There is a lot of history that surrounds us as we sit in the middle of the city. As Jackson begins to revive itself, transforming old shops into new, renovating movie theaters, and bringing life back into the city, we want to shine light on a particularly soulful part of town – Fondren.
The Fondren District is about a mile from the Fairview Inn, and although today the community is an upbeat, welcoming one, not too long ago it was surrounded by a dark stigma due to the Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum. The asylum which eventually changed its formal name to Mississippi State Insane Hospital, was in operation from 1855 to 1935. The stigma that surrounded mental illness during this time period weighed heavily on the patients that attended the hospital, as well as created a reputation for Fondren, which was known as ‘Sylum Heights’ at the time. Although the asylum provided a better space for troubled patients, their quality of life remained harsh. Many of the patients admitted to the hospital died there and the area eventually got the name “Asylum Hill”. In 1935, a new state hospital was constructed about fifteen miles south of Jackson at Whitfield; most of the remains of the original hospital structure in Sylum Heights were torn down by state prisoners. The sight is now home to The University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC), and in 2014 officials discovered 66 wood coffins while building a road through campus. Underground radars showed that there could potentially be 2,000 more coffins beneath the surface, some officials estimate that there are up to 7,000.
Once the hospital remains were torn down, the community adopted the name Fondren when they felt as though “Sylum Heights” was no longer a name suited for their edge of town. The Fondren name was coined from a family who bought land in the area and lived there for many years, becoming involved in politics and building the community. As time went on, the community became well diverse and was no longer stigmatized by the Hospital. Although, it seemed as if the past was forgotten or accidentally covered up by the excitement of a growing community.
By the 1940s, Fondren was adding business after business in existing dwellings or adding new structures all together, resulting in permanent businesses. The area continued to grow as they constructed churches, drug stores, and restaurants. Businesses and families came and went, but by the 80s it seemed as though the momentum was dying down completely, and the area was starting to slowly wither. This situation led to a neighborhood organization that is now known as the Fondren Renaissance Foundation. The foundation put many goals and strategies into place to restore the community into an economically and racially diverse neighborhood.
Today, Fondren serves as a delightful, artistic change of scenery in Jackson. It is home to many retro style and modern restaurants, galleries, boutique’s, coffee shops, and bars. The neighborhood is diverse and accepting, and constantly bustling with new events and activities. The development of our surrounding area has been on the rise recently with many new businesses stepping foot into our community. We are so excited to see our locals pouring their hearts into exciting new endeavors. Below, you can find what new businesses have moved into our area. Supporting these businesses are crucial for the future of Fondren!
The Capri opened in 1940 as ‘The Pix’ and was Jackson’s first “neighborhood moving picture house”. The Pix shut down in 1957 due to people getting televisions in their homes and theater attendance declining. The establishment re-opened in 1962 as The Capri but eventually business declined again once outdoor movies and such became relevant. The structure changed ownership many times over the years and recently it’s been revived and hosts full dinner & bar service as well as being a movie theater and meeting space! Find more on the history of The Capri here.
Highball Lanes serves as a restaurant, but also features a 10 lane bowling alley! This is an amazing addition to the area and will bring many folks wonderful memories and create even better experiences.
The Capri and Highball Lanes both create a retro-style atmosphere with their furniture, lighting, and ambiance. Next door to these two revived businesses, The Pearl serves as a Tiki Bar, bringing an array of unique drinks and food to Fondren!
The Bean, formerly known as Sneaky Beans has also gotten a make-over recently. They serve breakfast, lunch, and assorted baked goods. It’s a wonderful spot for an afternoon coffee with a friend or a study session.
A good way to keep yourself occupied while visiting Fondren is to take a look at the art map on Visit Jackson! Local artists express themselves by painting murals in and around the area as well as crafting sculptures.
The Beacon is a unique art supplies shop, they describe themselves as a mom and pop corner shop for the modern creative! They sell an assortment of goods that are carefully curated.
So, whether your staying as a guest in Jackson, or you’re a local, have dinner and a movie night in Fondren and check out the Library Lounge for a night cap or yummy decadent fudge brownie!