By Allyson Duckworth
Amidst the picturesque landscape of Oxford, Mississippi, stands a timeless gem, our majestic white Greek revival courthouse with its intricately adorned clock tower that serenades us with its hourly chimes. This architectural masterpiece is more than just a building; it is the very soul of our beloved town, a place we Oxonians proudly call home. The Lafayette County Courthouse, a historical landmark of Mississippi, has stood resolute in the heart of Oxford since 1871, preserving its storied legacy.
Lafayette County itself, established in 1836, pays homage to the Marquis de Lafayette. The founding of Oxford, MS, in that same year, was a gracious gift from three Lafayette residents: John Chisholm, John D. Martin, and John L. Craig. The town’s namesake, Oxford, was borrowed from the renowned university town of Oxford, England. This charming Southern enclave was erected upon 50 acres of land that once belonged to Princess Hoka, the Chickasaw Indian Maiden. Since its incorporation in 1837, the town square has remained the beating heart of our quaint community, with the present courthouse serving as the cultural nucleus of our illustrious city.
The courthouse, a symbol of resilience, suffered the ravages of history when it fell victim to flames during the Civil War on August 22, 1864. While most of the square was reduced to ashes, the enduring brick walls of the courthouse miraculously endured. Reconstruction efforts commenced in 1871, culminating in its completion in January 1872, where it has dutifully served our citizens ever since.
Over the years, the courthouse has undergone multiple renovations, with significant restoration work taking place in 1980 when it earned a well-deserved spot on the National Register of Historic Places. The latest and most extensive renovation transpired in 2007. This year, the courthouse is receiving a much-needed facelift, ensuring that its timeless glory endures for future generations to cherish.
The interior of the courthouse is a testament to timeless elegance, boasting a staircase with gracefully curving railings. Simply walking through its hallowed halls, both inside and out, is an experience that resonates with anyone who appreciates history and architectural grandeur. This edifice has withstood the test of time, serving as a vital part of our city’s identity and an enduring symbol of Oxford. The very scent that greets you upon entering its doors is a reminder of the countless stories, both big and small, that have unfolded within its walls – from political victories and weddings to jury duty and voting. The courthouse, undoubtedly, plays a leading role in our own version of “Mayberry,” and we are fortunate that our elected leaders prioritize its preservation.
William Faulkner once captured the essence of the courthouse beautifully when he wrote: “the courthouse in its grove the center; quadrangular around it, the stores… school and church and tavern and bank and jail each in its ordered place… But above all, the courthouse: the center, the focus, the hub; sitting looming in the center of the county’s circumference like a single cloud… musing, brooding, symbolic and ponderable, tall as a cloud, solid as rock, dominating all: protector of the weak, judiciate and curb of the passions and lusts, repository and guardian of the aspirations and the hopes…”
During the holiday season, this opulent white structure is adorned with festive decorations, thanks to the efforts of Mayor Robyn Tannehill. In 2018, Mayor Tannehill reintroduced beloved Christmas traditions from the 1950s and 60s, which were warmly embraced by our community. The moment you step onto the square during the holiday season, you are greeted by a breathtaking canopy of lights that envelops the area. If you haven’t experienced this enchanting sight, I wholeheartedly recommend a visit to the city center. It is truly a magical experience that will set your holiday season aglow. Colorful lights are strung from the heart of our town to every corner of the square, and upon entering, it feels like receiving a warm and festive embrace from Oxford itself. Maintaining these cherished traditions is a testament to what makes our town truly extraordinary. We extend our appreciation to Mayor Tannehill and our leaders for their dedication to preserving these traditions, and to the city and county employees who diligently work to install these festive decorations in the early hours of the morning.
This December, make it a priority to visit the heart of Oxford and partake in the joy that our unique slice of paradise has to offer.
For information about events happening throughout the holiday season, be sure to follow Oxford MS Chamber (@oxfordmschamber) and the City of Oxford (@cityofoxfordmississippi) or visit www.oxfordms.net.