As Mississippi's largest city and state capital, Jackson is home to nearly 200,000 people, although its slow pace and wide population distribution make it seem smaller. Exploring the city requires some forethought, however, as well as (in most cases) a car, as many of Jackson's tourist attractions, shopping opportunities and business concerns are spread over a large geographic area.
Downtown is where the action is, at least during business hours. At the center sits the Mississippi State Capitol. Built in 1903, this stunning structure was modeled after the United States Capitol in Washington and cuts a commanding figure against the downtown skyline. Two blocks to the south, you will find the
Downtown is home to most of Jackson's cultural outlets. Two blocks from City Hall rests the
Situated just a few miles from the city center, Ridgeland comprises an enormous mass of shopping, eating and lodging opportunities, along with a bit of nightlife. At the core of it all is the
While in the area, be sure to pay a visit to
North of the downtown business district is a comfortable neighborhood of residences, small businesses and large medical facilities. In the middle of it all is scenic
Mid North is home to many museums and recreational outlets, perhaps none more utilized than the verdant expanse of
Historically significant but financially depressed in recent years, the
Outside the City
Much of the Jackson area's interest actually lies outside the city. Amid the lower middle-class neighborhoods that stretch away to the southwest of downtown, for example, is
Due west of the Old State Capitol, you will find the sprawling greens of the
When Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto first explored the rolling woodlands east of the Mississippi River in 1540, he encountered little hostility from the Choctaw, Chickasaw and Natchez who lived here, but he encountered even less silver or gold, and as a result his visit was short-lived.
In 1699, French pioneer Pierre le Moyne d'Iberville laid claim to much of Mississippi for his European monarch. Over the next 100 years, the region was alternately controlled by the French, Spanish and English. In 1798, the Mississippi Territory was created by an act of the United States Congress.
Mississippi was granted statehood in 1817, and in 1820, the Treaty of Doak's Stand effectively ceded most of what remained of Choctaw-controlled land to the federal government, clearing the way for larger white settlements. By the 1830s, what was left of the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes were forcibly relocated to the Oklahoma Territory. The Natchez had been all but exterminated nearly a century before.
First Natchez and then sleepy Washington were named capitals of the new state, but soon Mississippi's leaders desired a more central location. An exploratory expedition was commissioned to scout out potential sites, with the search party eventually settling on a point in central Mississippi along the Pearl River called LeFleur's Bluff (after French-Canadian trader Louis LeFleur, who had established a trading post on the site in 1792).
Construction began in April of 1822. The new capital city featured a checkerboard pattern of straight, perpendicular streets, with public squares of green space interspersed among blocks designated for building. The orderly downtown arrangement still exists, but most of the green space has been lost. The new city was named in honor of Andrew Jackson, hero of the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812 and the future seventh president of the United States.
Plans to create an appropriate capitol building were approved in 1833, but economic depression and political squabbling delayed the project for several years. It wasn't until 1839 that the magnificent Greek Revival Capitol Building opened its doors. This stately structure served Mississippi for roughly 60 years. (Following a blueprint patterned after the United States Capitol in Washington, the new Mississippi State Capitol building was constructed just around the corner and completed in 1903.)
In 1840 the railroad came to Jackson, and the city became a vital link in the Southern system of transportation. Although this distinction aided considerably in the commercial development of the region, it is one that most Jacksonians would have foregone once the bloody Civil War came to town.
In January, 1842, Governor Tilghman Tucker moved his family into the newly constructed Governor's Mansion, just three blocks from the Capitol in downtown Jackson. This National Historic Landmark stands today as the second oldest continuously occupied governor's residence in the country, and is one of the finest surviving examples of the Greek Revival style in the United States. Built by noted British architect William Nichols, the mansion was constructed at a cost of approximately $61,000, making it one of the priciest real estate investments of the era.
