Downtown Jackson has many notable events in its history
As the Jackson-Madison County Bicentennial Commission continues its year-long celebration that will culminate in August with Jackson’s 200th birthday, a number of events celebrating the history of downtown Jackson, from East Jackson and Jackson Music provided a full day of local education.
Local historian Robert Briley, a longtime educator in Jackson-Madison County schools, led a historic walk through downtown, giving the history of many buildings – government and commercial – in the area.
Here are some of the historical highlights of this tour.
The Rainey-Kizer Building is the oldest building downtown at the corner of Main Street and Highland Avenue, known as Market Street in Jackson’s early days. The building has been around since 1830, even surviving two fires during the Civil War.
“More on Highland where the federal court buildings are and the Rainey-Kizer building was burned down during the Civil War along with the courthouse,” Briley said. “But not everything that 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’ll burn your town to the ground.’ So people collected the money and paid him, but he still burned the town on his way out.
The Robertson Building is next to Rainey-Kizer across Main Street from 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 stories. For a time it wasn’t quite the tallest building, as there was another eight-story building that housed several banks that were north of the courthouse on Main Street, but which has was demolished about 30 years ago to make way for the current town hall, inaugurated in 1998.
The New Southern’s heyday dates back to when it was built in the 1920s through the 1970s, as it was a venue for events, weddings, banquets, and other high-profile gatherings.
In 1968, Richard Nixon spoke to the New Southern during a campaign stop before being elected president later that year.
Downtown had a few theaters side by side in what is now the parking lot between the First United Methodist Church and the New Southern. A tornado demolished these buildings and a downtown parking lot was put in their place.
This tornado also severely altered the facade of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, which is the oldest church in Jackson. While the 2003 tornado did a lot of damage, the church was able to rebuild a newer facade with mostly the same bricks.
“So it was more like re-assembled instead of reconstructed, you might say,” Briley said.
Briley also mentioned how Jackson got The Carnegie, which now serves as a museum for Jackson’s music history.
His first focus was Jackson’s first library. Steel magnate Andrew Carnegie had a grant program where his foundation would help build libraries in cities across the country, and Jackson was the recipient.
“There was a catch, he said he would pay for the building but the people here in Jackson had to provide the books for it,” Briley said. “And that makes sense because he was living in New York, and if he had also provided the books, the books that his people in New York would have chosen might not have been the books that people here in Jackson, Tennessee would have liked to read.”
The Carnegie served as a library until it moved to its current location just over 50 years ago.
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