Tupelo (city)

Tupelo, Mississippi

Tupelo (IPA: [tu:pəlo]) is the largest city in and the county seat of Lee County, Mississippi, United States. It is the eighth largest city in the state of Mississippi, smaller than Meridian, and larger than Olive Branch. The Tupelo area — specifically the nearby village of Blue Springs — was selected during the spring of 2007 as the site for Toyota's eleventh U.S. automobile manufacturing plant. As of the 2000 United States Census, the city's population was 34,211. By 2007, the population was 36,058, with a micropolitan area population of 132,245, encompassing Lee, Pontotoc and Itawamba counties. The city is perhaps best known as the birthplace of Elvis Presley Situated in northeast Mississippi, the city lies between Memphis, Tennessee, and Birmingham, Alabama, along U.S. Highway 78 — slated to become Interstate 22 within a few years.


The town was originally named Gum Pond prior to the American Civil War, supposedly due to the high number of tupelo trees, locally known as blackgum, that grow in the area. The city still hosts the Gumtree Arts Festival each year. In the post-Civil War era, Tupelo became the northern Mississippi site for the crossing of a railroad, which brought industry to the town, establishing it as the center of commerce in the northern part of the state. Once the town began to grow, Gum Pond took on the name Tupelo, naming the town after the small Civil War battle that took place on the site. That site is now designated as Tupelo National Battlefield. That Battle of Tupelo was in turn named for the tupelo trees of the area. Tupelo was incorporated in 1870 with a population of 618.

Tupelo made national history in 1934 as the first city in the United States to provide its citizens with electric power through the Tennessee Valley Authority. In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt visited this First TVA City.

Cultural and attractions

  • Tupelo is the headquarters of the historic Natchez Trace Parkway, connecting Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee, while following the route of the original Natchez Trace trail.
  • The Civil War battlefields include: Tupelo National Battlefield and Brices Cross Roads National Battlefield.
  • One of the largest automobile museums in North America, the Tupelo Automobile Museum opened on December 7, 2002, Pearl Harbor Day, and was designated the official State of Mississippi automobile museum in the spring of 2003. The museum is home to more than 150 rare automobiles, all of which were the personal collection of WTVA founder Frank K. Spain.
  • Tupelo Community Theatre was founded in 1969 and has produced over 200 productions. In 2001 and 2004 it was the winner of the Mississippi Theatre Association Community Theatre festival and was a winner at the Southeastern Theatre Conference in 2004 with its production of Bel Canto. TCT's home is the historic Lyric Theatre, built in 1912.
  • The Tupelo Symphony Orchestra's season runs from September-April with concerts held at the Tupelo Civic Auditorium. Special conductors and soloists appear regularly and the symphony also holds a free annual July 4 outdoor concert at Tupelo's Ballard Park that draws thousands of fans.
  • The Tupelo Buffalo Park and Zoo home to hundreds of animals and a large buffalo herd.
  • Tupelo's coliseum, the BancorpSouth Arena, opened in 1993 and has hosted concerts by entertainers such as The Eagles, Rod Stewart, Bob Dylan, Widespread Panic, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Aerosmith, Kiss, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Elton John and Creed.
  • In 2005, under the leadership of the Tupelo Rotary Club, the city unveiled a statue of Chief Piomingo, a leader of the Chickasaw people, in front of the new city hall.
  • Tupelo's Oren Dunn City Museum displays relics from the American Civil War Battle of Tupelo as well as Indian artifacts and NASA exhibits.
  • April 2006 marked the 70th anniversary of the 1936 Tupelo Tornado, the fourth deadliest tornado in United States history and part of the Tupelo-Gainesville tornado outbreak of tornadoes on April 5-6, 1936. Historian Martis D. Ramage, Jr.'s book, "Tupelo, Mississippi, Tornado of 1936," chronicles the devastation of the tornado, with many rare photographs.
  • June 2006 was the 50th anniversary of the 1956 Elvis Presley Homecoming in Tupelo, the highlight of which was the famous 1956 concert at the Mississippi-Alabama State Fair & Dairy Show. The event was recreated at the eighth Elvis Presley Festival in Tupelo on June 3, 2006. The original site of the concert, the fairgrounds, is now part of Tupelo's Fairpark District. Documentary filmmakers Roy Turner and Jim Palmer premiered their new Presley documentary, "The Homecoming: Tupelo Welcomes Elvis Home", at the 2006 festival.
  • Authors who have spoken at the Lee County Library's annual Helen Foster Lecture series since its inception in 1974 have included Shelby Foote, Alex Haley, John Grisham, Rick Bragg, Pat Conroy, Ernest Gaines, Willie Morris, Beverly Sills and Alice Walker.
  • Built in 1937, Tupelo's beautiful Church Street Elementary School was hailed as one of the most outstanding designs of its time. A scale model of this Art Moderne structure was displayed at the 1939 New York World's Fair as "the ideal elementary school."


