Michigan’s First State Prison Became a Rock ‘n Roll “Palace”
In 1838, after the Michigan State Legislature gave its blessing for our state’s first prison, a crude, wooden structure was built on a donated hunk of land that encompassed 60 acres. The following year, the first convicts arrived – 35 of ‘em to be exact. This wood building soon gave way to a sturdier, larger structure in 1842. This new prison became the city's focal point and the town grew around - and away - from this new, impressive architecture.
Soon this new prison became overcrowded, growing to 2,200 prisoners that inhabited only four cell blocks.
But the amount of prisoners also contributed to the growth of Jackson. On the grounds were factories and farms where inmates worked and produced consumer goods. Thanks to this – and the cheap labor by using convicts – Jackson was soon one of the largest and most successful industrial cities in America. Not only that, but by 1882, the prison was the largest walled penitentiary in the world.
The state prison continued until 1934, when it was decided that there should be a new prison constructed, to house the ever-increasing prison population. A new facility was constructed off Cooper Street, north of what is now I-94.
Now that the old state prison was empty, it was almost immediately used by the Michigan National Guard for their armory.
A few decades went by and the armory began to give way to entertainment – an easy way to make a few bucks. Mention the Jackson Armory to a local Boomer and it will invoke a knowing smile as he/she recalls the days when the Armory was a Rock 'n Roll joint. During the mid-late 60s the armory was now capitalized as “The Armory” and became THE place within the city limits for Rock ‘n Roll dances and concerts, especially for high schoolers. During the 60s, The Armory’s popularity grew to enormous heights, thanks to the many local rock bands that appeared (including mine), with some going to greater fame, like The Amboy Dukes and Brownsville Station. Every weekend there were rock bands, dances, and kids that packed the place. During summer, when there was no school, weeknights were included to present even more dances and bands.
More than 20 rock venues permeated throughout the Jackson area, and the capper was the Goose Lake Festival in 1970. After the festival, rock venues took a nose-dive and disappeared.....The Armory included.
The armory now has apartments and art galleries.
It needs a good ol' rock 'n roll show one more time.....