Special to Find It In Fondren (Jana Hoops for The Clarion Ledger)
More than 100 descendants of the family who established the community that grew to become Jackson’s “first suburban neighborhood” will gather this weekend for their first reunion in more than 20 years.
Generations of the Fondren family, most of whom no longer bear the last name, will connect – some for the first time – when they meet for two days of reminiscing and photo ops at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in the Fondren community Friday and Saturday.
Family members who remember growing up in Fondren – and even some who have never seen the community – will rediscover today’s Fondren, which has evolved into what is arguably the city’s most eclectic and vibrant neighborhood.
The two-day, family-only event is being sponsored by the descendants of Richard and Ella Douglass Fondren, the first Fondrens in the Jackson area, who purchased a 485-acre plantation north of Jackson in 1845. They had seven children – and two of their sons, Edward and David, reared families in the Fondren Hill area that at one time was a separate community from the city of Jackson.
Edward Douglass Fondren made his career in politics, serving as tax assessor, then circuit clerk of Hinds County for a combined total of 50 years, until his death in 1940.
David Fulton Fondren was the founder of D.F. Fondren & Co. General Merchandise and Fancy Groceries, a longtime neighborhood landmark and gathering place that operated from 1893 until 1953. He also served as postmaster of the community’s post office, next door to the grocery store.
The brothers were also instrumental in helping form two churches in the neighborhood that are still active today: St. Luke’s United Methodist and Fondren Presbyterian.
The reunion will feature talks by Fondren family members, including Dr. Bill Keeton of Atlanta, author of the recently published book about growing up Fondren titled “A Boy Called Combustion,” and by Keeton’s cousin, Vicksburg resident Edward Campbell, who will speak on the Fondren family’s connection to St. Luke’s. Attendees will also hear from Jim Wilkerson, executive director of the Fondren Renaissance Foundation, established in 1996 to promote preservation and revitalization throughout the Fondren neighborhood.
Wilkerson calls Fondren “Jackson’s crown jewel” and said “today’s growth has been spurred on by a number of those individuals and corporate partners that had the foresight to see this area become a center for revitalization and urban renewal. This spirit and what Fondren has evolved into today is the work of a dedicated group and team of believers who wanted to see what long ago had thrived be rebirthed for future generations to enjoy.
“It is sort of that ‘let’s take it outside the box’ philosophy that has made Fondren thrive,” he said. “Having experienced it firsthand, Fondren truly is one of the very few places that embraces its past while reinventing itself for the future. What other area encompasses all walks of life and reflects the diversity of our entire city? I truly do not know where Jackson would be without the ‘Fondren’ of today.”