When my dad told me that he was planning on us driving from Clarksdale to Tupelo, Mississippi, I immediately started looking up stops along the way. It's only a two-hour drive but I'm always on the lookout for interesting things to see on any roadtrip, no matter how short—it's always more about the journey, right? I didn't find much, but I'm always up for a historic home so we put Rowan Oak, located in Oxford, Mississippi, on the list.
Known as "The Bailey Place" when it was purchased by William Faulkner in 1930, Rowan Oak is a Greek revival house on 29 acres of cedar and hardwood trees. The home was built in the 1840s by Colonel Robert Sheegog, an Irish immigrant and Tennessee farmer. Faulkner renamed the house after the rowan tree, a symbol of peace and security.
Faulkner, along with his wife and three children, lived at Rowan Oak until his death in 1962. While living at the house, Faulkner won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949 and the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award in 1954. Anecdotes included in the house brochure make Faulkner sound like quite the pill. He fought with his daughter over her possession of a radio and he hated air conditioning so much he refused to have it in the house—the window unit in his wife's bedroom was installed the day after his funeral.
Faulkner's daughter Jill sold the house in 1972 to the University of Mississippi and you can take a self-guided tour for $5 (students get in free). The house is beautiful but feels lived-in in a way that Gilded-age "houses" like The Breakers in Newport never could. I love touring opulent mansions but I also love seeing places like Rowan Oak—it's historic and grand but it still feels like home for real people.
In fact, my favorite parts of the home were the ones that felt the most ordinary. In Faulkner's writing room, he actually wrote the plot outline for A Fable on the wall in graphite and red grease pencil. In a corner of the kitchen sits a rotary telephone, surrounded by handwritten phone numbers for family, friends and local businesses, including the hospital.
Of course I would move into the house in a heartbeat, but the grounds of Rowan Oak are the real attraction. There are several outbuildings on the property known as Bailey's Woods, including a detached kitchen, barn, servants' quarters, stable and multiple gardens. But it's the walkway leading up to the house that really stole my heart—lined with huge eastern red cedar trees, they were planted after a yellow fever epidemic swept through the South because it was believed that cedars had air cleansing properties.
916 Old Taylor Road
Oxford, MS 38655
Summer Hours: June 1 through August 1, Mon through Sat, 10am-6pm, and Sun 1pm-6pm