When movie crews descended on Jackson in 2010 to film The Help, based on Kathryn Stockett’s novel about the city’s maids in the 1960s, they transformed the streets of its trendiest neighborhood into a retro backdrop. Given locals’ loyalty to mom-and-pop stores like Brent’s Drugs, where you can still sit at the counter and order a chocolate malt, it didn’t take much to pull off cinematic time travel.
This year, Jackson marked the anniversary of one of its most difficult moments 50 years ago, when the civil rights activist Medgar Evers was shot in his driveway by a white supremacist.
A lot has changed here in 50 years, though Jackson’s population of fewer than 200,000 still gives it the familiarity of a big country town. Over a dish of peach cobbler at one of the city’s beloved dining spots you can feel time rewind, and Mississippians’ old-fashioned charm is no rumor.
Lately, top-notch restaurants and music venues have joined Jackson’s soul-food restaurants, creating a relaxed marriage of old and new. With community groups organizing music, food and art festivals seemingly every weekend, there’s never been a better time to visit the self-proclaimed City With Soul. If you’ve got a long weekend, from Friday afternoon to Sunday brunch, here are some suggestions.
• A writer’s refuge: A stroll through the rolling hills of the historic Belhaven neighborhood is the perfect introduction to Jackson’s laid-back mood. Join the couples power-walking past bungalow-style houses, parks and front-yard vegetable gardens and make your way to the home of the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Eudora Welty.
Born in Jackson, Welty lived here most of her life and made Mississippi her subject. You can tour her home, which is arranged to look as it did when she was still writing in the 1980s. Then, the couches, coffee tables and chairs were stacked high with books, which guests had to move to find a seat. Guided tours are available Tuesday through Friday at set times (tickets, $5).
Next, take a lap around the Belhaven University campus, across the street from the Eudora Welty House, and breathe in the scent of magnolia, the state flower.
• Living history: When Mississippi’s “new” Capitol building (the first had architectural flaws and still stands a few blocks away) opened in 1903, electricity was an uncommon luxury in the rural state. That may be why the architect Theodore Link installed over 4,700 decorative light bulbs throughout the Beaux-Arts-style building. The historian Brenda Davis said that on the night of the grand opening, as 20,000 spectators gathered in the pouring rain, the illuminated Capitol must have been as captivating as a fireworks display.
The lights are just one of the ornate building’s eccentricities, the stories of which provide a candid portrait of the state’s history. The Confederate battle emblem still occupies a corner of the state’s banner, and the face of the Choctaw Indian Theresa Whitecloud is at the top of the Senate rotunda. A ghostly portrait of Gov. James Vardaman in the first-floor hallway has him looking as pale as a vampire. You can take a self-guided tour, or come by earlier in the day for a free guided tour.
• Sophisticated Southern: Jackson’s historic downtown is primarily a place of business, with lunch spots, parks and museums scattered among the office buildings. But a few ambitious new restaurants have begun challenging the after-dark quiet. The most impressive newcomer is Parlor Market, where the kitchen executes playful interpretations of classic Southern fare. The chef Craig Noone, who was raised in Jackson and returned to open the restaurant in 2010, died in a car accident a few weeks after Parlor Market’s first anniversary. The executive chef Matthew Kajdan has pushed forward with Noone’s vision of locally sourced cuisine. A memorable entree on the frequently changing menu paired lamb ragout with squid ink cavatelli, lady peas, preserved lemon, pickled chilies and mint ($25).