Jackson, Madison County kick off bicentennial celebrations

By KATE COIL

TML Communications Specialist

The city of Jackson and Madison County have kicked off a year’s worth of bicentennial festivities as they celebrate 200 years of history and community.


Celebrations have begun this month and will last until August 2022, honoring the establishment of Madison County in 1821 and then the city of Jackson in 1822. Each month on the year-long celebration will have a different theme related to local culture and history with a series of events planned to mark important milestones and highlight local heritage.

“Jackson has a rich history and the bicentennial offers us the opportunity to honor our roots while committing ourselves to make a positive impact for future generations,” said Jackson Mayor Scott Conger.


Long occupied by the Chickasaw, European settlers began arriving in what would become Jackson by the 1820s. Originally known as Alexandria, the city was incorporated as Jackson on Aug. 17, 1822, in honor of then Gen. Andrew Jackson for his heroism in the War of 1812. Madison County had been established by the Tennessee Legislature in November of the previous year and Jackson was declared the county seat.


Until the establishment of Memphis, Jackson was the economic and political center of West Tennessee and was a major railroad junction. Today, the city remains an economic and cultural hub for many surrounding communities, and has become well-known for its legacy of railroad history, music, and business.


Elaine Christian, chair of the Jackson Madison County Bicentennial Commission, said there are plenty of ways for residents and visitors to help the community celebrate 200 years.
Events began with a birthday bash on Aug. 14, 2021, that celebrated the start of the bicentennial year at the Jackson Amphitheater, known locally as the Amp, with a series of performances dedicated to the area’s music history and reputation as a home of music legends including Carl Perkins, Luther Ingram, Big Maybelle, Denise LaSalle, and others.

“Our monthly theme for August is music heritage,” Christian said. “Jackson, Madison County, along with the rest of Tennessee, has such a strong musical heritage. We wanted to start out by celebrating that first. We had two stages of live music. The first stage is the Sounds of Jackson Stage and all the performers were from Jackson. We flip over to the Amp, where we had a grand opening ceremony to kick off the year and five more acts. The genres of music were diverse from gospel to country, hip hop to jazz, country, blues, and something for everyone.”


On Nov. 13, guests will gather at Jackson’s Ned McWherter Cultural Arts Center, known as the Ned, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Madison County being created out of land purchased by the state of Tennessee from the Chickasaw. Christian said the event will be marked with historical re-enactments, presentations, music, and more.


“We are also working on a legacy project which is a bicentennial park,” Christian said. “We hope to break ground on the bicentennial park in November. It is a joint city-county project, and the whole bicentennial is a joint project.”


On June 1, 2022, the city of Jackson will unveil a time capsule placed by city leaders 50 years ago when the city celebrated its sesquicentennial in 1972. At that time, the mayor of Jackson was Robert D. Conger, the grandfather of current Jackson Mayor Scott Conger.


“We will dig up that time capsule in June, and we will have a display at city hall of what contents were in the time capsule,” Christian said. “We are also creating a new time capsule that will be interred as part of the city’s birthday on Aug. 13. We have a committee for the time capsule, and items will be secret except for the items collected by our educational committee. They are conducting a contest with local schools – public, private, and homeschools – in three grade levels and with three types of contest. The older children will do an essay, the middle group will do poetry, and the younger group will do an art project. The winners of those contests will be included in the time capsule. Everything else about the time capsule has to be an item that reflects life in Jackson today. We have decided to not include something digital because we aren’t sure if it could be played in 50 years.”


Events will culminate with a Bicentennial Parade and Concert at the city’s ballpark on Aug. 13, 2022.


“The finale is going to be the highlight of the whole year,” she said. “The night before we will have the 200-voice choir and the Jackson Chorale Center is partnering with us at the Carl Perkins Civic Center. The following day, we will bury the time capsule, have a parade, and a concert followed by fireworks. Our committee is really dedicated and has been working hard on this for 10 months.”


Throughout the year, there will also be other smaller events to coincide with the monthly themes. Christian said the month of August will include a historical presentation on Jackson’s music heritage by a local professor, a songwriting workshop, and other events tied into the theme of the area’s music.


Community partners have also partnered with the committee to create themed events. The University of Tennessee Research Station has helped organize an antique tractor show, quilt display, and local artisan demonstrations as part of the celebration of the area’s agriculture and industry in September.


Organizers expect the celebrations to draw visitors from Jackson, Madison County, and surrounding communities to participate.


“I think this is the largest civic pride demonstration our community has ever undertaken,” Christian said. “We want to demonstrate our civic pride, have the opportunity to recognize a special time of significance in our past, and bring a unity of celebration that will hopefully move us into the next 200 years. I think the leadership of this project is just so fantastic. People have stepped up, people are excited, are talented, and are willing to give their time. There has been great collaboration with the various leaders in the community. That is something I have been so excited about.”


Christian said the bicentennial is as much about remembering the past as it is ensuring residents are engaged to make the best of the future.


“It’s a once in a lifetime celebration of the dreams and progress of those that have lived in our community,” she said. “We see this as an opportunity to do that. As a grandmother it is important to me and our committee that children have a better understanding of the roots of their community, where we came from, and how we’ve spread. I think the most important aspect is to leave a legacy for the future. We want our citizens to be proud of our community and also see a way forward to how it could be better in the future.”