In my first year in Jackson attending Union University, I rarely left campus except to go buy groceries at Walmart. I had no comprehension of the culture of Jackson. I knew where Hollywood Cinema was and would occasionally venture over the Interstate to Carriage House for a dinner when my parents were in town. Through all of these interactions I knew as much of Jackson as a person learns by driving down I-40: that we have a lot a restaurants.
However, in my second year at Union I became a YoungLife leader and was placed at Southside High School, south of the Forked Deer, where there exists another Walmart and Lowes. Because of this, my first real Jackson relationships and interactions all took place in South Jackson. I started to know Jackson as a relatively small town. Everyone knew each other, much like in the small rural town in which I was raised in southern Indiana. Southside High School had school spirit to which I was accustomed. Parents all knew each other, and lots of them had grown up together. It was so inviting and felt like a community I had known before.
When I graduated and bought a home in Jackson, it was my first real comprehension that Jackson was actually larger than I had ever experienced. The Jackson world in which I had been living had one high school, one middle school, and three elementary schools—coincidentally the same as where I had grown up. Through experiencing this I started thinking about how it was possible for a seemingly small town to exist as part of a much larger city. Lots of cities have special neighborhoods, places that have their own flavor and flare, but this was different. It was an all-inclusive place. People really liked it there down south, and it was a chore for my friends who lived down south to “drive out north” to see me. When they did it was because they were “in town,” a phrase I use when I visit people that live in Memphis or Nashville when I go into the city. The whole time I would think, We live in the same town.
What made this community exist and thrive on the edge of a larger place? The Forked Deer? The Bemis Mill? Those were the only things that made sense to me.
The Forked Deer has made it possible for this community to stay close even through all of the expansion that Jackson has seen. The school lines that were constantly changing in the rest of the city were not in Bemis. The lines were drawn by this natural movement of water, creating a flood plain where for a few miles neighborhoods can’t be built up—a buffer from the larger city. This is why school sports seemed different there, because the kids had played together their whole lives. Parents had seen each other at every event and run into each other at Kroger regularly because there is only one to choose from. While South Jackson does not have the vast expanse of new neighborhoods or the plethora of shopping found out north, it does have a Southern charm not available from a new street with tiny trees.
Some may claim it was the Mill that created this atmosphere, which has plenty of merit, but without the river there would have been no mill. However, the Mill did play a vital role in South Jackson charm. One must only drive down any street in Bemis to experience this. The old company homes, the architecture that you never see anymore, particular to that time in history. It is vital to what Jackson has become and is the reason a special community was created here and has stuck around for over 100 years.
South Jackson is a unique community that you might be missing even though it stands in plain sight. It’s a place like the one from which I come, one that doesn’t feel busy or in a hurry. It's like somewhere a movie might try to pick to portray a typical small town in middle America, except it isn’t midwestern or isolated from the world. A place with wonderful people and a wonderful atmosphere. A place where you feel like you belong and you can slow down a bit. If you have only ever driven through this part of your town, turn down a side street and view the homes of Bemis, or stop at Malesus Park and experience Little League like you remember, or sit on the home side of the bleachers and experience Friday night football as a big family. This is your town. Embrace and enjoy.