Although more commonly known as the American Civil War, Southerners favored a more biased term for the conflict. In January of 1861, the Mississippi State Legislature in Jackson formally adopted an article of secession, a decision that ultimately boded very poorly for the state and especially for Jackson. By 1865, Mississippi's once-thriving agricultural economy was in ruins, the region's budding infrastructure had been destroyed and prospects for recovery were grim. The town was so devastated that it earned the nickname 'Chimneyville', a testament to what remained standing at war's end.
Recovery was painfully slow, and it wasn't until the 1880s that Jackson slowly began to regain its footing. Jim Crow laws began the institutionalized racism that would torment Mississippi and Jackson for generations to come. The city's blacks were confined to segregated neighborhoods, the largest and most vibrant of which was the Farish Street District. By the turn of the century, this 125-acre expanse just northwest of the New Capitol had become the unquestioned center of black society in Jackson. Through the 1930s and 40s, a unique cultural scene continued to flourish, with Farish Street venues such as the Crystal Palace Night Club and the Alamo Theater hosted the likes of Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and Lionel Hampton. Later, the neighborhood would come to be ground zero for the Civil Rights endeavors of the 1960s.
With more than 690 listings on the National Register of Historic Places, the Farish Street Historic District is home to three of only twelve antebellum structures in Jackson. Much of the architecture dating from 1860-1940, however, is still standing.
Long known for its repressive laws, Jackson became a focal point for the Civil Rights struggle in the 1960s. Such notable leaders as Martin Luther King Jr., Stokely Carmichael and Medgar Evers worked diligently to organize demonstrations and cultural directives and to protest activities in local churches, restaurants and homes.
Evers was shot outside his home on Jackson's northwest side on June 12, 1963. Byron de la Beckwith was tried twice for the murder, but the trials, which were both held before all-white juries, failed to bring in a conviction. The dramatic story of this prolonged pursuit of justice is played out in the book and movie Ghosts of Mississippi.
The city of Jackson and the state of Mississippi have made great strides in the past three decades. The capital city has settled into a comfortable niche as the seat of state government, regional business and, since giant Worldcom came to town, a budding telecommunications center. Jackson, which elected its first black mayor in 1997, is a city on the rise, struggling to shake off the demons of a storied past while looking to a better future for all of Mississippi.
The purpose of your visit will go a long way toward determining where you should bed down for the night in Jackson. The nice thing about a city the size of Jackson is that no matter where you decide to stay, you are never very far from everything.
Although most of Jackson's government and business deals are centered here, the downtown district boasts surprisingly few hotels. By far, the cream of the crop is the Crowne Plaza, a towering megalith that casts a long shadow over the Mississippi Governor's Mansion and most of downtown Jackson. This first-rate hotel plays host to many of the capital's most elegant black-tie affairs and maintains a popular restaurant with a view of its sprawling lobby. For a bit more tradition, head one block south to the stately Edison Walthall Hotel, a civic icon and a throwback to the days of true hotel opulence. While some of this grande dame's luster has faded over the years, she is still Jackson's consistent choice for impressing clients over a power lunch; the eighth-floor ballrooms are booked months in advance.
A step down in price and pomp will land you at one of the downtown area's several moderately priced hotels, exemplified by the Cabot Lodge just off the campus of Millsaps College.
Far less extravagant, but also less expensive, are the options to be found just east of downtown Jackson in the neighborhood surrounding the Mississippi State Fairgrounds. This location is ideal, of course, if you're in town for the State Fair or any of the year-round events scheduled at this sprawling complex. It is also a good choice for folks attending sporting events or concerts at the Mississippi Coliseum; for downtown visitors who stress economy over location; and as a convenient headquarters for long days of casual browsing at the area's numerous curiosity shops and the Antique Mall of the South.
The Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites is a reliable, low-frills option that keeps costs down. Across the road, the nicest of Jackson's several Days Inn locations sits side-by-side with the ultra-affordable Red Roof Inn.
A similar gaggle of known names has congregated in the area around Northpark Mall, just a few miles north of Jackson in suburban Ridgeland. These lodgings line Interstate 55 and the surrounding sides streets, granting easier access to such area attractions as the Tougaloo College. Don't seek shelter in this area if you want to stroll through the historic parts of Jackson, however, as you will need a car to get you downtown (or anywhere else, for that matter).
