Nothing epitomizes Southern charm more than a courthouse square. It’s a place where locals gather to reminisce, relax, connect, celebrate, and feel part of a community. It’s where the past, present, and future of a town intersect and its very heart is revealed. You’ll find some of the South’s best downtown squares in Mississippi. Not only have these historic squares stood the test of time, but they’ve evolved into hip and happening destinations. Here are a few of our favorites to visit!
A Guide to Mississippi’s Town Squares
Just a short drive from Memphis, this northwest Mississippi town is home to a lush and tranquil court square brimming with activity at every corner. Established in 1836, Hernando’s court square blends historic charm with modern appeal. Shoppers will find a plethora of home, gift, and clothing boutiques with enticing window displays, including Saint + Social, SoCo Hernando, Cynthia’s Boutique, and The Square Cupboard.
Art lovers will enjoy popping into Art Shattered, a gallery showcasing art fashioned from crushed, shattered, and reclaimed glass. Musicians can test out an array of instruments at Sweet Lorraine’s Guitar Shop. Bring your appetite because the square offers lots of diverse dining! Enjoy Cajun cuisine at the Underground Cafe, decadent entrées at AC’s Steakhouse and Pub, or deep-dish pizza and toasted sammies at the Windy City Grille.
Anchoring the square is the DeSoto County Courthouse, built in 1942 after the previous courthouse burned. Stop by the rotunda of the Neoclassical-style courthouse during business hours to browse turn-of-the-century murals depicting the visits of Hernando de Soto and other explorers to the region. Head down to the square on Saturday mornings in April through October to shop the local farmer’s market and enjoy live music and free fitness classes. In November, the square transforms into a Victorian-era market for its Dickens of a Christmas event, which features carriage rides, historic craft demonstrations, and Christmas caroling.
History buffs will find a lot to love in Corinth and its court square. The town, which sits on the Tennessee line in Mississippi’s northwest corner, was founded in 1853 as a junction for the Mobile & Ohio and the Memphis & Charleston railroads. Visitors can view its historic depot and learn more about the town’s heritage at the Crossroads Museum.
A strategic hub during the Civil War, Corinth is also home to a historic battlefield, and a 15,000-square-foot Civil War Interpretive Center, which features interactive exhibits and videos on battles fought nearby. You can tour dozens of other Civil War sites, including the Veranadah-Curlee House, which served as a Confederate Army headquarters.
A site for bottling Coca-Cola for more than a century, Corinth also has its own Coca-Cola Museum featuring authentic memorabilia, old-fashioned drink machines, and other relics. Cool off with an ice-cream soda at Borroum’s, Mississippi’s oldest operating drugstore and soda fountain.
Established in 1865, Borroum’s serves old-fashioned malts, shakes, sodas, and slugburgers — a century-old local delicacy made from ground pork, soy grits, and spices. Around the square, you’ll also find a local coffee shop, SoCo Grind, and a wide variety of restaurants, from meat-and-threes like Miss Magnolia’s to upscale Italian dining like Vicari to more casual eateries like Pizza Grocery and V. Taco.
Indulge in retail therapy at downtown specialty shops, such as LipChic Boutique, Shirley Dawg’s, Gingers, Love & a Dog Boutique, the Cotton Seed Market, and Sanctuary Antiques & Garden. On Thursday nights in the spring, summer, and fall, local musicians and music lovers gather at the Alcorn County Courthouse for Pickin’ on the Square, a community-wide jam session of country and bluegrass music.
If Canton’s court square looks familiar, it’s probably because you’ve seen it in movies such as A Time to Kill, My Dog Skip, Mississippi Burning, and Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? Touted as the “movie capital of Mississippi,” Canton’s colorful square has served as the backdrop for several famous films and continues to draw an audience for its grand architecture, charming storefronts, quaint shops, and down-home eateries.
Located 30 minutes north of Jackson, the town is best known for its dome-topped Greek Revival Courthouse, built in 1855. It’s also known for its picturesque square, which offers an eclectic mix of antique shops, boutiques (La Di Da, Ace of Grace Boutique, and Grant & Sons Fashions), and home decor and gift stores (Farmhouse, DANE, and Sulm’s Gifts).
