Jackson’s Growth

Jackson’s first school was started in 1831 by Silence Blackman, Horace’s sister, who taught nine students in her brother’s house. In the town, there were already a shoemaker, a cabinetmaker, and a blacksmith. Around the town, local farmers grew wheat, beans, and corn. The first sermon in Jackson had been preached in 1830, by a travelling preacher, in Blackman Tavern. The first congregation to organize was the Methodist Episcopal Church, in 1832. The first church building, however, was built by the Baptists in 1838. The first Catholic church was built in 1857, and the first synagogue in 1863.

The railroads  reached Jackson in 1841, at which time the line ran from Jackson to Detroit. In 1851, Jackson farmers instigated the Great Railroad Conspiracy. Local farmers, irritated that their cows were being killed by trains, started to sabotage the railroads. The conspiracy spread to other communities, and culminated in arson of railroad buildings in Detroit. Abel Fitch, a Jackson resident, was arrested as the ringleader, as were fifty of his followers. As a result of the ensuing trial, the railroads were ordered to pay compensation to farmers for all their livestock killed by trains.

Even before the Civil War, Jacksonians were strongly opposed to slavery. Jackson was also home to many stations on the Underground Railroad, some of which can still be seen today.

First Congregational Church, a station on the Underground Railroad

First Congregational Church, a station on the Underground Railroad

Moreover, Jackson, as is known to all, is the birthplace of the Republican Party. On July 6, 1854, a group of 1,500 men gathered in a grove of oak trees to form a new political party dedicated to the abolition of slavery. One of these men was Jackson native Austin Blair, who would later be Michigan’s governor during the Civil War.

Under the Oaks

Under the Oaks

(Note: Some claim that Ripon Wisconsin was the home of the Republican Party. While an anti-slavery group did assemble in Ripon a few months before the gathering Under the Oaks, nothing came of it. The assembly in Jackson was the first to result in nomination of candidates of the new party for office.)

After the Civil War, Jackson continued to grow and became a manufacturing town. We were home to the Jackson Corset Company, founded 1884. It was the largest corset manufacturing company west of Boston, employing three hundred people. After corsets went out of style, the company began making therapeutic support garments instead.Corsets

Jackson is also home to the Ritz cracker. The Jackson Cracker company, in the early 1900’s, invented a small, round cracker called the Jaxon. When the company was bought out by Nabisco in 1919, corporate executives changed the name of the cracker to the Ritz.

Jackson Cracker Company

Jackson Cracker Company

From 1897 to 1954, there were at least twenty different automakers in Jackson. The first, most successful, and longest-lasting of these was the Jackson Automobile Company. The first speeding ticket in Jackson was given to one Stewart E. Watson, on March 21, 1902, by Police Chief Henry L. Hunt, for going over eight miles per hour. However, the Great Depression killed off most of the independent automakers in Jackson, and we became a dependency of Detroit, manufacturing automobile parts for the Big Three.