Dominating the low skyline of suburbia is the towering Jackson Hilton and Convention Center, located just off I-55 on Ridgeland's main thoroughfare. Large and refined, this facility entertains its guests in the lobby bar and restaurant. A second restaurant on a higher floor offers views of the city in the near distance. For larger rooms and more conveniences, check out the Courtyard by Marriott.
As you might expect, traditional Southern cuisine is well represented in this Dixie capital, but if pork chops and collard greens aren't your thing, you're not out of luck. Italian, Mexican, Greek and Japanese restaurants abound in and around Jackson.
The height of dining elegance can be found just around the corner from the Mississippi Governor's Mansion within one of Jackson's most storied institutions. The classic dining room at the Edison Walthall Hotel sets the table for some of the city's most prestigious dinners and receptions, and is home to the local power-lunch crowd. Under a huge corner marquee you'll find the Mayflower Cafe, an authentic and popular greasy spoon—beware the gravy on your lunch or dinner entrée.
Closer to the Capitol, you can rub elbows with a state legislator on one side and a truck driver on the other at the Blue Cafe. An inexpensive menu features sandwiches and salads, and if the weather cooperates, you can abandon your counter stool for a table along the sidewalk. Order off the big blackboard at one of several McAlister's Deli locations. Crowded for lunch and dinner, it offers quick and friendly service, and the sweet tea is legendary. Coffee is king at Cups, a golden find in a downtown as yet undiscovered by the Starbucks and Caribou Coffee powerhouses.
For a bit of rowdy fun with your meal, head over to the Cherokee Inn on State Street. You will find great pub food and flavor, along with a healthy contingent of the local college crowd. A block north of the State Capitol, George Street Grocery is another place for good down-home cooking during the day and youthful revelry at night, including live music. At Hal and Mal's, you can dine on some of the best Mississippi catfish in town.
Several dining and drinking establishments are located around the college campuses and various area attractions on the outskirts of downtown. Que Sera Sera on State Street is popular with Millsaps College students for its margarita menu, voluminous pitchers of beer and sprawling patio. A few blocks away, Keifer's—in the shadow of the sprawling Baptist Medical Center—has good Greek food and standard bar appetizers and entrees, although you will usually find as many drinkers as diners at this upbeat spot. Catch a game on TV at on one of the crowded tables inside, or head out to the equally crowded covered porch.
A visit to Jackson wouldn't be complete without sampling a world-renowned Inez Burger at CS's, just around the corner across from the Millsaps campus. Another local favorite with a similar culinary attitude can be found just down the street at Backyard Burgers' downtown location. For a heart-healthier option, grab a cup of java, a breakfast roll and a copy of the Clarion-Ledger (or The Wall Street Journal) at the Joe Muggs coffee shop at Books-A-Million.
A quieter and classier environment can be found at Marcel's, a local favorite with arguably the best salad dressing in the South. Crechale's has been a campy Jackson favorite since 1956. It's said that if you haven't dined in Crechale's truck-stop-decor elegance, you haven't been in Jackson very long. BRAVO! Italian Restaurant was named restaurant of the year four years running by the Jackson Visitors Bureau. Blending authentic Italian with authentic Southern is a tricky feat, but one that's accomplished here with surprising style in such entrees as the linguine with crawfish.
Many of the city's restaurants have followed the population as it has moved north, with the largest concentration centered around Northpark Mall in near-suburban Ridgeland. Northpark itself is home to the popular Morrison's Cafeteria, a pleasant family-style chain that serves up Southern favorites quickly to frantic shoppers. Other chains, including Ruby Tuesday's and Grady's as well as local favorite McAlister's Deli, are situated in and around the mall for quick bites.
Just down the street in a smaller strip mall is one of Jackson's most frequented barbecue joints, Red Hot and Blue, which is a bit antiseptic but serves exceptional pulled-pork sandwiches and rib platters. More worldly palettes will find satisfaction at Little Tokyo.