longest Rails to Trails transformation. The path, which starts downtown, welcomes those on foot and bike.

Do: If you are into antiques, then you’ve come to the right place. Find everything from period-specific antiques to a mix that includes collectibles and curios. If you enjoy shopping (or browsing) in general, there are plenty of places to keep you engaged. If you are into downtowns, you’ll enjoy strolling through New Albany’s downtown. There’s something for every inSugareesBakeryNewAlbanyMSterest.

“Sweeten” your visit with a stop at Sugaree’s Bakery. Give in to temptation and try one (or more) of their sweet items. You won’t be disappointed. And when the craving strikes again a few months later (and it will), just know that they ship some of their treats.

While on the subject of food in New Albany, you can’t leave until you try a dough burger at Latham’s Hamburger Inn.

Oxford

Go: It’s Old South meets New South in Oxford. Home to Ole Miss (that’s the University of Mississippi to you non-southerners and non-college football fans out there), William Faulkner’s final resting place at St. Peter’s Cemetery and Neilson’s Department Store, the oldest one in the South, the city exudes “southern-ness.” And if that isn’t enough, there’s Oxford’s eclectic dining scene, sure to satisfy every level of foodies.

RowanOakOxfordMSSee: Tour Rowan Oak, the two-story Greek Revival house was Faulkner’s and his family’s home for over 40 years. It was here he completed some of his masterpieces like “Absalom! Absalom!,” “As I Lay Dying,” and “Light in August.” The house provides an intimate look into the iconic writer’s life. For instance, in his study/writing room, you can still see an outline of “A Fable” etched into the walls.

Many may not recognize the name Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus (L.Q.C.) Lamar, but after visiting the L.Q.C. Lamar Museum House, many won’t forget this distinguished statesman. Learn about his beginnings and how he was instrumental in Civil War and Reconstruction through the exhibits in the museum.

Do: Ride the Rebel Rickshaw by taking their one-hour historical tour. Sit back and relax as you learn about Oxford’s history.

SquareBooksOxfordMSPark and explore the historic Downtown Square on foot. Visit Square Books and lose all track of time as you peruse the shelves discovering new writers and intriguing titles.

Take a photo of or with William Faulkner’s statue, located in the courtyard in front of city hall.

When visiting Oxford, be sure to bring your appetite. Whether it’s grabbing a treat at Bottletree Cafe or sampling chicken on a stick at Chevron (yes, the gas station slash food mart), or sitting down to a meal at either City GroceTaylorGroceryCatfishTaylorMSry or Boure, you won’t leave hungry.

Craving catfish? Head to Taylor Grocery in nearby Taylor. Don’t be surprised when in the future, you compare every catfish meal to the one you had at Taylor. Word to the wise, during Ole Miss home games, arrive at least an hour early to be seated with the first wave.

Corinth

Go: With its rich history and small town charm, Corinth appeals to all types of travelers. Whether you are coming to sightsee, tour, shop or just enjoy the area, you’ll have a memorable time.

CorinthCivilWarInterpretiveCenterCorinthMSSee: At Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center, pay close attention as you are walking toward the building. The zigzag entrance is similar to the route troops took. The artwork located at different spots on the walkway represent what might have been left behind as they retreated.

Established by the Union as a refuge for escaped slaves, Corinth Contraband Camp was a mini-town of sorts and considered as a “model” camp. The artwork depicts scenes from the Camp.

View some earthworks as well, such as Battery F or Battery Robinett. If time permits, take a trip over to Shiloh National Military Park, about 20 miles north of town.

Do: It was considered to be one of the most strategic railroad crossings during the Civil War, andCrossroadsMuseumCorinthMS today you can view it from the Crossroads Museum at the Historic Depot. The museum provides a look into Corinth’s railroad history as well as the history and culture of the town and north Mississippi. Be sure to see the Coca-Cola memorabilia on loan from Corinth Coca-Cola Bottling Works.

Check out the Native American artifacts and Civil War pieces displayed at Borroum’s Drug Store, the oldest drugstore in continuous operation in the state. Don’t forget to order a soda or milkshake at the soda fountain counter.

Visit Jacinto Courthouse located in Jacinto, about 20 miles from Corinth. It once served as the county seat of old Tishomingo County and was the political and cultural center for northeast Mississippi. Not only did it serve as a courthouse, but also as a school and a Methodist Church. Today it is home to the Fourth of July Jacinto Festival hosted by the Jacinto Historic Foundation. The festival is considered to be the second largest political event in the state.

Corinth has you covered when it comes to meal time. If you need a suggestion or two, consider WhiteTrolleySlugburgerCorinthMSMartha’s Menu for breakfast and either Abe’s Grill or Dinner Bell for lunch. Want to try a slugburger? Order one at White Trolley Cafe. Enjoy dinner at a Pizza Grocery.

 

 

 

photos: personal collection

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