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Although it is Mississippi's largest city, and the state capital, Jackson has a slow pace and a distinctly southern lifestyle. Its population of about 167 000 is spread over a large geographic area, making it seem smaller than it is. The main landmark in the city is the old Mississippi State Capitol building in the very centre of the downtown area.
Jackson meanders along the banks of the winding Pearl River, having been founded in 1821 as a trading post. It is an exceedingly well-ordered city thanks to thoughtful town planning, but because it is spread out, exploring its distinct neighbourhoods is best done by car.
Cultural centres, historic buildings, and museums are located downtown, but visitors need to travel to areas like Ridgeland, a few miles out, to find good shopping, eating, lodging, and nightlife opportunities. The neighbourhood of Mid North has some great recreational areas, like Le Fleur's Bluff State Park, while to the west of Downtown is the significant Farish Street Historic District, a centre of black culture, politics, religion, and business.
Originally called State House, the Old Capitol building has filled three purposes in its long history. From 1839 to 1903 it served as the state capitol, between 1917 and 1959 it housed government offices, and from 1961 to the present it has become an award-winning museum enshrining Mississippi's history. The exhibits are arranged in several categories, the highlight being 'Mississippi 1500 to 1800' which depicts the era when Americans, Europeans, and Africans first encountered each other in the state, drastically altering the lives and society of the Native Americans who lived here. Full-scale dioramas illustrate the importance of cotton in the state's development, and interactive audio-visual experiences explain the profound effects of the Civil War on Mississippi.
The Mississippi Governor's Mansion in downtown Jackson is the second oldest continuously occupied governor's residence in the United States. It was first occupied in 1842 by Governor Tilghman Tucker and his family, having just been built in the Greek revival style, the most popular style of the period. Today architectural historians consider the mansion one of the best surviving examples of this style in the country, and in 1975 the building was designated a National Historic Landmark. The historic section of the mansion, furnished in period Empire style, is open to the public.
Jackson's impressive planetarium is one of the largest in the world, with a huge hemispheric wrap-around screen that presents regular Sky Shows on astronomy, astronauts, and space exploration. The planetarium, situated in the downtown cultural district, also presents laser light concerts featuring the music of contemporary and classic rock and roll artists combined with the imagery of a powerful indoor laser system, as well as astronomy hobby courses and workshops.
The State's largest art museum, the Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson houses more than 4,000 works, including the world's largest collection by Mississippi artists. With 75 percent of the permanent collection comprising of American artists, visitors will be able to view some of Georgia O'Keeffe's striking flowers and landscapes and Walker Evans' carefully photographed Depression images. The rest of the permanent exhibition consists of European, Asian, and Ethnographic art where contemporary masters such as Miro, Picasso, Degas, and Cezanne are viewable as well as gorgeous Japanese prints and South American ceramics.
The 125-acre neighbourhood near downtown known as Farish District is bounded by Mill Street, Amite Street, Fortification Street, and Jackson Street. It is one of the few historically black districts, built by former slaves, listed on the national register. It takes its name from Walter Farish, a freed slave who settled on the northeast corner of Davis and Farish Streets. The district was once the centre of political, religious, economic, educational, and entertainment activities for the black professionals and craftsmen who lived in the area's 700-odd buildings, most dating from between 1890 and 1930. Among the more notable buildings are 229 East Church Street, former home of Dr Sidney Redmond, wealthy and successful businessman, and the Farish Street Baptist Church. Renovation in the district is ongoing and private home ownership is being encouraged in an effort at urban renewal. The area is being redeveloped as an entertainment district, with many theatres, live music venues, and historic landmarks like Ace Records and the Speir Phonograph Company.
The Vicksburg National Military Park commemorates one of the most decisive battles of the American Civil War: the campaign, siege, and defence of the city of Vicksburg, 44 miles (71km) west of Jackson in Mississippi. Vicksburg was under siege for 47 days in 1863 as confederate forces vainly tried to defend the city high on the bluff guarding the Mississippi River. The battlefield at Vicksburg is in a good state of preservation and visitors can explore 1,325 historic monuments and markers, 20 miles (32km) of reconstructed trenches and earthworks, an antebellum home, 144 cannon emplacements, the restored Union gunboat, USS Cairo, and the Vicksburg National Cemetery. While in Vicksburg don't miss a riverboat ride on the mighty Mississippi and a visit to the River City Blues Museum in Clay Street, with the largest blues collection on public display in the world.
The King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley, was born in Tupelo, northern Mississippi in 1935 in a humble home where he began his meteoric rise to fame. The simple two-room house where Elvis drew his first breath is now contained in a park, which has become a place of pilgrimage for thousands of fans every day. The city of Tupelo has other attractions to make a trip north of Jackson worthwhile. Elvis Presley Park includes not only the period-furnished house, but also a museum, memorial chapel, gift shop, and a life-size statue of the legend, aged 13, as he was when he moved from Tupelo to Memphis, Tennessee, with his family.
