Meridian's history begins in the 1830s. During the Civil War, General Sherman burned the city to the ground and declared "Meridian no longer exists." However, Meridian rebounded and is currently recognized as the sixth-largest city in Mississippi, with more than 38,000 residents. It was once the largest city in the state but suffered with the phasing out of the railroad industry, leading to a fairly steady population decline since the mid-20th century.
Today's Meridian, however, is focused on growth. A comprehensive development plan created in 2003 is intended to guide the city in revitalizing its historic downtown and attracting new commercial interests.
NEIGHBORHOODS AND DISTRICTS
One of the primary attractions in Meridian is its heritage, and the city proudly boasts about its historical neighborhoods, including nine separate districts that have been featured in the National Register of Historical Places. These areas reflect the history of American architecture and provide insight into many different periods of the city's history.
- East End: Added to the National Register in August 1987, this district covers 970 acres and is home to more than 250 buildings, including many cottages built from end of the 19th century through the beginning of the 20th century.
- Highlands: This district was originally known as Missouri Ridge and was the site of a skirmish involving Union soldiers during the Civil War. Like East End, the Highlands District was added to the National Register in August 1987.
- Highland Park: Added to the National Register in 1979, this area covering 400 acres was once a "pleasure park," and residents traveled there by streetcar to enjoy band concerts. The site includes the Dentzel Carousel and Shelter Building, a National Historic Landmark.
- Meridian Downtown: This district was formed by the combination of the old Meridian Urban Center District and the Union Station District, which were merged by the city council in 2005 and added to the National Register a year later. The Urban Center area features an art deco-style skyscraper and several Italianate row buildings, including the Meridian Grand Opera House (now housing Mississippi State University's Riley Center for Education and Performing Arts).
- Merrehope: As Meridian began to grow economically following the Civil War, it expanded northward into what is now known as the Merrehope District. This neighborhood features late 19th- and early 20th-century housing, including the Victorian Elson-Dudley House, as well as the Carnegie Branch Library. The district was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.
- Mid-Town: This district, which was added to the National Register in 1987, features mostly brick-built homes owned by the wealthiest residents from Meridian's past.
- Poplar Springs: A testament to the area's pre-Depression prosperity, this district includes classic homes from the turn of the century, including Queen Anne, craftsman, and colonial revival styles. The Poplar Springs area derives its name for the road around which it developed.
- West End: Added to the National Register in 1987, this district is one of the older neighborhoods in Meridian, with its period of significance dating as far back as the 1850s. It was one of the first communities to be reestablished after the city's destruction during the Civil War and in many ways helped to spur Meridian's economic growth through the late 1800s and early 1900s, during which time the city was the largest in the state.
ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
In addition to the many landmarks and historical locations featured prominently in the historical districts, there are several other places of interest:
- Bonita Lakes, a 3,300-acre park, includes a golf course, hiking trails, horseback riding, fishing, and more.
- The Mississippi State University RileyCenter for Performing Arts is home to a number of different types of stage productions, including operas.
- The Jimmie Rodgers Museum allows visitors to learn about the life and the career of the man known by some as the "Father of Country Music."
- The Meridian Museum of Art features exhibits from several artists from Mississippi and Alabama.
Meridian offers several malls and shopping centers, including:
- Bonita Lakes Mall, whose anchor stores are McRae's, Dillards, Sears and JC Penny.
- College Park Shopping, with restaurants, specialty shops and more.
- North Hills Shopping, with everything from clothing to stationery.
ECONOMY AND INDUSTRIES
The largest employers in terms of industry are health care and welfare-related programs. Meridian is also home to a pair of military facilities that employ a combined 4,000 workers, and the city is in the midst of an economic development project intended to bring several new manufacturing businesses and shopping centers to the area. Both the median household income and the median home value are substantially below the state average, and nearly 25 percent of all families living in Meridian fall below the poverty line.
The city is home to Meridian Community College, a public school granting two-year degrees that is located near the downtown district, as well as a local campus of Mississippi State University. Among the colleges and universities located roughly 100 miles from Meridian are the MSU main campus in Starkville, the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, and the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.