Visitors to Jackson, Tenn., will find railroad and music history.
In the 1800s, Jackson, Tenn., was a cotton and railroad center. Not many trains pass through town these days, but visitors come for attractions such as Casey Jones Village and the International Rock-A-Billy Hall of Fame. Located on Interstate 40, halfway between Memphis and Nashville, the greater Jackson area is a major stop on what Tennessee's Office of Tourism calls “The Music Highway.”
Extend your visit by traveling 60 miles south of town to see Shiloh National Military Park, which commemorates the first large-scale battle of the Civil War.
CASEY JONES HOME AND RAILROAD MUSEUM
Casey Jones Village contains the railroad engineer's modest house and a small railroad museum. Immediately south of I-40 at exit 80A, the museum displays memorabilia pertaining to Jones, who was an engineer for the Illinois Central Railroad. In 1900, Jones was killed when his passenger train collided with a stalled freight train in Mississippi. But Jones got everybody safely off the train prior to the impact.
A replica of locomotive Engine No. 382 and several rail cars sit outside the museum, which also interprets Jackson's railroad history. A small shop sells items like model and toy trains, railroad hats, and such.
Another special feature of the village is Brooks Shaw's Old Country Store, a fun re-creation of a general store from the 1890s. Enjoy an ice cream at an old-fashioned soda fountain. A restaurant serves a large, tasty buffet with Southern specialties.
Shops in frontier-style buildings feature souvenirs and art by local artists. A church offering worship services on Sundays also is on site.
Henry Harrison is the enthusiastic founder of the International Rock-A-Billy Hall of Fame that's located in Jackson's historical downtown. Harrison, known around Jackson as Mr. Henry, said rockabilly is a combination of early 1950s rock with country music.
A large, colorful mural outside the building depicts hometown boy Carl Perkins' original band and Paul McCartney, who once was quoted as saying, “If there were no Carl Perkins, there would be no Beatles.” The Fab Four covered several of Perkins' songs, including “Honey Don't.”
Inside, life-sized oil portraits of musicians form a backdrop for a drum set once played by D. J. Fontana, Elvis Presley's drummer. The hall of fame showcases a collection of instruments, Elvis memorabilia, and mementos from Perkins, who sang and composed songs like “Blue Suede Shoes.” Harrison said that when Elvis, Johnny Cash, and Perkins toured in 1955, tickets cost $1.25.
But Harrison is especially proud of the museum's collection of 25 videos of performers like Wanda Jackson – known to many as the Queen of rockabilly – and Bill Haley & His Comets sharing stories about their lives and music.
“This is probably the only place these kinds of recordings are available,” Harrison said.
An international rockabilly music festival is held the first weekend in August. More live music is enjoyed starting May 6 at the West Tennessee Farmers' Market.
Bemis Heritage Days, planned for May 20 and 21 at the Bemis Mill Village Museum, will focus on Jackson's cotton history.
civil war history
Drive about an hour south of town and you'll find Shiloh National Military Park that interprets the Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee and the siege and battle of Corinth in northern Mississippi.
Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's aim was to capture the strategic railroad hub of Corinth. Confederate Gen. Albert S. Johnston marched his army to Grant's base. They attacked the Federal camps at daybreak on April 6, 1862. Though initially surprised, the Union armies rallied and a two-day battle ensued, producing 23,746 casualties. Capt. Samuel Latta of the 13th Tennessee Infantry, wrote “The ground was strewn with the dead of the enemy and our own, mangled in every conceivable way.”
The visitor center has educational displays about the battle. The movie Shiloh: Fiery Trial, is very good but may be too graphic for young children. Rangers give interpretive programs, tours, and demonstrations such as artillery firing.
Some 4,000 soldiers are buried at the National Cemetery on the grounds.
A self-guided driving tour takes visitors past 20 marked sites of battlefield events. Monuments range from elaborate statues to markers for Confederate soldiers' mass graves. The tour also leads to the Shiloh Indian Mounds National Historic Landmark. Legends, history, and toe-tapping music – you'll find it all in Jackson.
Jinny Ravenscroft Danzer is a contributor from St. Louis, Mo.
May/June 2016 Issue
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