Deep in the heart of the American South, the scenic state of Mississippi has played a pivotal role in the country's history. The Magnolia State was settled by the French in 1716 and was the site of several defining Civil War battles during the following century. Due to its rich background, Mississippi makes an ideal vacation or weekend getaway spot for history lovers. The state has more than its fair share of quaint small towns featuring charming historic districts. Here are seven you won't want to miss on your next deep south road trip.
As beautiful as it is historic, Natchez is the quintessential small southern town. Situated on the Mississippi River, Natchez has eight distinct historic districts, each one brimming with its own unique charm. The Natchez-Under-the-Hill Historic District, for instance, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and encompasses 75 acres. At the time of the American Revolutionary War, the district contained the entire town of Natchez and features 20 buildings.
Today, visitors to the historic district are treated to a diverse collection of boutiques, bars, and eateries. History buffs can tour the town's antebellum homes, many of which feature impressive column-lined porches and are surrounded by massive live oak trees dripping with Spanish moss. The town is also situated at the trailhead of the Natchez Trace Parkway, a 444-mile biking trail that stretches up to Nashville, Tennessee.
Although it has a population of only about 20,000 people, Vicksburg is just as significant as larger Mississippi cities due to the important role it played in the state's history. Situated on the mighty Mississippi River, this charming southern town is most known for being home to the Vicksburg National Military Park, the site of the American Civil War Battle of Vicksburg. The 1,800-acre park features more than 1,400 memorial monuments and 20 miles of reconstructed trenches and earthworks.
Dubbed the "Key to the South" by President Abraham Lincoln, Vicksburg has an impressive historic district filled with 12 antebellum and postbellum tour homes, which feature a mix of Victorian, Eastlake, Greek Revival, and Italianate architectural styles. Visitors can also visit the historic Biedenharn Coca-Cola Museum while in town.
In the heart of the Mississippi Delta section of the state, Cleveland offers a delightful combination of rich history, natural beauty, and exciting attractions, as well as plenty of small-town charm to spare. Located just outside Cleveland, Dockery Farms is the "Birthplace of the Blues," as it was once home to the Delta blues musician Charley Patton. Tourists can tour the free museum to gain insight into Mississippi's blues music roots.
Named as one of the South's best small towns by Southern Living Magazine and Smithsonian Magazine, Cleveland has a thriving historic district filled with unique boutiques and eateries. The town is also home to the GRAMMY Museum Mississippi, which features state-of-the-art interactive music displays.
History lovers won't want to miss a trip to the adorable small town of Corinth, the "Crossroads of the South," due to its location at the cross-junction of two important railroads. The town is home to Borroum's Drug Store and Soda Fountain, one of the state's longest-running soda fountains and drugstore. Corinth also features the Verandah-Curlee House, which once served as the Confederate headquarters during the Civil War.
Visitors can learn about the town's rich railroad and Civil War history at the Crossroads Museum and Historic Corinth Depot, which lies in the heart of the historic district. The Shiloh National Military Park is another must-see attraction featuring Civil War artifacts and a 12.7-mile battlefield tour.
Dubbed the "Yellow Pine Capital of the World" and the "City Beautiful," the unforgettable southern town of Laurel lives up to its name. Laurel's historic district is a product of the state's "timber era" from 1893 through 1937. The entire district is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is known for having one of the largest and most intact collections of early 20th-century architecture in Mississippi.
The district features various architectural styles, making it the perfect place to take a walking tour any time of the year. Other notable Laurel attractions and shops include the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, the Laurel Little Theatre and Pinehurst Park, and the Laurel Mercantile Co.
Even though Canton is just a half hour from the bustling city of Jackson, it still has a warm and welcoming hometown feel that beckons tourists from all over the region. The quaint town's historic district is packed with scenic architecture and history-rich buildings and attractions, such as the Madison County Courthouse, which features a Greek Revival style.
Tourists can spend time in the Canton Courthouse Square District, which is on the National Register of Historic Places and is home to quaint boutiques, antique shops, and local cafes and eateries. Two times a year, the district hosts the famous Canton Flea Market Arts and Crafts Show, which draws in up to 100,000 visitors annually. Movie buffs will appreciate the fact that Canton was the backdrop for several notable films, such as A Time to Kill and My Dog Skip.
If you're an Elvis Presley fan or just love rock 'n roll music, you won't want to miss a trip to Tupelo in the northern region of the state. The town is best known for being Presley's birthplace but also has a rich Civil War and civil rights history. Notable historic sites include the Old Town Creek Battle Site, where part of the Battle of Tupelo/Harrisburg was fought, and the Spring Hill Missionary Church, a Civil Rights Heritage Trail marker.
The town's North Broadway Historic District encompasses four acres and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The district features 13 properties with Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, and Eastlake architectural styles. Visitors can spend a day or two exploring Elvis' Tupelo Driving Tour, which features locations the musician frequented during his youth.
No matter what region of Mississippi you are visiting or driving through, from the Delta to the Gulf Coast, you will find historic districts worth exploring. The state's impressive history is still alive and well in many of the small towns that dot the state and many feature buildings that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Whether you are passionate about the Civil War, civil rights, blues music, or any other type of history, there is something for everybody in this quintessential southern state.