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Tupelo, Mississippi
City of Tupelo
Main Street in Tupelo
Main Street in Tupelo
Location of Tupelo in Lee County
Location of Tupelo in Lee County
Country  United States
State  Mississippi
County Lee
Incorporated 1870
 • Type Mayor–Council
 • City 133.2 km2 (51.4 sq mi)
 • Land 132.4 km2 (51.1 sq mi)
 • Water 0.8 km2 (0.3 sq mi)
85 m (279 ft)
 • City 34,546
 • Estimate 
 • Density 274/km2 (709/sq mi)
 • Metro
139,671 (US: 8th)
Time zone UTC-6 (CST)
 • Summer (DST) UTC-5 (CDT)
ZIP codes
Area code(s) 662
FIPS code 28-74840
GNIS feature ID 0678931
Website City of Tupelo

Tupelo is the county seat and the largest city of Lee County, Mississippi. The seventh-largest city in the state, it is situated in Northeast Mississippi, between Memphis, Tennessee, and Birmingham, Alabama. It is accessed by Interstate 22. As of the 2010 census, the population was 34,546, with the surrounding counties of Lee, Pontotoc and Itawamba supporting a population of 139,671

Tupelo was the first city to gain an electrical power grid under President Franklin D. Roosevelt's program of the Tennessee Valley Authority construction of facilities during the Great Depression. The city is also the birthplace of singer Elvis Presley.


European colonization

Indigenous peoples lived in the area for thousands of years. The historic Chickasaw and Choctaw, both Muskogean-speaking peoples of the Southeast, occupied this area long before European encounter.

French and British colonists traded with these indigenous peoples and tried to make alliances with them. The French established towns in Mississippi mostly on the Gulf Coast. At times, the European powers came into armed conflict. On May 26, 1736 the Battle of Ackia was fought near the site of the present Tupelo; British and Chickasaw soldiers repelled a French and Choctaw attack on the then-Chickasaw village of Ackia. The French, under Louisiana governor Jean Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, had sought to link Louisiana with Acadia and the other northern colonies of New France.

In the early 19th century, after years of trading and encroachment by European-American settlers from the United States, conflicts increased as the US settlers tried to gain land from these nations. In 1830 Congress passed the Indian Removal Act and authorized the relocation of all the Southeast Native Americans west of the Mississippi River, which was completed by the end of the 1830s.

In the early years of settlement, European-Americans named this town Gum Pond, supposedly due to its numerous tupelo trees, known locally as blackgum. The city still hosts the annual Gumtree Arts Festival.

Civil War and post-war development

During the Civil War, Union and Confederate forces fought in the area in 1864 in the Battle of Tupelo. Designated the Tupelo National Battlefield, the war site is administered by the National Park Service (NPS). In addition, the Brices Cross Roads National Battlefield, about ten miles north, commemorates another Civil War site.

After the war, a cross-state railroad for northern Mississippi was constructed through the town, which encouraged industry and growth. With expansion, the town changed its name to Tupelo, in honor of the battle. It was incorporated in 1870.

20th century to present

Tupelo, Mississippi Railroad Depot (circa 1900)
Railroad depot, circa 1900
1936 Tupelo Miss. tornado cleanup
Students clear the ruins of the segregated Lee County Training School, a month after the 1936 tornado

By the early twentieth century, the town had become a site of cotton textile mills, which provided new jobs for residents of the rural area. Under the state's segregation practices, the mills employed only white adults and children. Reformers documented the child workers and attempted to protect them through labor laws.

The last known bank robbery by Machine Gun Kelly, a Prohibition-era gangster, took place on November 30, 1932 at the Citizen’s State Bank in Tupelo; his gang netted $38,000. After the robbery, the bank’s chief teller said of Kelly, “He was the kind of guy that, if you looked at him, you would never thought he was a bank robber.”

During the Great Depression, Tupelo was electrified by the new Tennessee Valley Authority, which had constructed dams and power plants throughout the region to generate hydroelectric power for the large, rural area. The distribution infrastructure was built with federal assistance as well, employing many local workers. In 1935, President Franklin Roosevelt visited this "First TVA City".

In 2007, the nearby village of Blue Springs was selected as the site for Toyota's eleventh automobile manufacturing plant in the United States.

