The home of Hotty Toddy is the toast of Southern letters.

By Logan Ward
July 16, 2020
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Robbie Caponetto

Tucked into the hills of North Mississippi, this town was named after Oxford, England, in hopes of attracting the state university. It worked: The University of Mississippi opened its doors in 1848, and today Oxford is the region’s quintessential college town, celebrated as a literary wellspring and an SEC sports powerhouse.

“Ole Miss is a huge partner for our community,” says Rosie Vassallo, director of retiree attraction with the Oxford-Lafayette County Economic Development Foundation. “The university opens its calendars to welcome all residents. And when you’re surrounded by young people, you feel young yourself.”

Literary star sightings include writers like Kiese Laymon, a professor at Ole Miss.
Vallery Jean/Getty Images

The heart of the town is The Square, where the Lafayette County Courthouse—an 1872 Greek Revival-Italianate structure—towers over a funky collection of boutique shops, restaurants, bookstores, and (of course) bars. One of the South’s oldest department stores, Neilson’s—“where trends meet tradition”—has kept its doors open since 1839. When John Currence started City Grocery in 1992, the pioneering chef (who cut his teeth in Chapel Hill!) helped turn the tradition of Southern cooking into a trend that has swept the country. Today, the James Beard Award-winning chef’s “dine-asty,” as he calls it, includes three other Oxford eateries and two catering companies.

This is such a gregarious place. The Oxford Newcomers group, launched 21 years ago to welcome retirees moving to town, recently evolved into Oxford Newcomers and Friends so longtime locals of all ages could join in. “For a small community, we have what a lot of large cities offer in the way of Southern arts and culture,” Vassallo says. “The quality of life here is outstanding. Oxford sells itself.”