The Oxford-Lafayette County Heritage Foundation (OLCHF) was begun in 1996 by three Oxford citizens whose ancestors came to this area in the early 1880s. They saw historic buildings being demolished and decided to do something about it. Early on the all-volunteer organization accepted ownership of the old College Hill store, an authentic country store that was featured in a William Faulkner film. They also encouraged the University of Mississippi to preserve the rapidly deteriorating Oxford Depot used until the late 1930s, and its restoration was completed in 2003.
Saving historic buildings, both houses and businesses, that contribute so much to Oxford’s small-town charm motivated OLCHF from its inception. Accordingly, its influence was instrumental in the creation of Oxford’s Historic Preservation Commission.
OLCHF has placed several historical markers to identify sites of significance, including the former Van Buren Ave. home of artist Theora Hamblett, the Hilgard railroad cut, the burial site of Chickasaw Chief Toby Tubby, the Ole Miss-Oxford Depot, the site of a Rosenwald School between 1922-1936, the location of a mansion built by 19th-century politician Jacob Thompson, and the Burns-Belfry Church that served as author John Grisham’s office until he moved to Virginia.
When it was learned that John Grisham was planning to dispose of the old Burns Church building on Jackson Avenue, the immediate concern was that it would be sold to a developer and demolished. The building was erected in 1910 by an African-American congregation to replace a smaller frame structure built by freedmen soon after the end of the Civil War. Gerald Walton, a member of the OLCHF board and personal friend of Grisham, wrote to him and asked if he would consider donating the building to OLCHF. In sympathy with saving the building, Grisham deeded the building to OLCHF with the stipulation that once restored it be turned over to the Oxford Development Association (ODA), an African American organization, and used as a meeting place for nonprofits and/or as a museum.
Meanwhile, efforts were under way to purchase the neglected former home of Mississippi’s most accomplished 19th-century statesman, L. Q. C. Lamar, the only Mississippian to ever sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. The National Historic Landmark building was sold to OLCHF in January 2004. With funding secured, its full-scale restoration began in May 2007 and completed one year later. When ownership of the house was transferred to the City of Oxford in 2008, planning by OLCHF was already in progress to transform the property into a historic house museum, accomplished by the addition of a professional exhibit in early 2011.
In 2005 OLCHF received the Frank W. Everett, Jr. Award as an outstanding local historical society with recognized achievements as awarded by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
The Oxford-Lafayette County Heritage Foundation has made substantial progress since its founding to promote and accomplish historic preservation for the Oxford-Lafayette County community and continues to take on new projects. The organization is made up of nearly 300 members and is governed by a board of directors of 24. Annual membership dues are $10 basic or $50 contributor and can be mailed to the Oxford-Lafayette County Heritage Foundation at P.O. Box 622, Oxford 38655.