by Chris Myers
The city of Jackson recognizes the boundaries of Fondren as being Woodrow Wilson Avenue to the south, Northside Drive to the north, Interstate 55 to the east, and the Illinois Central Railroad to the west. It hasn’t always been this way.
In 1894, the community that had grown around the state mental hospital built its first post office. Concerned about the ill-boding name ‘Sylum Heights, residents petitioned to have the name of the area changed to something a little less dismal. The Fondren family owned a good portion of land and ran the local grocery and post office, so the family moniker stuck.
But that name was mostly used to refer to the area west of State Street. It stayed that way until the mid-1990’s. Before that time, the neighborhood was (and still is) divided up by the major thoroughfares of State Street, Old Canton, and Meadowbrook. Central Fondren was referred to as Cherokee Heights. East Fondren was Woodland Hills. North Fondren was Broadmeadow. And, in 2014, the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places designated the Fondren business district as the Downtown Fondren Historic District.
Beyond that, there were further designations, many of them dating back to the 1920’s when land was being subdivided for new parcels. These included Council Circle (then the heart of Cherokee Heights), Meadow Ridge, Pine Hill and many more. These designations still appear as part of the legal descriptions of Fondren land parcels, and physical remnants, like the eagle pillar at the corner of State and Council Circle, still remain.
The early 1980’s saw a decline in property values throughout Jackson. People weren’t buying houses west of I-55. This slump continued for over a decade. Finally, a group of pre-Fondrenites had enough. A group including Don Potts, Wirt Yerger, Chip Bowman and many others began meeting every Tuesday morning to discuss matters concerning the neighborhood. This group would eventually form the board of the Fondren Renaissance Foundation. To them, solidarity was important and the neighborhood could better market itself under one name. Realtors in the area starting using the moniker “Fondren” for all properties in the vicinity.
Mary Jo McAnally remembers the exact moment when she realized their efforts were working. FRF’s Phoenix Initiative had finished its sixth home renovation on Pine Hill in West Fondren. She was working on the sale of a home on the same street when she received a call from the potential buyer’s bank. The bank had received paperwork on a loan for the home in the amount of $102,000 and wanted to confirm that it was correct. Until then, no property west of State Street had ever sold for an amount that large. It was a sign of things to come.
Today, Fondren is thriving. Home values vary from less than $80,000 to more than $4,000,000. Regardless of income or net worth, all people are welcome here, and with two major apartment developments under construction, a new wave of Fondrenites will start arriving soon. Thanks to the hard work of those who stuck it out through the hard times, the trapezoid known as Fondren is one of the most successful communities in the state of Mississippi and an example of what a community can be when people work together.