As the Jackson-Madison County Bicentennial Commission continues its year-long celebration set to wrap up in August with Jackson’s 200th birthday, a number of events celebrating the history of Downtown Jackson, East Jackson and Jackson music made for a full day of local education.
Local historian Robert Briley, a longtime educator in Jackson-Madison County Schools, put together a historical walk around Downtown, giving the history of many of the buildings – government and commercial – in the area.
Here are a few of the historical highlights of that tour.
The Rainey-Kizer building is the oldest building in Downtown at the corner of Main Street and Highland Avenue, which was known as Market Street in Jackson’s early days. The building has stood since 1830, even surviving two burnings during the Civil War.
“Over on Highland where the federal court buildings are and the Rainey-Kizer building was burned during the Civil War along with the courthouse,” Briley said. “But not everything burned was totally destroyed, so the Rainey-Kizer Building and the Robertson building.
“Fielding Hurst, who was a renegade Union officer, held Jackson for ransom and told the people, ‘If you don’t pay X amount, I’m going to burn your city to your city to the ground.’ So the people got the money together and paid him, but he still burned the city on his way out anyway.”
The Robertson building is next to Rainey-Kizer on the other side of Main Street, across Highland from City Hall. It was built in 1850.
South of the courthouse is the New Southern Hotel, which is Jackson’s tallest building at eight floors. For a period of time, it wasn’t quite the tallest building, as there was another eight-story building that was home to multiple banks that stood north of the courthouse on Main Street but was brought down about 30 years ago to make way for the current City Hall, which opened in 1998.
The heyday for the New Southern was from its construction in the 1920s until the 1970s, as it was a place for events, weddings, banquets and other high-profile gatherings.
In 1968, Richard Nixon spoke in front of the New Southern during a campaign stop before being elected President later that year.
Downtown had a couple of movie theaters next to each other in what is now the parking lot between First United Methodist Church and the New Southern. A tornado demolished those buildings, and parking for Downtown was put in their place.
That tornado also severely altered the front of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, which is Jackson’s oldest church. While the 2003 tornado did do a lot of damage, the church was able to rebuild a newer-looking front with mostly the same bricks.
“So it was more like re-assembled instead of rebuilt you could say,” Briley said.
Briley also mentioned how Jackson got The Carnegie, which now serves as a museum for Jackson music history.
Its first purpose was Jackson’s first library. Steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie had a grant program where his foundation would help get libraries built in towns across the country, and Jackson was the recipient of one.
“There was one catch, he said he would pay for the building but the people here in Jackson needed to supply the books for it,” Briley said. “And that makes sense because he lived in New York, and if he’d supplied the books too, the books his people in New York would’ve selected might not have been the books people here in Jackson, Tennessee would want to read. ”
The Carnegie served as the library until it moved to its current location a little more than 50 years ago.
Reach Brandon Shields at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSEditorBrandon or on Instagram at editorbrandon.