Whoever said you can’t revisit the past has clearly never been to Mississippi. Between sites that date back several centuries to the hundreds of landmarks on the National Register of Historic Places, history comes to life on a daily basis in Mississippi, especially in these ten towns, which are among the oldest in the state.
1. Port Gibson
Located between Vicksburg and Natchez, the small town of Port Gibson is actually the state’s third oldest city. As legend has it, Port Gibson’s beauty is what led General Grant to spare the town during the Civil War, claiming it was “too beautiful to burn.” Even though the town is most known for being home to the Windsor Ruins, it has much more to offer, including gorgeous architecture of yesteryear, old-fashioned storefronts, battlefields, and historically significant Civil War sites.
The charming city on the Mississippi River was established in the early 1700s, making it one of the oldest European settlements in the area. Because of its location, Natchez attracted a great deal of wealthy farmers during the 19th century and, in turn, resulted in a plethora of mansions being constructed. Today, many of these historical Natchez homes can be toured, guaranteeing a trip straight to the past.
By far one of the most historic cities in the nation, Vicksburg is a must-see for the young and old alike. While modern Vicksburg was established in 1811, the city actually dates back to Colonial times when the French built Fort Saint-Pierre nearby. Today, the city’s history is very much alive thanks in part to the Vicksburg National Military Park. The park offers a 16-mile tour that stops at forts, batteries, attack sites, historic structures, the Vicksburg National Cemetery, and the U.S.S. Cairo Museum. Through the park’s numerous monuments and thousands of grave markers, one of the nation’s largest battles can be experienced firsthand.
4. Ocean Springs
Located on the eastern shore of Biloxi, Ocean Springs was established by the French in 1699, making it the first capital of the French territory. Although it was the establishment of this French settlement that earned Ocean Springs the title “The City of Discovery,” it was actually inhabited by Native Americans long before. Fast forward to 2016 and you’ll quickly realize the “gem of the Gulf Coast” is the epitome of picture perfect. Between a historic district that’s filled with quaint shops and great restaurants to thriving art and music scenes, this seaside town has won over the hearts of both locals and tourists.
Artifacts found in Biloxi tell us that the city was inhabited by Native Americans as early as 8,000 B.C. all the way up to the 1700s. In 1699, Sieur d’Iberville and 14 men arrived in present-day Biloxi and quickly became acquainted with the Biloxi Indians. Over the next century, the city went through multiple changes; it was ceded to England and then to Spain and by 1810, was part of the Republic of West Florida. Finally in 1817, Biloxi officially became a city, and continued to develop throughout the years. Today, the coastal city is a popular tourist destination, complete with beaches, casinos, wonderful dining, and several notable historic sites, including Beauvoir, the Biloxi Lighthouse, and the Redding House.
Originally known as Petit Gulf, Rodney can be found on territorial maps dating back to 1763. By 1828, Rodney was officially incorporated as a city, and was named in honor of the Territorial Judge, Thomas Rodney. By the mid-1800s, the Jefferson County town was a bustling port city rivaling Natchez and Vicksburg. Steadily growing, Rodney reached 4,000 residents by 1860. Tragedy struck Rodney in 1869 when a huge fire engulfed a majority of the town. The following year, the Mississippi River changed course, which was devastating for the former port city, ultimately resulting in Rodney’s demise. Today, there is only one serviceable road that runs in and out of Rodney - a secluded road lined with abandoned buildings, telling the tale of the city that used to be.
The epitome of picture-perfect, Taylor is the type of town you’d expect to see in a movie – a trait that wasn’t lost on William Faulkner, who referred to Taylor as “a postage stamp of native soil.” The town was first settled by Dr. John Taylor and his wife Nancy in 1832. Others quickly followed the doctor’s lead, and, with the arrival of the railroad in 1856, the small town quickly began to grow. By 1873, Taylor was officially a city, but didn’t receive its current name until 1907. Today, Taylor is known for being a small town that’s big on history, culture, the arts, and world famous catfish. The Taylor Grocery and Restaurant, which has come to be known simply as “the catfish place,” attracts hundreds of people every weekend.
In 1857, the GM&O Railroad was looking for a new location to start construction, and eventually decided upon Verona. The plot of land selected belonged to a resident by the name of John Ratliff. Since Ratliff owned the property, he was given the honor of naming the town. He passed this duty off to his daughter, who named Verona after a city in Italy. Just three short years after the railroad came to town, Verona officially became the first chartered city in Lee County, and quickly began to flourish, garnering a reputation as a banking town. In 1933, Verona became known for something else – the city in which Elvis’ parents, Gladys Smith and Vernon Presley, were wed. The couple was married in the county’s first courthouse, which has since been turned into the Historical Blue Moon Museum. Aside from an extremely impressive collection of Elvis memorabilia, the museum has exhibits regarding the town’s history, the Civil War, and the Chickasaw Indian tribe.
Originally called Lott’s Buff, Columbia was first settled by John and William Lott in the early 1800s. In 1819, Columbia became the state’s fourth city and took on its present name, which was derived from Columbia, South Carolina since that’s where most of the town’s residents were from. Between 1821 and 1822, Columbia served as the state’s capital. Today, the town is known for its award-winning Main Street, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t traces of Columbia’s historic roots. The thriving Main Street, which is extra-wide as it was designed “to accommodate horse and wagon u-turns,” includes several historically significant sites, including the Marion County Court House and Hill’s Hardware, a local staple since the early 1900s.
The town of Raymond is located along the Natchez Trace Parkway. Soon after the formation of Hinds County in the early 1800s, the town became the county seat. Turning into quite the prosperous little city, Raymond served as a trading community for farmers and played an important role in both government and economics. Visitors to the quaint town can visit the historic square, the Hinds County Courthouse, numerous preserved antebellum buildings, a Confederate cemetery, and Raymond Military Park, the site of the Battle of Raymond.