The following is the Welcome Speech presented by Jackson Mayor, the Honorable Jason Smith at the 2014 Annual Conference Networking Lunch, May 16, 2014.
Jackson is history. Not in a sense that this town is somehow inevitably doomed, but in the sense that this town is steeped in memories, icons, and structures unique to the “crossroads of Michigan”. I am proud of what our community was, what it is, and the plans for what we envision it to be.
While I won’t stand up here and pretend to know the ins and outs of historical preservation; the how-tos, the technical terms, or even the difference between architectural styles. What I can stand up here and tell you is that I am a student of history, and someone with a love for the city I am proud to lead, as well as the county that surrounds us.
Step inside the nation’s oldest, continuously running rail depot and you’ll immediately fall in love with the painstaking care that has gone into its preservation. The woodwork is immaculate, and one look at the ticket window takes you immediately back in time to the days of pocket watches, bowler hats, and whistle-stop campaign visits by presidential hopefuls. I was recently informed that 2 sitting presidents have stopped at this depot and taken tours around the city. William McKinley and William Howard Taft both paid visits during their tenures to pay a visit Under The Oaks; the site honoring the birthplace of a new political party that would help shape our nation during it’s unfortunate separation, reconnection, and reconstruction.
Sadly, both presidents would be deceased before they were able to spend a few hours taking in a film at the historic Michigan Theatre; with its majestic views and ornate designs that are simply breathtaking. The tireless efforts to preserve that majesty is proof positive that the desire to hold on to our treasures is alive and well in Jackson.
Some treasures, take a little bit of…shall we say repurposing to prove to the community they should be embraced. Like a prison, for example. The gun towers, barred windows, and outbuilding workshops still remain, but inside, the Armory Arts complex is an absolute gem. The time, work, and money that has gone into saving the historical integrity of the former Michigan State Prison while giving it new life is nothing short of awe-inspiring. The artists that now inhabit the walls of the facility are proud of the bars on their windows, and use the studios to create nothing short of magic. The grand hall, which once housed thousands of criminals for their 3 square meals a day, now houses murals, replica cells, and the paintings that are inspired by the century plus memories that those walls hold.
Other repurposed treasures include both City Hall and the Jackson County Tower Building. Each of those buildings began life as a bank. Even the Elaine Apartment building was once a bank. Repurposing takes investment. Investment to ensure the past is preserved into the future. Looking to, and saving, the past is something that our city is committed to; to ensure our continued success into the future.
The city is engaging the Historic District Commission to work towards increased training, survey work, and historic property inventories. We look to continue our dedication to our downtown facades to provide 21st century retail and services while still preserving 19th and 20th century treasures that our amazing community holds.
In conclusion, I want to thank you all for your visit to our historic town. Remember, when someone says that Jackson is “history”, say thank you. Because we are history, and proud of it.
Jason C. Smith
City of Jackson, Michigan