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Tupelo

Tupelo has much to offer its residents as well as visitors, many of whom come to see the childhood home of Elvis Presley and discover culture, food and history that keeps them coming back for more.


Written by Leslie Criss | Photographed by Joe Worthem | Illustrated by Sarah Godwin


It’s no secret Tupelo is the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll royalty: Elvis Aaron Presley was born in a tiny, two-room wood-frame house in east Tupelo on January 8, 1935, to Gladys and Vernon Presley. The family attended the Assembly of God Church, where he learned about gospel music. He also received a firsthand education in the blues when his family lived for a time in Tupelo’s Shake Rag community. Tupelo was home to Presley until his family moved to Memphis when he was 13, and when local folks and lifelong Elvis fans speak of the birthplace, they are referring to the town of Tupelo.


Each year, the Elvis Presley Birthplace brings more than 100,000 visitors from the United States and well beyond who want to pay homage or learn more about the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. To see his humble birthplace and then visit Graceland, the Memphis mansion that was home to Presley (and the place he died) certainly stir up in music and history lovers the desire to hear the rest of the story.


The museum, chapel, birthplace and grounds are open 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 1 until 4 p.m. Sunday. The grounds, which include a picnic pavilion, a reflection pool and more, are open 24 hours.


The occasional tour bus can be seen in downtown Tupelo, bringing tourists to town to visit the

birthplace and other spots along the way that somehow are tied to Presley. Tupelo Hardware is one such place. It’s where Presley got his first guitar. There’s Milam Elementary where he attended school, and if you drop in for a meal at Johnny’s Drive-In, you can sit in the booth where Presley used to sit.


In addition to tour buses, visitors may choose to first see Tupelo from above before landing at Tupelo Regional Airport. In 1934, a group of local businessmen contributed to purchase property for a future airport. The first commercial plane landed there June 21, 1951, and the airport was officially dedicated several weeks later. A new terminal was built in 1986, and an air traffic control tower was built in 2001. Contour Airlines continues to serve TRA, with direct flights to Nashville.


On the edge of Tupelo’s downtown is Cadence Bank Arena and Conference Center. Opened in October 1993, the award-winning arena has the ability to be both a large space that seats 10,000 or convert to a theater-like setting for a smaller gathering of 1,800. The arena has hosted hundreds of sold-out events through the years, including concerts by artists such as Elton John, the Eagles, James Taylor, Jason Aldean and others that attract people from around the region. It also serves as a community space: In the winter, it opens to the public for ice-skating, and through the years, it has been home to the Tupelo T-Rex ice hockey team and the Mississippi Mudcats and Tupelo FireAnts indoor football teams.


Way out on West Main Street on the cusp of Ballard Park, there’s a treasure trove of artifacts and memorabilia that help tell the story of Tupelo. The Oren Dunn City Museum is in a 1937 dairy barn. Visitors can learn of the tragedy and triumph that came from the devastating 1936 tornado and many other stories of interest.



More Music

Elvis is arguably the most famous Mississippi musician, but many more hail from north Mississippi, including:

BOBBIE GENTRY known for the haunting 1960s song “Ode to Billie Joe” is a Chickasaw County native.

R.L. BURNSIDE: Blues phenom R.L. Burnside was born in Lafayette County and recorded music at Fat Possum Records in Oxford in the 1990s.

PAUL THORN: Tupelo’s Paul Thorn has recorded over 10 albums and toured with Huey Lewis & the News, John Prine, Mark Knopfler, Bonnie Raitt and more.

JOHN HERMANN: Widespread Panic’s John Hermann got his start when he joined Oxford band Beanland in the 1980s.

GEORGE MCCONNELL co-founded Beanland and also spent years touring with Widespread Panic.

MAC MCANALLY: Singer/songwriter Mac McAnally is a 10-time CMA Musician of the Year and longtime member of Jimmy Buffett’s Coral Reefer band.

 

ART

Creativity abounds in the region, which is home to the likes of painter Glennray Tutor, sculptor Bill Beckwith and artist Charlie Buckley. Here are a few places to see work by today’s local artists.

GUMTREE MUSEUM OF ART

In Tupelo, Gumtree Museum of Art has been a visual arts gallery open to the public since 1985. Museum hours are 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, and 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday.

CARON GALLERY

Also in Tupelo, Caron Gallery is all about Mississippi, representing about 50 artists from the state. It is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday, and 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday.

SOUTHSIDE GALLERY

is situated comfortably on the Square in Oxford, right next to City Grocery. Southside hosts around 12 exhibits a year, complete with a reception open to the public. Visit Southside Gallery 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday, and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday.

 

Natchez Trace

When planning your route to visit Tupelo, the historic Natchez Trace Parkway provides an eye-catching drive. The speed limit on the U.S. National Park Service roadway is 50 mph, and it’s a two-lane road, but, if you love nature and history (and you’re not in a hurry), Trace traveling can be a treat. Also, the Natchez Trace Headquarters is on the Trace as it winds by Tupelo. Inside the headquarters building, visitors will find information, exhibits, a short film and a bookstore where you can learn much about this 444-mile scenic drive that begins in Natchez, Mississippi, and takes travelers into Alabama and Tennessee before ending near Nashville.

 

Eat Local in Tupelo

When you visit, try these exceptional locally owned eateries:

AMSTERDAM DELI & GRILL: A downtown favorite with Middle Eastern flair.

CAFE 212: One of the best lunch spots around, offers soup, salads, sandwiches and more.

PARK HEIGHTS is a Tupelo mainstay for dinner and drinks.

SIMPLY SWEET BY MARGARETE: Just off Main Street on Green serves sandwiches and all manner of homemade sweets.

CRAVE has a new location on Main Street for breakfast, lunch, desserts and coffees.

FORKLIFT: A fine dining restaurant on West Jackson Street that offers craft cocktails and delicious Southern cuisine by chef Cooper Miller.

NEON PIG on North Gloster Street doubles as a topnotch butcher shop and a great place for a burger, a healthy grain bowl or lettuce wrap and more.

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