The Mississippi Museum of Natural Science was founded in 1932 by Francis Cook, and to this day, remains the Magnolia State's largest museum. A passionate student of Mississippi's natural resources, Cook's vision was to establish a museum that would focus on the promotion and protection of the state's natural landscape. In LeFleur's Bluff State Park, he chose an ideal setting for such a project. The museum grounds feature a 73,000 square foot complex overlooking a 300-acre natural landscape, 2.5 miles (about 4km) of nature trails, an open-air amphitheatre, a series of life-size displays of the state's diverse habitats, a 100,000-gallon aquarium network housing more than 200 living species, and a 1,700 square foot greenhouse. When one visits the museum, it is obvious to see that Cook's conservancy ideals have been faithfully followed over the last 80 or so years; and the museum's astonishing collection of more than a million specimens of fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, mammals, invertebrates, plants, and fossils is nothing less than a living, breathing monument to biodiversity conservation.
One of America's most influential writers, Eudora Welty lived for 76 years at 1119 Pinehurst Plaza in Jackson, before bequeathing the house to the State of Mississippi when she passed away in 2001. The beautiful, Tudor Revival-style house was built by Welty's parents in 1925, and has since been added to the National Register of Historic Places and declared a National Historic Landmark. Significantly, the interior of the house has remained untouched; and visitors to the Eudora Welty house will be given the chance to see exactly how this Pulitzer Prize-winning author lived and worked - her books still line the shelves, and her typewriter still sits on the writing desk by the window in the upstairs bedroom. Included in the tour, is a walk around the exquisite gardens that Welty and her mother cultivated over the years. For fans of American literature, a visit to the Eudora Welty house-cum-museum is an absolute must.
The weather in Jackson is warm and humid in summer (June to August), and fairly mild in winter (December to February), and temperature extremes are rare. Summer temperatures average between 68°F (20°C) and 90°F (32°C), while winter temperatures average between 35°F (2°C) and 60°F (15°C). Rainfall is fairly high, and can occur at any time of year. In the late summer and autumn, Jackson is sometimes in the path of hurricanes moving north from the Gulf of Mexico. Tornadoes are also a threat between February and May.
Back in the 1970s Malcolm White, an Irish Jackson resident and publican, decided the city could do with a St Patrick's Day celebration. So was born a parade tradition that has grown in popularity, size and status to become one of the city's most eagerly awaited annual events, drawing visitors from near and far. The parade winds its way down Capitol Street, focussing on the 'Sweet Potato Queens' and encouraging plenty of dancing in the streets. Most pubs and restaurants in the vicinity add to the festivities with special promotions.
Sample Mississippi's favourite delicacy, a small version of the lobster, cooked and served up in a variety of hot and spicy ways at the annual festival honouring crawfish. Activities on offer include live musical entertainment, carnival rides and of course vendors supplying plenty of treats for seafood lovers.
Over the last few years, the festival has evolved from a small foodie event to a full-fledged music festival, held over two weekends in April. The diverse line-up includes genres like country, zydeco, rock, blues, and R&B.
Without Clarksdale, Mississippi, there'd be no such thing as the Delta Blues. The Juke Joint Festival, held annually in this charming little town on the banks of the Sunflower River, is all about celebrating the wonderful musical heritage passed down by greats such as Son House, Robert Johnson, and Skip James.
Half small town fair and half blues festival, it does more than simply entertain attendees: it aims to educate and enlighten locals and blues tourists alike through a series of performances, exhibits, and presentations involving music, art, storytelling, film, and children's events. Don't miss this opportunity to learn more about one of America's great cultural assets and, of course, to listen some authentic, down-home playing while you're at it!
Hiring a car is the best way to get around in Jackson as many of the attractions lie outside the city. Parking is easy to find everywhere but downtown. The JATRAN bus is a reliable way to get around. It operates Monday to Friday 5.15am-7.45pm and on Saturday from 6.45am-6.45pm. Most routes operate every 60 minutes with limited service every 30 minutes on Routes 1, 8 and 12. A single one-way fare costs about $1.50. Metered taxis are available, but must be booked by phone at least 30 minutes in advance as cabs do not cruise or wait at taxi ranks.
Mississippi's capital isn't known as a glamourous or trendy city, but visitors will find plenty to see and do in Jackson, making it a memorable visit. For those in search of deep history and a look back in time, Jackson will certainly not disappoint.
The fascinating history is evident in attractions like the Old Capitol Museum, an eye-catching and hands-on history made available through fun and interactive exhibits; the Farish Street Historic District, a historic neighbourhood in Jackson; the War Memorial Museum, offering history and architecture to marvel at, and the Eudora Welty House, the home of the notable author for nearly eighty years. The Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Centre is also a must-see, tracing African-American cultural history. So if it's history that tourists are after, Jackson is certainly the place to be.
The Jackson Zoo is also great for families with children, as is the Russell C Davis Planetarium, putting on regular Sky Shows on astronomy, astronauts, and space exploration. Downtown Jackson is also a great spot to explore and while fairly compact, visitors will find there are lots of attractions made accessible on a self-guided walking tour of the city. For those who enjoy a slow pace and a delightful Southern lifestyle, Jackson makes for a wonderful and historical destination.
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