Friday, March 8, 2013

Postcards & History Past (Jackson MI)

My wife and I are packrats for sure… We collect stuff and until we retired and moved to East Tennessee, we didn’t get rid of much of anything...other than clothing for charity.  Laurie primarily collected teddy bears and cow creamers.  I gathered memorabilia from Montgomery Ward and Co., toy soldiers…and various other stuff…including old postcards.

In today’s electronic age, it’s hard to find postcards to send friends and family via the US mail.  I was glancing through my postcard collection the other day and it dawned on me that postcards were like the email of their day…and that they were often a photo or artist’s rendering of an historical place in a specific point of time. 
So, I perused through my collection, focusing on what I’ve collected from the place that I consider to be my hometown…Jackson Michigan.
 
This postcard was mailed, (1 cent postage), back in 1912, although the picture appears to be a little earlier.  I don’t see any cars at all and Main Street, (later Michigan Avenue), is dirt covered.

Jackson was founded in 1829 and it was named after President Andrew Jackson.  Initially, after being settled by Horace Blackman and a few others, the town was named Jacksonopolis…and then Jacksonburgh.  It was shortened to just Jackson in 1838.  By 1850, there were 2,363 residents.  In 1870, there were 14,447.  In 1900 there were 25,180!  The town grew fast and it was prosperous.
 
This is a bird’s eye view of Jackson circa 1944…2 years after I was born.  Downtown, as I remember it as a youngster, was a happening place!  There were 2 or 3 movie theaters, lots of traffic and plenty of people on the street.  There was a J.M. Fields and a Jacobsen’s department store…among others.  As a teenager, I ‘dragged’ the Ave…from a drive-in restaurant on the west end of town to another on the east end of town.

The population of the city of Jackson peaked in 1930 with 55,187 residents.  The town was a huge rail hub complete with workshops and a roundhouse.  In addition, the city was an early home to the auto parts industry.  Long before Detroit cranked up the assembly lines, Jackson was making parts and assembling cars.  Over twenty (20) different cars were once made in Jackson.  These included the following: Reeves; Jaxon; Jackson; CarterCar; Orlo; Whiting; Butcher and Gage; Buick; Janney; Globe; Steel Swallow; C.V.I.; Imperial; Ames-Dean; Cutting; Standard Electric; Duck; Briscoe; Argo; Hollier; Hackett; Marion-Handly; Gem; Earl; Wolverine, and; Kaiser-Darrin.
By the time I was roaming the streets of Jackson, the population was down to somewhere around 51,000 and the decline has never stopped…
 
Another of Jackson’s ‘claim to fame’…and a major employer…was the Michigan State Penitentiary.  This postcard from 1909 shows the nicely landscaped front of the facility.  The old prison was located just a few blocks from downtown Jackson and just a few blocks from the Jackson County Fairgrounds…definitely an image issue!

This facility was replaced by a new prison south of Jackson… I personally liked the new prison.  I drove taxis while going through college and if I could pick up a cab full of visitors at the Greyhound Depot to take to the prison…the rest of the day was pretty much pure profit! 
 
This is the ‘other view’ of the old Michigan State Penitentiary from a postcard dated 1914.  It was a pretty foreboding looking place!  The last time we were in Jackson, part of the old structure still stood.  It had served as a National Guard Post for many years after the prison closed.

When I lived in Jackson, the prison was the single largest employer in the county.  Kelsey-Hayes and a couple of other auto suppliers…Aeroquip for one…were still struggling to survive.
 
Governments are always trying to improve things… This is the Grand River in downtown Jackson, before they buried the river completely underground.  This image is from a postcard circa 1910.  In fairness, my stepfather painted the river just at the point that it passed under the buildings along Michigan Avenue and he couldn’t have painted that picture until at least 1947... Perhaps the city fathers had flood control in mind or they just wanted to spruce up downtown.  Today, a river like this would be a central attraction in most downtowns!

As Jackson lost its manufacturing base and the population declined…city managers tried to transform the downtown area into a real destination.  They rerouted traffic, leveled a lot of old buildings to build parking lots and turned Michigan Avenue into a ‘mall’.  Downtown’s demise was hastened…at least in my opinion.
In 1910, Jackson’s population had grown to about 31,500… As of 2010, the number of residents has declined to less than 33,500… Unfortunately, Jackson was and is part of mid-America’s rust belt.
 
