Southern Living Magazine ranks Columbia on best college town list; sparks debate

Friday, August 26, 2011 | 6:18 p.m. CDT; updated 4:09 p.m. CDT, Saturday, August 27, 2011

COLUMBIA — Touting its independent arts scene, quantity of colleges, homecoming traditions and “healthy dose of Southern charm,” Columbia recently landed on Southern Living Magazine’s list of “The South’s Best College Towns.”

Despite this high praise, being categorized as a southern town begs the question: Is Columbia a part of the Southern or Midwestern United States?

According to Professor Larry Brown, who teaches Geography of Missouri at MU, contemporary Columbia and the state as a whole should be considered a part of the Midwest.

“Columbia is in the middle of the state, in the middle of the country and the middle of the continent. To be grouped with other states of this middle region is very appropriate,” Brown said.

Brown added that Columbia in particular stands at a confusing crossroads of regional identity.

“Most European immigration in Missouri was from the East and in St. Louis, while Kansas City didn’t exist until after the Civil War and had much more Western characteristics. Columbia is in what was traditionally Little Dixie, so it’s been influenced by many regions,” Brown said.

The list was released online, and it recognized Columbia with fifteen other Southern college towns including: Charlottesville, Va. (University of Virginia,) Chapel Hill, N.C. (University of North Carolina) and Bryan-College Station, Texas (Texas A&M), to name a few.

The Southern Living article emphasized the presence of three different colleges in Columbia, MU's claim to having hosted the first homecoming celebration and the active arts scene downtown with areas like the North Village Arts District and Ragtag Cinema.

Southern Living listed the criteria for choosing the South’s best college towns as: having a population of 200,000 or less, a strong relationship between the schools and their host towns, lively social and arts scenes, good dining, boutiques, active and loyal alumni; and, of course, “a healthy dose of Southern charm.”

The Missourian asked its social media communities to weigh in with their opinions, beginning with a poll on its Facebook page.

By 5 p.m. Friday, 56 people had indicated they do not consider Columbia a Southern town. Eleven people said they do. Three agreed with the option that Columbia is Southern "in attitude, yes. But hospitality, etc., no," and two voted for "I've heard it called the Up South, after which I had to laugh."

On Twitter, people added more flavor to the conversation.

"I was born and raised in Houston, TX. Columbia won't be a southern town unless it significantly improves it's Mexican food." — @Stephen_Cobb

"No. Columbia is a wonderful college town, but not a southern college town." — @JClarkDavis)

"If the Mason Dixon line runs through your state, then you are southern." — @Reckinball09

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Eric Niewoehner August 26, 2011 | 11:47 p.m.

I lived in Columbia for about 45 years. I owned three homes during that time, and each of them resided on former plantations that had a dozen or more slaves.

The last slave auction included an interesting, peculiar buyer -- a man by the name of Rollins who happens to have his name stamped all over the University campus. That at the time of the Civil War almost all land in Boone County was farmed by slave labor.

It's leading citizens, up to this day, stem from the original settlers who migrated from Kentucky and Virginia.

I am not ashamed of my Southern heritage. I like the way I talk, the down-home sense of humor I picked up from people I grew up with, great Southern cooking. beautiful Southern architecture, the joyful song of the fiddle, and the richness of the gospel, ragtag and jazz of black Americans. Columbians should embrace this heritage and come to know it.

(Report Comment)
Eric Niewoehner August 26, 2011 | 11:50 p.m.

Knowing one's heritage is not hiding the truth, but acknowledging both the good and bad, the great and the mean.

(Report Comment)
hank ottinger August 27, 2011 | 3:15 a.m.

I'm not sure who first said it, but it goes like this: those from the South think Missouri a northern state; those from the North regard it as a southern state; Westerners see it as an eastern state; and Easterners look at it as a western state.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith August 27, 2011 | 6:23 a.m.

Was dumping cotton balls on the MU campus a "healthy dose of Southern charm"? If so, a rather surprising number of people, from all four UM System campuses and many of them native Missourians, weren't charmed.

(Report Comment)
Robin Nuttall August 27, 2011 | 8:12 a.m.

I grew up in Kentucky, which like Missouri, did not actually secede from the Union. However, Kentucky is very much a Southern state in tradition, food, accent, mindset, and geography.

Columbia is very VERY unlike anywhere in Kentucky I ever lived or knew. Not just geographically, being west of the Mississippi, but also in culture, accent, and food. Many central Missourians don't even realize we were a slave state. And I'm not sure being a slave state defines whether a state is "southern" anyway. Weren't several Western states also slaveholders? Our culture is much more aligned with Northern and Western states than with Southern states. I would not call Columbia a Southern city in any way.

(Report Comment)
Greg Allen August 27, 2011 | 9:24 a.m.

Kansas City didn't exist until after the Civil War?

Technically, the name may not have existed until around 1850 (still antebellum), but the Westport area, which KC grew up around, was settled and named in 1833. Jackson County was incorporated around 1851.

Clay County (which contains KC North) and Liberty (county seat) were incorporated in 1822.

Just remember this stuff because I grew up around there.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith August 27, 2011 | 7:40 p.m.

Kansas City began as a small settlement known as Westport Landing, which was where steamboats docked to deliver goods for Westport, inland from the Missouri River. For several years Westport was the eastern terminus of the Santa Fe Trail.
The small community on the river was called "Kansas." With the coming of the railroads (Kansas City is one of the main rail hubs in the United States, although some rail yards are located on the Kansas side of the state line), "Kansas," became Kansas City and expanded to the south, eventually absorbing Westport in a friendly annexation.

Although Westport hasn't existed as a political entity for more than 100 years it is an important part of Kansas City, with its shops, restaurants, night life, art museums, historical sites, etc.

The Civil War Battle of Westport occurred in 1864; the Confederates lost.

(Report Comment)
Delcia Crockett August 28, 2011 | 11:10 a.m.

We're Southerners? I was born here, grew up here and all I have ever heard was that we are Mid-Westerners. When did we get this regional title?

I do know there is an old joke that the Bootheel in Southeast Missouri so looks like it should be a part of Arkansas, when a straight line is drawn across dividing Missouri and Arkansas, and the punch line is: "That would raise the IQ of Arkansas 50 points, but would lower the IQ of Missouri by 50 points."

Hey, I heard that joke in the Bootheel.


(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith August 31, 2011 | 6:27 a.m.

The more usual version of the joke concerning re-drawing the Missouri-Arkansas state line would appear to be that if the southern tier of Missouri counties were ceded to Arkansas it would have the effect of raising the IQ levels of BOTH* states. :) (A similar joke exists concerning Iowa and Missouri.)

*- Emphasis mine.

(Report Comment)

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