Discovering Elvis' Roots ... and Beyond
By Kay Harwell Fernandez
Bragging rights justifiably go to Tupelo, MS, After all, Elvis Presley, “The King of Rock ‘n Roll” was born here. He spent his formative years in Tupelo before his family moved to Memphis, TN.
Town folks embrace the Elvis connection. Yet, they do so in a quiet and unassuming way. Much like the town itself.
Visitors head out to explore the Elvis Presley Birthplace (above right).
Named an All America City, Tupelo boasts a vibrant small downtown.
Although “warm” and “friendly” are oft overused in describing many destinations within the South, visitors find these descriptive phrases ring true in Tupelo.
Here's a look at what visitors might see and do while planning a stay in this northeastern MS city or if just dropping in for a short visit.
Motoring off Hwy. 45's Main Street exit, head west toward town. Immediately you'll spot the Tupelo Automobile Museum
(662-842-4242 or www.tupeloauto.com
), 1 Otis Blvd.
This 120,000-square-foot facility showcases more than 100 fully restored cars.
The impressive $6 million collection ranges from an 1899 Knox Porcupine to Elvis's 1976 Lincoln Mark IV.
Remarkably, 10 cars from each decade from 1900 to 1990 are on display. Each vehicle comes with a recording about its history and construction.
Admission is $10 for adults; $5 for children 5-12; and children 4 and under are admitted free.
You can easily stroll the downtown core of Tupelo.
Definitely check out the Lee County Courthouse (shown at left*) at Broadway and Main.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the courthouse dates to 1904.
This historic building features an impressive Beaux Arts style of architecture. Its spherical cupola is replete with a town clock.
As Tupelo's name comes from a type of local gum tree, it not surprising that the town has a so-named GumTree Museum of Art
(662-844-2787 or www.gumtreemuseum.com
), 211 W. Main St.
The art museum, which is also on the National Register, is shown at right.*
The museum is housed in the 1905-era People Bank and Trust Company building. Admission is free.
A Touch of Yesteryear
Tupelo Hardware Co. (662-842-4637), 114 W. Main St., is a must-stop for visitors of all ages.
Founded in 1926 by George Booth, the business is still owned by his family's second and third generations.
Built in 1941
, the existing three-story brick building holds an eclectic mix of products. It harkens back to yesteryear.
Here you can peruse the original music counter (shown at left*) where Elvis got his first guitar
There's always someone on hand to relate the life-altering story.
The story goes like this. As a 10th birthday present, Elvis wanted a rifle, but his mother urged him to try the guitar.
Elvis strummed a few chords and said "okay." His mother paid $7.75 to purchase the instrument. And the rest is history.
Before moving on to other sights, specifically, Elvis's childhood home, you might opt for a driving tour of the North Broadway Historical District.
This area consists of 13 houses on the National Register. Many have been restored to their original architectural style. The oldest homes are Victorian Cottages from 1858 and 1867.
Birthplace of a Rock 'n Roll Legend
Above, visitors begin their tour of the modest home that was Elvis Presley's Birthplace.*
At the Elvis Presley Birthplace (662-841-1245 or www.elvispresleybirthplace.com), 306 Elvis Presley Dr., you'll see evidence of Elvis' humble beginnings.
The 15-acre Elvis Presley Park includes a Memorial Museum (shown below*). The museum explains Elvis's early days and how his rural Mississippi roots influenced his future.
In addition, a small, meditative chapel was built from donations from fans. Other elements include a Walk of Life that denotes each year of Elvis's life.
A bronze statute “Elvis at 13” also depicts Elvis wearing overalls and carrying a guitar (see photo above right*) He was 13 when his family left Tupelo.
Then there's the house. Many visitors are awed at the sight of this tiny two-room wooden house. Although furnishings are not original, Elvis' father came to the site in the 1970s. He instructed staffers on how the initial placement was back in 1935.
Adult admission for the house and museum is $7; children's admission is $3.50.
If you're an Elvis fan, you won't want to miss the Elvis Festival, which gets under way during the first week of June each year.
If you're in the area, definitely head four miles north of Tupelo to explore the Natchez Trace Parkway Headquarters and Visitors Center (800-305-7417, 662-680-4027 or or www.nps.gov/natr), 2680 Natchez Trace Parkway.
The section of the trace that traverses the Tupelo area is designated by the green star at right.*
The center's exhibits follow the history of the trail (hence the name "trace") which native Americans used as a footpath nearly 8,000 years ago.
Later, the trace was used by Spanish explorers, British troops and frontier settlers.
Today along the two-lane, 444-mile National Scenic Byway, you'll find 800 types of plants and 400 types of wildlife.
The Trace stretches from Natchez, MS through the Alabama Shoals, and across the Tennessee Valley to Nashville. Another good Web site to access for Trace information is www.scenictrace.com.
And if you're seeking family-focused fun that folks of all ages will enjoy, check out the Tupelo Buffalo Park and Zoo (866-27BISON, 662-844-8709 or www.tupelobuffalopark.com), 2272 North Coley Rd.
Here you'll find one of the largest herds of buffalo east of the Mississippi River. Actually, the bison is native to the Tupelo area.
Surprised? Many Americans aren't aware that bison roamed for thousands of years within many areas of the U.S. South.
Hunted prolifically over the past few centuries, they vanished. But now, they're being re-introduced in some spots, either in the wild or, more often, (as in Tupelo) in a natural, zoo-like attraction.
Admission to the Tupelo Buffalo Park and Zoo is $10 for adults, $8 for children under 12, and kids under 12 months are admitted free. Buffalo bus rides or trolley rides throughout the park are an additional $3 per person.
From historic architecture to Elvis memorabilia, from buffalos to art, from a scenic byway to antique autos, Tupelo has a cornucopia of eclectic diversions for southern travelers.
For More Information
Tupelo Convention & Visitors Bureau
399 E. Main St. (open Monday through Friday - 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
800-533-0611 or 662-841-6521