Established in 1836, Lafayette County was named in honor of the Marquis de Lafayette, the Frenchman who had heroically befriended the new American Republic. It was one of ten counties into which the Chickasaw Cession was divided. People flooded into the area, hoping to buy cheap land and make their fortunes. Private land was purchased from the Indians, one of whom was Hoka, an Indian princess by legend, and another Chief Toby Tubby.
Oxford was selected as the name of the county seat in hopes that it would also become a seat of higher learning. This goal was realized when the University of Mississippi was chartered in 1844 and opened in 1848. The area became a cultural, educational, agricultural and business center with educated people and beautiful homes until the Civil War when the town was burned by Federal troops in 1864. Oxford rose from the ashes and survived the Great Depression and World War II to become the vibrant and growing area that we know today. The past has truly had a future in Oxford and Lafayette County, Mississippi. By Maralyn Bullion, Oct. 23, 2017
Outline of The Lafayette County Courthouse History
February 9, 1836: The county was organized by the Mississippi Legislature out of the Chickasaw cession lands.
June 22, 1836: Oxford was selected as the name of the county seat. The Board of Police marked off the public square in the center of Oxford, making it the site for the future courthouse.
October 22, 1836: The Board of Police awarded Grayson and Gordon, with their bid of $23,600, a contract to build the first courthouse and jail.
June 12, 1840: Grayson and Gordon surrendered the completed courthouse to the Board.
August 22, 1864: The courthouse was burned by Union troops, with only the charred brick walls remaining.
April 1871: The Board awarded the contract to build a new courthouse to F. L. Pledge for his bid of $22,500.00.
January 1873: The new courthouse was ready for occupation. This is now the center section of the present courthouse.
June 3, 1952: The Board awarded bids to remodeling the 1872 courthouse. This also included adding an annex on the west end and the east end of the building.
Late 1952: In late 1952 or early 1953, the additions and remodeling were completed. Except for minor repairs and painting, the courthouse is the same now as it was then.
2007: The Board awarded bids to remodeling the courthouse in the amount of $2,984,600. The Board also accepted a $168,000 grant from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History with a $42,000 match of local funds for renovations.
Summary of Lafayette County Courthouse History
Lafayette County’s first governing body, known as the Board of Police, was sworn on March 21, 1836. Its first members were George Pulliam, President; Andrew Herron, Samuel P. Rayburn, John N. Houston and George McFarland. The building used as a courthouse was a log structure attached to Craig’s Tavern, costing approximately $140.
In June of 1836, the Board chose the site of the Lafayette County seat and named the location Oxford. The land was part of a 50-acre tract donated to the county by land speculators in the area. They purchased the land for $800 from an Indian woman named Hoka. Shortly after locating the county seat, the Board marked off a public square near the center of Oxford. This square served as the permanent site for the county courthouse, as well as a center for local activity. On October 22, 1936, the Board accepted a bid to build a courthouse.
On June 12, 1840, the builders surrendered the completed courthouse to the Board. Board members at the time were: Andrew Peterson, President; George Humphreys, Samuel Paschal, Elisha Smith and John A. Polk. W.H. Smither was the board clerk and Charles G. Butler was sheriff. Smither was given charge of the courthouse.
The 1840 courthouse served as the headquarters of the county government until 1864. During the Civil War, Oxford was the site of the garrisoning of the Union troops on several occasions. For the most part, the town was spared harassment. On August 22, 1864, the Union troops staged a revenge raid on the town, seeking to punish the Confederates for General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s reportedly vicious raid on Fort Pillow. The Square was burned so completely in this raid that only one building survived. The brick walls of the courthouse were all that remained of the building. A young, reportedly 14-year-old, Oxonian managed to rescue most of the county records before they were consumed. The documents were carried in wagons to storage places around the county, where they remained for nearly 10 years.
For the next eight years, courthouse activities were conducted in various rented buildings on the Square. Two such buildings located in the northwest corner of the Square were rented from Mrs. B. W. Butler and Mr. W. T. Avent. The rent for the former was $15 per month. Later, the Board rented five rooms in a building in the southwest corner of the Square for $1,000 a year from Slate Cook and Company.
In January of 1871, the Board of supervisors borrowed $25,000 from the Chickasaw School fund with which to build a new courthouse. The Board commissioned S. Boling to draw the plans. The original drawings still exist and are filed in the Chancery Clerk’s Office. F. L. Pledge was awarded the contract to build the courthouse for $22,500. Since the specifications for the 1840 courthouse still existed, it was decided to building the second courthouse in a way that exactly resembled the first one.
The courthouse was completed in early 1872. The board members at this time were S.E. Ragland, President, T. W. Tomlinson, J.R. Barry, J.W. Barber and Mack Avent. The board clerk was R.W. Black, and H. M. Sullivan was the deputy sheriff.
The 1872 courthouse remains in use today. It remained relatively unchanged, except for minor repairs and painting, until 1952. As a footnote, the people of the county rejected by referendum a federal offer to build a new courthouse in 1938. A newspaper article of the period reports that the people rejected the offer out of sentiment, not wishing to tear down the historic building.
By 1950, the condition of the building, public sentiment and the need for more space spurred the Board to consider renovation and expansion of the almost 80-year-old building. After receiving a favorable structural report on the building from Memphis architect/engineer E.L. Harrison, the Board decided to take action. Plans were drawn for annexes on the east and west sides of the 1872 courthouse, as well as for general repairs.
B.A. England Jr, an A.I.A. Architect from Corinth, Miss., drew the final plans and specifications. Contracts for work were awarded in June 1952 as follows:
- Central Const. Co. (all work except electrical, plumbing and heating): $72,000
- Automatic Heating Service Co. (heating): $6,884
- B.A. Smith & Son (plumbing): $4,435
- Oxford Electric Co. (wiring): $7,461.31
- W.J. Ruswell (supervisor of all the work): $1250
- Tower Clock Service Co.: $1,085; totaling $93,595.81
The total cost was $93,595.81 and work was completed in early 1953. At the time, Robert X. Williams was mayor and the Board of Supervisors included E.E. Murray, J.P. Jones, J.S. Roy, C.B. Shipp and W.W. Grimes.
Only general upkeep work was done on the courthouse from 1953 until 1984 when another major renovation was done.
Today the courthouse remains the center of Oxford activity.