Stop by the Emporium of Canton to find treasures from more than 40 Mississippi artists and merchants. Nosh on chicken salad sandwiches, quiche, and other lunch specials at Merri Pennie’s Mercantile and Tea Room and browse its antique china and vintage clothing. Get a behind-the-scenes look at Canton’s Hollywood allure with a tour of its movie museums and learn more about the notable people and businesses that shaped the town at the Canton Museum of History and the Multicultural Center and Museum.
Don’t miss the Canton Flea Market, an arts and crafts show held on the second Thursday of each May and October that attracts thousands of artists and tens of thousands of visitors. Come back for the annual Canton Christmas Festival to see the square draped in more than 100,000 twinkling lights. The festival runs nightly through the month of December and features a vintage carousel, carriage rides, holiday music and singalongs, visits with Santa, and late-night shopping at downtown stores.
Home to the University of Mississippi, this college town has one of the most beautiful downtown squares in the South, if not the country. It’s so iconic that locals simply call it “the square.” At its heart is the stately Lafayette County Courthouse, built in 1872 after the original courthouse and square were burned during the Civil War. Stroll down the tree-lined streets, and you’ll see why Oxford is known as the “cultural mecca of the South.” The square is abuzz with specialty shops, high-end boutiques, restaurants, cafes, bars, and live music venues.
Step inside Neilson’s, one of the South’s oldest department stores, to shop for modern-day fashions in an old-school setting. The store has operated on the square for more than a century! Bookworms will love Square Books, an independent bookstore with a strong selection of fiction and tons of books on the South and Southern writers. The bookstore hosts hundreds of author events throughout the year — and its literary-themed staircase is especially Insta–worthy! You can view works by regional, national, and international artists at Southside Gallery or catch a show at The Lyric Oxford, a former silent movie theater restored into an event venue.
With inventive and locally owned restaurants on every corner — including four owned by James Beard-winning chef John Currence — the square is a true paradise for foodies. Load up on Southern soul food at Ajax Diner, enjoy fine dining with a rustic spin at City Grocery, savor wood-fired Italian classics at St. Leo, or sip handcrafted cocktails from Bourè’s patio with a view.
The square hosts numerous events throughout the year, including a film festival in February, a blues festival in July, and several arts festivals. During football season, it becomes an Ole Miss party zone, but it’s most magical at Christmas when the streets are decked out in holiday decor for Oxford’s annual Holly Jolly Holidays. Held November 21 through January 2, the festival includes ice skating, carriage rides, caricature drawings, live ice carvings, an ornament auction, and a holiday market.
And don’t forget these …
A few north Mississippi towns are reinvesting in their downtown squares and revitalizing them into shopping, dining, and tourism destinations. Here are a few to keep your eye on:
Holly Springs: Known for its antebellum homes, rich African-American history, and scenic beauty, Holly Springs has seen increased activity in its court square in recent years with the addition of businesses such as Southern Eatery, which operates a daily home-cooked lunch buffet, and Coffee in Holly, which serves lattes, smoothies, sandwiches, and pastries, and hosts live music acts. The square also has its own bed and breakfast, Court Square Inn, and several antique shops.
Grenada: Once the cultural and economic hub of the town, Grenada’s court square is making a comeback thanks to community leaders who have worked to restore its former vibrancy. The square now hosts a Saturday farmer’s market from May through September and the Green Street Music Festival and BBQ Contest in October, among other events. There are also great places to eat, from the laid-back bar and grill atmosphere at Molly’s Place to the upscale ambiance of Orleans Bistro.
New Albany: Though not based around a traditional court square, New Albany has the feel of one. Voted “Best Southern Small Town” by USA Today in 2017, this birthplace of the famed Southern writer William Faulkner has a dynamic downtown full of shops, boutiques, antique stores, and eateries housed in beautifully restored buildings. Its hospitality is as abundant as its historical markers, and it connects directly to the Tanglefoot Trail, a 44-mile-long Rails to Trails pathway that runs through the Mississippi hills.
This article was made possible by Visit Mississippi.
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