If you haven’t heard, there’s a lot happening downtown these days. Downtown Jackson has had no shortage of changes, plans and initiatives throughout the years. But today’s plans, even with my limited experience, seem to be ones that are likely to stick. Jackson’s Anchor Initiative, modeled after Midtown Detroit, is working to create a collaborative atmosphere, from the heavy-hitting businesses as well as the non-profit and government entities to move forward the goals to Live Local, Buy Local and Innovate Local.
You don’t have to wait to visit Downtown Jackson. In fact I’ve heard an expert say in terms of historic architecture, “You don’t know what you have here!” Sometimes it takes an outside perspective to encourage us to look around. My missive to you is to get curious! Whether you are a tourist or just a tourist in your town, take a little walk to get acquainted (or reacquainted) with the City of Jackson. This tour will take you from the train station to Withington Park to find out what we do have here.
Michigan Central Railroad Jackson Depot has been in operation since Sept. 1, 1873, making it the oldest continually operating passenger rail station in the United States. It was the largest stop on the line between Detroit and Chicago in train travel’s heyday and continues to operate along the Amtrak Wolverine line. The Victorian-Italianate red-brick station is beautiful, so I suggest planning your walking tour around the limited open hours of Monday-Friday, 7 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.
As you leave the train station, you will notice the Jackson Coney Island in front of you. In business since 1914, it’s credited with inventing the Coney Dog (Detroit’s did not open until 1917). Virgina Coney Island is located a few doors down. Just like Detroit the competing coney islands each have their loyalists. It's best to try one of each, just to be sure!
Head west towards town; cross at the crosswalk at Cooper Street and Michigan Ave. Once you have safely crossed Cooper Street consider turning around for a quick shot of the train station with the iconic Jackson sign at the top.
Continue through the parking lot behind the former McMarley’s Bar and in front of the State Building. Directly in front of you will be the Consumers Energy building and a bridge to cross the Grand River. Enjoy the walking path along the river between the Michigan State Building and Consumers Energy.
The historic post office, designed by famous Jackson architect Claire Allen, is now the lobby of the Consumers Energy Building.
The path ends at the Summer Night Tree statue at Michigan Avenue. This $3 million sculpture is by Louise Nevelson and is an excellent example of modern cubism. She is considered to be one of the most important figures in 20th Century American Sculpture.
Keep heading west on Michigan Ave you will pass The Chase Sports Bar on your left with a NASCAR hanging over the bar. If you are still hungry, consider a stop for wings or pizza.
At Mechanic Street look right to see the 1930’s movie palace the Michigan Theatre of Jackson, considered one of the most splendid theaters in the state. The cupola at the top of the building even won a historic preservation award.
Continue down Michigan Ave, and you’ll pass Walt's Health foods, Chilango's Burrito Bar, Miller's Shoes, Pickle Barrel Deli, JTV, DeVaughn's Bridal, Bella Notte Ristorante, The Orange Peacock Gallery, and A Frame Above.
Make note of those businesses including restaurants and apartments at 151 W. Michigan Ave, and The Dirty Bird, 140 W. Michigan Ave., and the Junkyard Dog, 128 W. Michigan Ave.
The tallest building in Jackson, at 17 floors, is on the right. Jackson County Building, 120 W. Michigan Ave was once a bank building designed by Detroit Architect, Albert Kahn. If visiting during office hours check out the County Commissioners’ Chamber on the 2nd-floor with stained glass windows, vaulted plaster ceiling and wood paneling.
On the corner of Michigan Ave and Jackson Street is the Bucky Harris Park, which at one time was Jacksonburgh’s town square. You can eat your lunch on a picnic table there. The building on the north side of the park is Casler Hardware. The back half is the town’s oldest stone building and one of the oldest commercial structures in Michigan. It once served as the local newspaper, post office, and general store.
Across Jackson Street is the First Congregational Church, an historical pre-Civil War building, with a well-documented story of adding a basement AFTER the church was built. Notice the different colored bricks at the bottom!
The Horace Blackman Park in front of and west of the church is named in honor of the pioneer Horace Blackman. There are more picnic tables there and coming soon a stage featuring the Glidden Parker Glass Mural featuring the history of electricity from the Old Consumers Energy Building.
Next is the Hayes Hotel, named for industrialist C.B. Hayes. Once a top-level hotel with a fancy restaurant and ballroom, development plans are in progress for several floors of market rate apartments, a hotel and retail.
Across the street is the Jackson Symphony Orchestra's Weatherwax Hall featuring not only classical concerts but also the popular Affinity Series bringing touring singer-songwriters and indie bands to the hall.
Then the Neo-Gothic First United Methodist Church built in 1922 by Detroit architect W.E.N. Hunter and known for one of the finest pipe organs in the state.
Continuing on you will see the Carnegie Branch of the Jackson District Library built in 1906. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this Neo-Classical building features inlaid terrazzo floors, Carrara white marble staircase and the statue The Child, The Parent, and The Book, by Freeman L. Schoolcraft.
Crossing Blackman Road and passing a few more modern buildings you will arrive at Withington Park and the sculpture Defense of the Flag by Lorado Taft. Even if you’ve driven by this sculpture a thousand times, standing up close gives it a whole different perspective. This memorial is dedicated to the 3,282 Civil War soldiers of Jackson commanded by Gen. William H. Withington.
Originally appeared in the online version of Jackson Magazine June 2016