Celebrating 200 Years of History, Culture & Music

Happy Birthday Jackson!

Let’s cut the cake, turn loose the balloons and tell the band to play.

We are 200 years old, and it’s been quite a journey. It started long ago, even before we arrived.

This was once the hunting grounds of the Chickasaw Indians. The Chickasaws and their ancestors had lived here for more than ten thousand years! Traces of their village can still be found in places like Pinson and Denmark. The first white men to come to West Tennessee were hunters and federal land surveyors.

Just north of Jackson is a large beech tree with “D. Boon,1776” carved on it. Research shows that Daniel Boone did pass through Jackson on a hunting trip. Three years later, a group of surveyors from North Carolina came into West Tennessee to locate and survey land grants.

The first three families moved into Madison County in 1819, settling east of Jackson near where Lake Graham sits today. The next year, four more families arrived and settled near the Forked Deer River where the West Tennessee Agricultural Center sits today. One of the settlers in the group was a land grant surveyor named Adam Rankin Alexander. Thus, the settlement was named for him. However, another Tennessee town was already named Alexandria so the name was changed to honor Andrew Jackson.

Can you imagine how much courage it took to follow Indian or wild animal trails, moving your family through the wilderness to a new land? The urge to do so is what historians call Manifest Destiny; a restless desire to move on, see what lies ahead and see what you have never seen before. It was this desire that brought the first settlers into West Tennessee and the first of a continuing movement of people who would follow them. Some would stop and stay, while others would move on until the entire continent was settled. In August of 1822, under the leadership of Dr. William E. Butler, 54 acres were surveyed and divided into 104 lots. This was the beginning of today’s downtown Jackson. Soon after the lots were sold, construction began on a court house and a jail. The cost of building the new courthouse was $135.00 and the new jail was $85!

Three individuals played large roles in Jackson’s early days. The first was Dr. William E. Butler who is considered to be “the founder of Jackson.” A native of Pennsylvania, he was married to Patsy Hays, a niece of Andrew Jackson. Dr. Butler was present at the Battle of New Orleans, serving as Andrew Jackson’s surgeon general. Following the war, he moved to Jackson and built a double log house where today’s jail is located, later moving to North Royal Street.

The most popular historical figure to visit Jackson was Andrew Jackson for whom the city is named. Jackson visited here twice in 1825 and again in 1840 after serving two terms as President and four years as an advisor to his successor, Martin van Buren.  Jackson’s sister-in-law, Jane Donelson Hays, live here. Thus, he was the uncle of her five children, all of whom played a prominent role in Jackson’s early history. Other politicians followed, campaigning in Jackson and West Tennessee. One of those was Stephen Douglas, who was defeated by Abraham Lincoln.

David Crockett came in to West Tennessee in 1823. In his first political campaign, he defeated Dr. William E. Butler for a seat in the State Legislature. He continued to be a part of state and national politics until 1835 when he was defeated by Adam Huntsman, a lawyer from Jackson, known as “Old Peg Leg.” (He had lost a leg in the Creek Indian War!) At the time of his defeat in Jackson, he was being campaigned as a candidate to run for President of the United State! When he was defeated, he spoke to a crowd on the Courthouse yard saying, “You can go to Hell for I am going to Texas.” What if Crockett had won the election. Could he have been elected as President of the United States rather than being killed at the Alamo. (Though many famous politicians have come to Jackson, Bill Clinton is the only President to come here while he was still in office!)

One other individual who lived here for a short period of time, in 1865, just after the end of the Civil War, working as a railroad telegrapher operator was Thomas Alva Edison. Even today, Edison is regarded as the greatest inventor in history. Yet few people know that he once lived in Jackson.

Amid great rejoicing, in 1857, citizens of Jackson welcomed the first passenger train coming south from Columbus. By the end of the Civil War, the trackers were totally destroyed. Within a few months, after the end of the war, the trains were up and running again.

Two individuals stand out as the most powerful men in Jackson’s railroad history. One was Milton Brown, a lawyer, Congressman, and railroad president. His vision helped to bring the Mobile and Ohio Railroad to Jackson. I. B. Tigrett was president of the Gulf, Mobile, and Ohio Railroads with 2,908 miles of track, stretching across America. Though the railroads are gone, Jackson is best remembered as the home of Casey Jones and the song that made him famous.

The Southern Engine and Boiler Works on North Royal Street was once one of Jackson’s largest employers. Between 1906 and 1910, it manufactured six hundred Marathon automobiles before selling the business to a group of investors from Nashville.

These people and events are just a small part of our story.

Jackson has a rich history that stretches form the first settlers to the people of today. To remember our past is to celebrate our future. Perhaps, the best to come lies ahead.

– Harbert Alexander, Snr.

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