  • Tupelo is the headquarters of the North Mississippi Medical Center, the largest non-metropolitan hospital in the United States. It serves people in North Mississippi, northwest Alabama and portions of Tennessee. The medical center was a winner of the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in 2006.
  • Tupelo is the headquarters of two banking institutions - BancorpSouth, with approximately $11.8 billion in assets (2006), and Renasant, with assets of approximately $2.4 billion (2006).
  • The city is a three-time "All-America City Award" winner and boasts one of the largest furniture manufacturing industries nationwide. As journalist Dennis Seid of The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal noted in the February, 2006 edition of The Northeast Mississippi Business Journal, furniture manufacturing is crucial to the economy of Northeast Mississippi, "providing some 22,000 jobs, or almost 13% of the region's employment... with a $732 million annual payroll... producing $2.25 billion worth of goods."
  • Tupelo had the first Comcast cable system. Comcast is now the largest cable company in the world.
  • Tecumseh, Furniture Brands International, Hancock Fabrics Inc., Toyota Motor Manufacturing of Mississippi, H.M. Richards, JESCO Construction, MTD Products, Savings Oil Company (Dodge's Stores), and Cooper Tire & Rubber Company all operate or are headquartered in Tupelo & Lee County.


As of the census of 2000, there are 34,211 people, 13,395 households, and 9,108 families residing in the city. The population density is 669.4 people per square mile (258.4/km²). There are 14,551 housing units at an average density of 284.7/sq mi (109.9/km²). The racial makeup of the city is 69.40% White, 28.28% African American, 0.10% Native American, 0.88% Asian, 0.01% Pacific Islander, 0.47% from other races, and 0.85% from two or more races. 1.41% of the population are Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There are 13,395 households out of which 34.9% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 48.3% are married couples living together, 16.2% have a female householder with no husband present, and 32.0% are non-families. 28.0% of all households are made up of individuals and 8.8% have someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 2.47 and the average family size is 3.04.

In the city the population is spread out with 27.5% under the age of 18, 8.1% from 18 to 24, 30.5% from 25 to 44, 21.4% from 45 to 64, and 12.4% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 35 years. For every 100 females there are 88.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 82.6 males.

The median income for a household in the city is $38,401. Males have a median income of $35,027 versus $23,988 for females. The per capita income for the city is $22,024.


Tupelo's current mayor is Republican Ed Neelly. The president of the Tupelo City Council is Dick Hill.

In December 2007, Sen. Trent Lott retired leaving a vacancy in his unfinished six-year term. Governor Haley Barbour appointed Rep. Roger Wicker as Lott's replacement. Mississippi's First Congressional District seat was open and a special election was held. After a much heated campaign, Travis Childers (D) was elected to represent Mississippi's First Congressional District.


The local daily newspaper is The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal.

Tupelo is home to three television stations serving the 133rd-ranked designated market area among 210 markets nationwide as determined by Nielsen Media Research: WTVA (9), an NBC affiliate; WLOV (27), a FOX affiliate, and WKDH (45), an ABC affiliate. All three stations are located just outside the Tupelo city limits and were controlled by Frank K. Spain until his death on April 25, 2006.

Geography and Climate

Tupelo is located at (34.259585, -88.725885), in northeast Mississippi, north of Columbus, on Highway 78 mid way between Memphis, Tennessee (northwest) and Birmingham, Alabama (southeast).

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 51.4 square miles (133.2 km²), of which, 51.1 square miles (132.4 km²) of it is land and 0.3 square miles (0.8 km²) of it (0.62%) is water.

Monthly Normal and Record High and Low Temperatures
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Rec High °F 77 84 85 93 94 101 105 106 103 92 87 79
Norm High °F 50.3 56 64.8 73.5 81 88 91.4 90.9 84.9 74.9 63 53.6
Norm Low °F 30.5 33.5 41.4 48.2 57.7 65.7 69.8 68.2 61.7 48.8 40 33.2
Rec Low °F -6 4 16 29 40 49 58 52 40 29 19 -3
Precip (in) 5.14 4.68 6.3 4.94 5.8 4.82 3.65 2.67 3.35 3.38 5.01 6.12
Source: USTravelWeather.com


The City of Tupelo is served by the Tupelo Public School District List of schools in Tupelo, Ms Carver Elementary, Church Street Elementary, M.L.King Early Childhood Education Center, Joyner Elementary, Lawhon Elementary, Lawndale Elementary, Milam Elementary, Parkway Elementary, Pierce Street Elementary, Rankin Elementary, Thomas Street Elementary, Tupelo Christian Preparatory School, Tupelo High School, Tupelo Middle School

Tupelo is also home to satellite campuses of the University of Mississippi, Itawamba Community College, and the Mississippi University for Women.