In 2013 Gale Stauffer of the Tupelo Police Department died in a shootout following a bank robbery, possibly the first officer killed in the line of duty in the Department's history.

Severe weather

The spring of 1936 brought Tupelo one of its worst-ever natural disasters, part of the Tupelo-Gainesville tornado outbreak of April 5–6 in that year. The storm leveled 48 city blocks and over 200 homes, killing 216 people and injuring more than 700 persons. It struck at night, destroying large residential areas on the city's north side. Among the survivors was Elvis Presley, then a baby. Obliterating the Gum Pond neighborhood, the tornado dropped most of the victims' bodies in the pond. The storm has since been rated F5 on the modern Fujita scale. The Tupelo Tornado is recognized as one of the deadliest in U.S. history.

The Mississippi State Geologist estimated a final death toll of 233 persons, but 100 whites were still reported as hospitalized at the time. Because the white newspapers did not publish news about blacks until the 1940s and 1950s, historians have had difficulty learning the fates of blacks injured in the tornado. Based on this, historians now estimate the death toll was higher than in official records. Fire broke out at the segregated Lee County Training School, which was destroyed. Its bricks were salvaged for other uses.

The area is subject to tornadoes. In 2008 one rated an EF3 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale struck the town. On April 28, 2014, a large tornado struck Tupelo and the surrounding communities, causing significant damage.

Geography and climate

Tupelo is located in northeast Mississippi, north of Columbus, on future Interstate 22 and U.S. Route 78, midway 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 km2), of which 51.1 square miles (132 km2) is land and 0.3 square miles (0.78 km2) (0.62%) is water.

Tupelo has a humid subtropical climate (Cfa in the Köppen climate classification). Winters are short but cool, with sometimes-dramatic temperature swings. The warmest winter days can have high temperatures from 70 to 80 °F (21.1 to 26.7 °C) and low temperatures from 50 to 60 °F (10.0 to 15.6 °C). The coldest winter days usually have high temperatures below freezing (32 °F or 0 °C), and on rare occasions in the 20s Fahrenheit, with low temperatures near or below 12 °F or −11.1 °C and occasional lows in the single digits Fahrenheit or (rarely) lower still. In January, the coldest month, Tupelo’s average high temperature is near 50 °F or 10 °C and the average low about 30 °F or −1.1 °C. Day-to-day temperature variations are far less in the consistently hot and humid summer months. July and August high temperatures average near 90 °F or 32.2 °C, with low temperatures near 70 °F or 21.1 °C, with consistently high humidity and occasional thunderstorms, decreasing in frequency and intensity after June. The spring and fall months have generally pleasant temperatures, with average daily highs in the 70s Fahrenheit in April and October, but with shower and thunderstorm activity markedly more frequent, intense and severe from March to May, when severe thunderstorms and occasional tornadoes are significant threats.

Tupelo has an average annual precipitation of over 55 inches or 1,397.0 millimetres per year – virtually the highest found anywhere in the eastern U.S. outside isolated highland areas and the immediate Gulf Coast (i.e. New Orleans, LA and Pensacola, FL areas), with their heavier summer-season rainfalls. Tupelo’s average annual precipitation cycle demonstrates an unusual pattern for humid-subtropical climates worldwide. Many humid-subtropical areas (like the Shanghai, China area and the U.S. southeast Atlantic coast, i.e. Norfolk, VA; Cape Hatteras, NC; Charleston, SC; Savannah, GA) have highest monthly average precipitation amounts in July or August. In contrast, Tupelo has a prolonged "wetter season" from November to June, and a marked tendency toward drier conditions from late July through October. In terms of average monthly precipitation, Tupelo’s single wettest month is March, averaging 6.3 inches or 160.0 millimetres, with December a close second at 6.1 inches or 154.9 millimetres (for both, virtually the highest average found anywhere in the United States outside windward areas west of the Cascade Range and spotty highland areas). Spring (March to May) and to a lesser extent late fall/early winter (November-December) can be especially turbulent, with heavy-rain events and strong to occasionally violent showers and thunderstorms not uncommon. Tupelo lies near the heart of Dixie Alley, an area of the U.S. mid-South with a relatively high frequency of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. As elsewhere in Dixie Alley, the primary severe-weather season in Tupelo begins in late February, continuing into May, with a secondary “severe weather” peak in November–December. For example, Tupelo was hit hard by tornadoes in April 1936, and again in April 2014 (see “Severe Weather” section, above).

