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Jackson’s original Vandorn Plan of 1822, named for its chief surveyor Peter A. Vandorn, comprises the eastern section of downtown, with boundaries roughly what are now Fortification, West, and South streets, and the Pearl River. The plan included a crescent overlooking the Pearl River plain and emphasized the Capitol Green at the intersection of State and Capitol streets. Alternating blocks were reserved as open squares or commons. These squares were gradually sold and the only ones remaining are the Old Capitol Green and Smith Park, behind the Governor’s Mansion (JM18).

The oldest portion of downtown is around the intersection of Capitol and State streets, where the two-story stucco Spengler’s Corner (101 N. State) dates to 1866. A separate hub grew up around the depot (see JM27) after 1858 when the New Orleans, Jackson and Great Northern Railroad completed its line to Jackson. Following construction of the New Capitol (JM16) in 1903, downtown’s focus shifted away from State Street and the Old Capitol to the area around the Governor’s Mansion, with state headquarters and commercial buildings.

Urban renewal between 1979 and 1981 caused the demolition of Capitol Street’s formerly vibrant commercial blocks between Lamar and Roach streets. Lost were such landmarks as the Heidelberg Hotel (1921), the J. C. Penney store (1947), and Woolworth’s (c. 1950), where the lunch counter had experienced one of Jackson’s most important civil rights sit-ins.

Racial tension and desegregation, combined with the growth of suburbs, left downtown bereft of retail but still a center of daytime office life, and it avoided the crushing vacancies that other city centers experienced in the 1970s. In the early twenty-first century, important downtown projects have brought residential life to the area, including rehabilitation of the Edwards Hotel (JM28) as a hotel and apartments. The two-block-long Convention Center (2008, Dale and Associates, with Arquitectonica; 105 W. Pascagoula Street), distinctive for its folded plate glass skin, anchors a revitalized arts district, but its planned conference hotel has yet to materialize.

Writing Credits

Jennifer V.O. Baughn and Michael W. Fazio with Mary Warren Miller

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