OK history buffs…These are the famous, (or at least footnoted), Oak trees in Jackson where the Republican Party was originally organized.  This postcard was mailed in 1921.

To further refine this claim, Jackson is one of the birthplaces of the Republican Party.  It is undisputed that the first official meeting of the group that actually called itself “Republican” was held under the Oaks on July 6, 1854.  A marker commemorates an anti-slavery county convention on that date and notes the ‘founding’ of the Republican Party.  
 
I love this picture!  This postcard was mailed in 1912.  This very imposing structure sported the latest in firefighting equipment.  Note the giant hose tower…  The postcard was sent by a fella to ‘Martie’ up in Mt. Pleasant Michigan.  He was in town for the county fair. 
 
 
Other than the prison, the most famous landmark in Jackson was the Cascades.  These man-made waterfalls are still on display on summer nights…a veritable light show for families and lovers alike. (This postcard is dated 1944) I personally liked the Cascades best in the winter time.  Back in the 50’s, we would sled down these hills.  The bushes were much bigger by then and we liked the most dangerous run…between the right hand side of the Cascades and the closest group of bushes!

Back in the days when I was a lad…many, many years ago…viewing the Cascades was free.  Families gathered, had picnics, lovers parked and necked, etc.  Now the falls are fenced off and there is an admission charge… ($4.00 a person or $7.00 for a family) For more information, you can go to http://www.jacksonmich.com/cascades2.html.
 
Yes, Jackson had an airport too!  Reynolds Field Airport or Reynolds Municipal Airport, actually had commercial air service for many years.  It looks like all of the cars have gathered next to the dirt airfield to meet a Ford Tri-Motor.  This postcard from 1929 was published shortly after the field was opened and airmail deliveries were initiated.

North Central Airlines served Reynolds Field until 1984.  When I was attending prep school in Niagara Falls New York, I managed to fly Convair 220’s and 440’s out of here a few times…
 
Being a food junkie…and one that likes to both eat and write about our food experiences, I had to throw this postcard into the mix.  Although this postcard is dated 1962, the Regent Café had been in business in Jackson, across from the old Post Office, since 1926.  I have fond memories of many family dinners here, usually on Sundays, in the early and mid-1950’s.  Families didn’t eat out very often in those days, so this was a big deal!  I even have an old menu with the 'old prices' stashed somewhere around the house…
 
 
OK…so this isn’t a postcard.  It’s a photo from my train and depot photo collection.  This handsome brick building is the passenger railroad depot in Jackson.  It was built in 1872 by the Michigan Central Railroad.  It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and it is still active as an AMTRAK station on the main line between Detroit and Chicago.
 
 
Even though this isn’t a postcard…it seems like the right photo to end this little historical tour with.  This photo from 2010 shows the ticket booth and waiting area for AMTRAK passenger trains in Jackson Michigan.  I’ve actually taken the train to Jackson…and it was an interesting change of pace. 

Despite its flaws and warts, I still regard Jackson as my home town.  I can point to several homes that I lived in there over the years.  My family names are Weed, Myers and Thomson.  Homes were on Prospect, Douglas, Third Street, First Street and a few others.  My middle school, Intermediate School was Frost…out near the Cascades Park.
A few well known people had their roots in Jackson.  These included; Jack Paar (Tonight Show); Tony Dungy (NFL Player and Coach); Dave and Mike Hill (PGA Golf Pros…13 and 3 tour wins respectively), plus; James McDivitt and Alfred Worden (NASA Astronauts).
That’s about it… If you’ve read this all of the way through, thanks for your patience!
Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…
Take Care, Big Daddy Dave 

3 comments:

  1. I'm not much of a collector but sometimes wish I had done some things like this. I can imagine you enjoyed a trip down memory lane while puttting this post together.

    ReplyDelete
  2. What a fantastic collection Dave. It must be fun to sort through the cards while you are still semi-housebound. I hope the hip continues to mend well. Have a great weekend. Blessings...Mary

    ReplyDelete