Climate data for Tupelo, Mississippi
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 80
Average high °F (°C) 50
Average low °F (°C) 30
Record low °F (°C) −14
Rainfall inches (mm) 5.14
Snowfall inches (cm) 1.3
Humidity 48.5 73.5 71.5 70.0 71.5 74.0 75.0 76.5 75.5 74.5 71.5 72.5 76.5


Historical population
Census Pop.
1870 618
1880 1,008 63.1%
1890 1,477 46.5%
1900 2,118 43.4%
1910 3,881 83.2%
1920 5,055 30.2%
1930 6,361 25.8%
1940 8,212 29.1%
1950 11,527 40.4%
1960 17,221 49.4%
1970 20,471 18.9%
1980 23,905 16.8%
1990 30,685 28.4%
2000 34,211 11.5%
2010 34,546 1.0%
Est. 2015 35,680 3.3%
U.S. Decennial Census
2013 Estimate

As of the census of 2010, there are 35,456 people, 13,602 households, and 8,965 families residing in the city. The racial makeup of the city is 58.7% White, 36.8% African American, 0.1% Native American, 1.0% Asian, 0.01% Pacific Islander, 2.0% from other races, and 1.4% from two or more races. 3.5% of the population are Hispanic or Latino of any race.

According to the 2007–2011 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, there are 13,395 households, 42.8% are married couples living together, 2.6% have a male householder with no wife present, and 22.5% have a female householder with no husband present. 32.2% are non-family households, with 28.4% have a householder living alone and 3.8% having a householder not living alone. In addition, 39.7% of householders are living with related children under 18 and 60.3% with no related children under 18. The average household size is 2.47 and the average family size is 3.08.

The median income for a household in the city is $39,415. The poverty rate for people living below the poverty line is 20%.

Arts and culture

  • The Tupelo Buffalo Park and Zoo is home to hundreds of animals and a large American bison herd.
  • It is the headquarters of the historic Natchez Trace Parkway, which connects Natchez, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee. The parkway follows the route of the ancient Natchez Trace trail, a path used by indigenous peoples long before the Europeans came to the area.
  • Nearby are the Pharr Mounds, an important Middle Woodland period complex of nearly 2000-year-old burial earthworks, dating from 1 to 200 AD.
USA Mississippi Tupelo area NPS map
Tupelo area map of historic battlefields and sites
  • Civil War sites include Tupelo and Brices Cross Roads national battlefields.
  • The Tupelo Automobile Museum is one of the largest of this type in North America. In 2003, it was designated as the official automobile museum of the state. It houses more than 150 rare automobiles, all from the personal collection of Frank K. Spain, who founded the channel WTVA.
  • Since its founding in 1969, the Tupelo Community Theatre has produced more than 200 works. In 2001 and 2004, it won awards at the Mississippi Theatre Association's Community Theatre festival. In 2004 its production of Bel Canto won at the Southeastern Theatre Conference. 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. The symphony's free annual July 4 outdoor concert at Ballard Park draws thousands of fans.
  • In 2005, the Rotary Club sponsored a commission for a statue to honor Chief Piomingo, a leader of the Chickasaw people who had occupied this area. It was erected in front of the new Tupelo City Hall.
  • The Oren Dunn City Museum tells the Story of Community Building through permanent exhibits and a collection of historic structures. The Special Exhibit Gallery provides a venue for a variety of traveling and temporary shows throughout the year.
  • In June 1956 noted singer Elvis Presley returned to Tupelo for a concert at the Mississippi-Alabama State Fair & Dairy Show. This event was recreated at the eighth "Elvis Presley Festival" in Tupelo on June 3, 2006. The fairgrounds is part of Tupelo's Fairpark District. The documentary film, The Homecoming: Tupelo Welcomes Elvis Home, premiered at the 2006 festival.
  • The Lee County Library has an annual lecture series featuring nationally known authors.
  • Built in 1937, the Church Street Elementary School (for white students in the segregated system) was hailed as one of the most outstanding designs of its time. A scale model of this Art Moderne structure, described as "the ideal elementary school," was displayed at the 1939 New York World's Fair.
  • The BancorpSouth Arena opened in 1993 and is a venue for large events.
  • The Rap Group Rae Sremmurd comes from the city

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