Six Things You Didn’t Know About Jackson

If you’ve never been to Jackson, you may be unaware of the incredible history that lies within this city! From an iconic prison site to a booming auto industry, Jackson has its share of surprising (and sometimes shocking) stories. Fortunately, those stories live on today through businesses, museums, and architecture that are enjoyed by residents and visitors alike. Read on to learn more and discover some fun facts about Jackson you might not have known!

Delicious foods can be found at Jackson's Coney Island

Photo Courtesy of Jennifer Bowman

 1. It’s Where The Coney Was Invented

I love a good coney as much as the next girl, but only recently realized that there’s a whole world of coneys outside of Detroit! Contrary to popular belief that the coney originated in Detroit, Jackson actually introduced its first coney restaurant in 1914 (that’s three years before the motor city opened its first location). Like Detroit, Jackson has two neighboring competitors—Jackson Coney Island and Virginia Coney Island, each of which has its own loyal following. As for which is better, I honestly found the results too close to call. You’ll have to visit to decide for yourself!

Explore a Jackson prison tour for fascinating history

Photo Courtesy of Jennifer Bowman

 2. Law Abiding Citizens Live In Prison Cells

Once the world’s largest walled prison, Michigan’s First State Prison is now Armory Arts Village, a community of galleries, workspaces, and apartments. While this historic site has transformed into a vibrant neighborhood, tours are available from Jackson Historic Prison Tours for anyone who’s interested in learning about its controversial past. Get a first-hand look at the former prison’s amazing architecture and eerie basement (formerly solitary confinement), and peek into a current resident’s living space (a loft apartment that was once 36 cell blocks). From industrialism to rehabilitation, the influence this landmark has on Jackson’s history is remarkable (and not to be missed).

Prison cells at the Jackson State Prison

Photo Courtesy of Jennifer Bowman, Permissions given by the Michigan Department of Corrections

 3. Dr. Kevorkian Passed Through Here

Interested in seeing a more current representation of prison life? Cell Block 7, a museum located on the grounds of a functioning prison, was recently an active cell block that served as the entry point for convicts such as Kwame Kilpatrick and Jack Kevorkian. Inmate-free since 2007, Cell Block 7 is now open to the public and provides a look at how intense life behind bars really is. Whether you visit on your own or in conjunction with an historic prison tour, you’ll leave with a sobering reminder that freedom isn’t something to be taken for granted.

Jackson has a rich automotive history

Photo Courtesy of Jennifer Bowman

4. It Once Rivaled Detroit As The Motor City

Most people associate cars with Detroit, but few know that Jackson was home to multiple auto manufacturers around the turn of the 20th century! Ye Ole Carriage Shop in nearby Spring Arbor features 18 made-in-Jackson vehicles, including a 1902 steam-powered JAXON and a 1908 2-cylinder Fuller (the only one of its kind known to still exist). Available for group tours, Ye Ole Carriage Shop also showcases several other classic cars and antiques, including vintage radios, toys, and an impressive Coca-Cola room (call ahead to schedule a group tour).

 5. It’s Home To A 500-Foot, Light-Up Waterfall

Each year between Memorial Day and Labor Day, Jackson residents and visitors are invited to enjoy concerts, fireworks, nightly light shows, and more at the Cascades waterfall in Sparks Park. Unveiled in 1932, this manmade wonder features colorful light and water shows, and can be synchronized to music for weddings and other events—quite a sight to behold!

Take a trip to the Jackson Train Station

Photo Courtesy of Jennifer Bowman

6. It’s Where You’ll Find The Nation’s Oldest Continually-Operating Train Station

Jackson is a train town—a title that’s literally put it on the map for over 140 years! Welcoming travelers such as presidents (and presidential candidates) McKinley, Taft, Eisenhower, and Kennedy, the Jackson Depot has served passengers every day since 1873 and continues to receive Amtrak trains daily.

How many of Jackson’s historic activities have you experienced for yourself? Share your favorites (or activities that interest you most) in the comments! 

Jennifer-Bowman-BioJennifer Bowman is a southwest Virginia native who moved to metro Detroit in 2011. 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. To keep up with her adventures, you can follow her on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.

Experience Tradition at the Jackson Hot Air Jubilee

The Jackson Hot Air Jubilee is happening this weekend, July 19 – 21, where hot air balloons will fill the sky during both a morning and evening launch each day. Today, Rebecca Calkins of Experience Jackson fills us in on what event goers can expect this year.

A passion for ballooning is a tradition that is often passed down from generation to generation. Balloonist Tyler Jaques has been flying the Sugar Bear hot air balloon for six years, but he grew up immersed in the ballooning community.  One large part of this upbringing has been the tradition of the Jackson Hot Air Jubilee.

In it’s 30th year, this tradition is better than ever this summer. This Jackson institution is a favorite of residents and visitors alike. Festival goers faithfully gather around the launch field each day for both a morning and evening launch. Watching the brightly colored balloons fill with 105,000 cubic feet of air and lift off into the sky is an awe-inspiring sight for the whole family. All sizes, shapes and colors of balloons can be seen filling the blue skies of Jackson each July.

Although the festival has been held in many different locations around Jackson throughout the years, it has finally found its home at Ella Sharp Park. This picturesque 500-acre park lends this event a unique spot to enjoy the beauty of over 20 hot air balloons taking flight. Once the balloons are in flight, however, there are plenty of activities for the family to enjoy on the ground. Kid’s Kingdom crafts, carnival rides, live entertainment, an arts & crafts marketplace and an auto show offer a variety of entertainment choices sure to interest all ages. Being at the park also provides attendees with the opportunity to enjoy Ella Sharp Museum of Art and History and Peter F. Hurst Planetarium laser shows, as well as the park’s golf and mini-golf courses. You could be playing golf with hot air balloons overhead!

In addition to watching the balloons take flight at the morning and evening launches, you can also enjoy the view of the nightglow on Friday and Saturday night, during which the balloons line up tethered to the ground to light their burners in unison, giving off a picturesque glow to end the day.

Don’t miss a single day of this 3-day festival July 19, 20 & 21. Book your Jackson hotel and enjoy all three days. $10 parking on-site. Free parking is also available at the nearby Middle School at Parkside.

This event is free to the public thanks to wonderful corporate sponsors, including Tripp’s Auto Shop and Collision, Flagstar Bank, P&T Fitness, Napoleon Feed Mill, Inc., DeVaughn’s Popcorn, and Phelps Towing, Inc., among many others.

Rebecca Calkins is the Events and Marketing Assistant for Experience Jackson. She manages the social media on Facebook and Twitter as well as a monthly eNewsletter. She grew up in Jackson and has returned after attending college at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.  When not working she enjoys cooking and traveling, always looking for the next culinary or cultural adventure.

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.