The 2008 Tupelo Golden Wave high school baseball team was ranked #1 in the nation for 2 weeks. The Tupelo High School Athletic department also was ranked #3 in the nation in 2008 by Sports Illustrated as best athletic department.

Famous people

Elvis Presley was born in east Tupelo in 1935. There is a life-sized bronze statue of "Elvis at 13" by sculptor Michiel Van der Sommen close by the little wooden house where Elvis was born (which is open to the public). The annual Elvis Presley Festival held in early June attracts music lovers from all over the world. Nearby is Johnnie's Drive-in, a local eatery that was frequented by the singer, and has several menu items he was said to favor. Tupelo has received a Mississippi Blues Trail marker commemorating it as a site on the Mississippi Blues Trail for being the birthplace of Elvis Presley.

John Michael McCarthy's Teenage Tupelo is a film about the sex life of the filmmaker's mother, who believes he was fathered by Presley.

John Lee Hooker released a song called "Tupelo", about a flood in Tupelo in the 1930s. Inspired by John Lee Hooker's song, Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds recorded a song titled "Tupelo", mixing imagery of the flood and birth of Elvis Presley.

Rockabilly singer-songwriter Jumpin' Gene Simmons, who had a hit in 1964 with the song "Haunted House" was born and died in Tupelo. He also co-wrote the Tim McGraw hit "Indian Outlaw" with Tommy Barnes and John Loudermilk.

Newspaper publisher George McLean bought Tupelo's Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal in June, 1934 and remained publisher until his death in 1983. Using his newspaper to promote the cultural development of the area, he was one of the foremost community development figures in the United States, being named "Man of the Year" in 1937 by Nation Magazine at age 34.

Tupelo native Glenn L. McCullough Jr., a sixth-generation Mississippian, was named chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority Board of Directors by President George W. Bush on July 19, 2001. In December, 2004, Congress passed Public Law No. 108-447, which stripped the TVA Board of its full-time status and required management experience for future members of the Board. Serving until 2005, he was the first TVA chairman from Mississippi since the John F. Kennedy era. McCullough began serving on the TVA board in 1999 following his appointment by President Bill Clinton. In 1992, he had been appointed director of the Mississippi office of the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) by Governor Kirk Fordice. In June, 1997, McCullough had been elected Tupelo's 23 mayor, with 61 percent of the vote. During his administration, the genesis of the future downtown Fairpark District began as well as the rebirth and redevelopment of the Historic Downtown Tupelo Neighborhood and the city was also awarded "All-American City" status for the third time in its history.

Allie Grant (actress) - The Suite Life of Zack and Cody.

Controversial U.S. Congressman John E. Rankin of Tupelo served his district for sixteen terms (1921-53), co-authoring the bill to create the Tennessee Valley Authority as well as being a member of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).

Singer Guy Hovis was born in Tupelo in 1941. In 1970, he joined his wife on the Lawrence Welk Show as one half of "Guy & Ralna," one of the show's most popular acts.

Actor John Dye (China Beach, Touched By An Angel) graduated from Tupelo High School in 1981.

Notorious outlaws Bonnie and Clyde spent a few days with a family in East Tupelo, across the tracks (the part of town where Elvis was born), while they attempted to elude federal and local authorities.

Tupelo was a "knock down spot", or place for hiding and relaxing for infamous State Line Mob and Dixie Mafia members like Carl Douglas "Towhead" White, Jack Hathcock, W.O. Hathcock, Kirksey Nix, and Louise Hathcock.

Singer/songwriter Paul Thorn hails from Tupelo and always introduces himself at shows as being from the birthplace of Elvis Presley.

Famous prohibition-era gangster Machine Gun Kelly's last known bank robbery occurred on November 30, 1932 at the Citizen’s State Bank in Tupelo netting his gang $38,000. After the robbery the bank’s chief teller would say of Kelly, “He was the kind of guy that, if you looked at him, you would never thought he was a bank robber.”

In 2001, Amy Wesson was featured in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.

1987 Playboy Bunny of the year, Madi Martin, was born in Tupelo.

Krusty the Clown from TV's The Simpsons is credited with starting his career as a street mime in Tupelo.

Lee Williams & The Spiritual QC's Gospel Entertainers.


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