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Jan/Feb 2012 Issue

A Recipe for Fun

New tours, restaurants, and a museum are
helping to revitalize Jackson, Miss.
By Cheré Coen

Great things are happening in Jackson, Miss., from city tours inspired by the success of Kathryn Stockett’s book, “The Help,” and recent movie, to the renovation of Farish Street, once the heart and soul of African-American commerce.

lobby

Above: The former King Edward Hotel became a Hilton Garden Inn after a $90 million renovation. Hilton photo

Below: The Mississippi Children’s Museum offers a host of fun, hands-on exhibits. Mississippi Children’s Museum photo

children's museum

The past few years have seen the arrival of the Mississippi Children’s Museum; upscale, hip new restaurants; and the re-emergence of the landmark King Edward Hotel. From the Civil Rights Movement driving tour to shopping in the retro Fondren neighborhood, from visiting literary great Eudora Welty’s house to witnessing the oldest working cotton gin in the world at the Mississippi Ag and Forestry Museum, there’s something for everyone in Jackson.

Downtown Renaissance

The Beaux-Arts Edwards Hotel was built in 1923, and for years was a hub of political and social activity downtown. It was also here that many of the state’s blues musicians, such as Bo Carter, Robert Wilkins, Joe McCoy, Isaiah Nettles and the Mississippi Sheiks, recorded for Okeh Records, a popular label in the 1920s.

The hotel was renamed the King Edward in 1954 after a redesign but later closed. The 12-story building sat vacant for almost 40 years until Watkins Development, former New Orleans Saints running back Deuce McAllister and Historic Restoration Inc. of New Orleans took over. After a $90 million renovation, the hotel reopened in 2009 as a Hilton Garden Inn property.

Today, the AAA Three Diamond hotel stands as the anchor of Jackson’s downtown renaissance, with its elegant marble lobby, 186 guest rooms and suites, indoor pool, restaurants, meeting space, and ballrooms. In addition, the building features 64 luxury apartments with a long waiting list.

Nearby the Hilton Garden Inn lies a long stretch of Jackson history, the African-American commerce district along Farish Street. The street’s buildings have seen better days but blocks of old brick buildings are being refurbished. Although it’s marketed as Jackson’s Beale Street, developers Watkins Development don’t particularly like the comparison.

“Outside of Harlem, Farish Street was the second-most center of influence for African-American activity,” said David Watkins Jr. of Watkins Development. “We want to bring in marquee musicians and headline chefs to celebrate Mississippi’s unique culture but in different price points.”

Watkins sees the development as not just blues clubs and restaurants (B.B. King has signed on and plans to open a blues club around the first of the year). His plan for the renovated historic district will include a recording studio, outdoor park for live performances and retail space for teaching Mississippi arts and cuisine. For instance, visitors to Farish will be able to hear live blues, enjoy fine dining and learn how to play the harmonica.

“It’s not only paying homage to what happened long ago, but new things happening,” Watkins said. “It really will be a comprehensive experience.”

Lakeland Drive

The focus of the new Mississippi Children’s Museum is varied, from literacy to Mississippi history. Beautifully crafted exhibits for all ages inspire pride for the state. Special exhibits, events and opportunities to run, jump, and climb abound.

“What we’re really proud of is our focus on Mississippi,” said Elaina Jackson, director of marketing. “We hope visitors from our state will be instilled with pride for our state. And visitors from outside the state will understand how important Mississippi is to the world.”

Visitors can easily access the Children’s Museum, as well as many others, off Interstate 55 at Lakeland Drive. Within a short drive there is the Mississippi Ag and Forestry Museum, the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, and the 305-acre LaFleur’s Bluff State Park.

Banner Hall is just across the interstate from these attractions. Here, Broad Street Baking Company & Café is a fun place to enjoy breakfast or lunch with home-baked goodies and coffee, while shoppers can enjoy browsing through the enormous Lemuria bookstore.

Historical Districts

No trip to Jackson would be complete without visiting the many historical districts.

There are numerous sites throughout the city marking its Civil Rights heritage, including the Medgar Evers Historic Neighborhood where black veterans returning home from World War II bought property on the GI bill. It was there that Evers, working for Civil Rights in 1963, was shot in his driveway.

Nearby is the home of writer, teacher, and poet Dr. Margaret Walker Alexander. Although it’s a private residence, the home is part of the Civil Rights driving tour. Pick up the driving tour pamphlet at the Jackson Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The Eudora Welty House is part of the tri-state Southern Literary Trail, and visitors can tour the author’s house and gardens.

The retro neighborhood of Fondren was used in the filming of “The Help,” set in the early 1960s, and today gives visitors a step back in time. Visitors will enjoy antique stores, art galleries, and one of the best milkshakes around at Brent’s Soda Fountain.

A rebirth is happening in Mississippi’s capital city. Make your plans to discover what’s new in Jackson.

Cheré Coen is a contributor from Lafayette, La.

 

BEFORE YOU GO

For more information, contact the Jackson Convention and Visitors Bureau at (800) 354-7695 or online at www.visitjackson.com.

To visit Jackson, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides.

Order free information about Mississippi through the Free Travel Information Card, found online.


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