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Jackson History

Jackson, Michigan, boasts a rich and vibrant history woven with industry, innovation, and a touch of rebellion. Founded in 1829, the city was named after President Andrew Jackson and quickly became a crossroads of Michigan. Its strategic location at the confluence of several Indian trails attracted settlers, and soon, the iconic Michigan State Prison, built in 1838, became a major employer.

But Jackson’s story extends far beyond prison walls. In 1903, a local hot dog stand unveiled the now-famous “Jackson Coney Island” hot dog, igniting a national sensation. Meanwhile, the city emerged as a transportation hub, boasting the oldest active train station in the nation, the Michigan Central Railroad Depot, built in 1841. This strategic position made Jackson a vital link in the Underground Railroad, helping countless individuals escape slavery.

Industry became the city’s lifeblood. Jackson played a pivotal role in the early automobile industry, with companies like Jaxon and Hayes Wheel contributing to the automotive revolution. While the industry shifted, Jackson adapted, fostering a diversified manufacturing base encompassing auto parts, tires, and even aircraft components.

In the hushed whispers of history, Jackson, Michigan played a crucial role in the fight for freedom as a vital stop on the Underground Railroad. The city’s strategic location and burgeoning transportation network made it a beacon of hope for enslaved individuals seeking a path north. The iconic Michigan Central Railroad Depot, still standing proudly today, served as a critical point of departure for many freedom seekers. Conductors, often everyday citizens risking everything, would whisk individuals away under the cover of darkness, blending them seamlessly into the throngs of passengers aboard northbound trains. Homes, churches, and even seemingly unremarkable businesses like blacksmith shops harbored fugitives as they traversed the treacherous journey. Today, bronze plaques scattered throughout the city mark these hidden sanctuaries, silently paying tribute to the bravery and sacrifice of those involved. While the trains may no longer carry the weight of stolen lives, Jackson’s legacy as a haven on the Underground Railroad remains etched in its very fabric, a testament to the city’s unwavering commitment to human dignity and equality.

Jackson’s role in the Underground Railroad is detailed in MICHIGAN’S CROSSROADS TO FREEDOM: the Underground Railroad in Jackson County. The book is available online and locally at the Ella Sharp Museum Gift Shop.

Step-on bus and walking tours of the Jackson Underground Railroad historic locations are available here.

Under Oaks Park


Jackson History

Jackson History

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