I’m Goin’ to Jackson

Jennifer Bowman is a southwest Virginia native who moved to Michigan just over a year ago. Fascinated by travel and discovering new places, Jennifer spends her free time exploring Michigan towns and writing about her experiences on her blog, Wading in Big Shoes. Today, she fills us in on a recent day trip that she and her husband took to Jackson, Michigan.

When my husband and I planned a day trip to Jackson, we weren’t sure what was in store for us. In all honesty, we were out to explore, and considering the fact that the city was new to us and just on the outskirts of Metro Detroit, it seemed like the perfect solution to our last-minute agenda dilemma. So, with jackets and umbrellas in tow, we set out on a rainy Saturday morning to learn a little more about the city named for our seventh president.

We got to Jackson around lunch time, so we read some online restaurant reviews and settled on a little “dive” restaurant called the West Texas Barbeque Company. Knowing that the best food is often found in the humblest of places, we followed our GPS down a few back roads until we reached the bare-bones building, livened with a brightly-painted façade and a cozy, indoor atmosphere. Being from Virginia, I found myself very comfortable among the southern-style setup, and was happy to see that the other restaurant patrons were largely comprised of baseball cap-wearing, old pickup truck-driving people who also appreciated good food without the frills. Add to that a huge pulled pork sandwich so juicy that it must derive from a line of French dips, and you’ve got an afternoon in southern-inspired Heaven.

After stuffing ourselves to capacity, I would’ve been content with taking a nap until it was time to wake up for “Pulled Pork, Round Two,” but my husband and I had places to be. And so, it was off to Jackson’s historical pivot point, the old state prison.

Jackson’s first state prison, historically known as the hub of the city, produced a thriving labor force during the Industrial Revolution. Today, a large barrier wall still surrounds the campus while indoor jail cells and common areas have been transformed into a residence hall and artist workshop community. Intrigued by the notion of people living and creating masterpieces in a place originally intended to house criminals, I wandered the halls of the present-day armory, both fascinated by its history and creeped out by its eerily quiet hallways and iron-barred windows. The visit was made much more enjoyable, however, by colorful murals that sprawled across every wall and handcrafted mobiles that adorned well-lit corners. There was even a wedding reception setup going on in part of the building, complete with orange flower bunches and masses of origami cranes. If that isn’t proof of creatively utilizing space and making the most of places with dark pasts, I don’t know what is.

The rest of our afternoon entailed gawking at historic buildings in downtown Jackson, visiting the Sandhill Crane Vineyards and Winery (a beautiful, relaxed place run by self-proclaimed “Non-wine snobs”), and a jaunt through the Ella Sharp park and museum. Inside the museum, my husband and I evaluated rooms filled with modern artwork and historical artifacts from the city of Jackson, ranging from the jaw bone of a prehistoric mastodon through clothing and commercial products from the Civil War, Industrial Era, and recent years. My biggest discovery of the day? Jackson was the birthplace of the Republican Party. I never expected a quiet, little city to be so influential, but it goes to show that there’s history to be explored everywhere you go—even if it’s just a stone’s throw from home.

Jennifer Bowman is a southwest Virginia native who moved to Michigan just over a year ago. Fascinated by travel and discovering new places, Jennifer spends her free time exploring Michigan towns and writing about her experiences on her blog, Wading in Big Shoes. You can follow her on Twitter @JHBowman.

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