The Jacksonian Highway Hotel was built at 4800 Highway 51 North (later Interstate 55 North), in an area only just beginning to blossom with commercial development. Construction was begun in April 1955. George Wilkinson and his partners at Crestline Development (later known as the Athens Investment Company) set out to build something more than just another motel. Indeed, the Jacksonian was conceived as a “highway hotel” which offered the luxury and service of a traditional hotel with the convenience of parking at one’s door. This was also not simply the product of an anonymous builder, but sprang off the drawing boards of one of Jackson’s most prestigious architectural firms, the offices of N.W. Overstreet. The buildings were built by Wise Construction, a local company and the furnishings and fittings were, as much as possible, locally sourced as well. All told, the cost for a 90 room hotel and restaurant was $700,000, an especially impressive sum when one considers that Dumas Milner paid $1,000,000 to renovate the King Edward and its 400 rooms in 1954-55.
Overstreet’s layout on the 7 1/2 acre plot provided maximum privacy and quiet for overnight guests. The rooms were also unusually spacious for the era and featured vaulted ceilings along with the latest in modern comforts like late model Zenith televisions in each room. The hotel opened to a packed house on August 5, 1956. It was soon accepted into the Master Hosts organization, a distinction which meant considerably more in its time. The Broadwater and the Longfellow House on the Coast were members, as well as the Bentley in Alexandria.
There was, however, another significant reason for local interest in the new hotel, for it housed the restaurant LeFleur’s, a local institution which had lately been located on President Street in downtown Jackson (the building still stands, by the way), a coup of some note. The specialties of the house were Creole cooking and they always managed to hire the best of local talent to run the place. I recall dining there on a number of occasions. What I don’t exactly recall are the politically incorrect and frankly horrible murals depicting smiling black workers picking cotton while their white counterparts lounged on the verandah at the mansion. (1) These murals must surely have been gone by the time I was visiting the restaurant and I have been unable to find pictures of them. In any event, the place played to a packed house on most nights until nearly the end of its long existence. The guest book was signed by everyone from Elvis and the Colonel to Bob Hope, Cher and Greg Allman. Roy Rogers and Trigger signed the guest book as well. I don’t know what they did with Trigger while Rogers enjoyed his dinner. For years, Le Fleur’s was the place to see and be seen in Jackson.
Trout meuniere, spoon bread and West Indies salad may never have gone out of style, but the Jacksonian was fading at its edges by the time it closed in 1984. Le Fleur’s closed its doors as well and the property was promptly redeveloped by 1985. Today at least the names live on in Lefleur’s Gallery and Jacksonian Plaza, the road that runs beside the I-55 Kroger.
(1) Karl Fleming, Son of the Rough South, 2005.