If you’re like me, you’ve seen the sign pointing toward Jasper every time you’ve driven I-65 between the North Alabama state line and Birmingham. I knew it was there, but I didn’t know what treasures it held that would make me want to detour off of the interstate or, even more, to take Exit 299 just for the sake of visiting Jasper. Now I know.
A few short years ago, the business side of downtown Jasper was on the verge of distinction. Big box stores were luring shoppers to the outskirts of town, and storefront after storefront was abandoned and becoming dilapidated. What sounded hopeless to some was exactly the kind of situation Main Street Alabama loves to find. That organization recognized that Jasper had the very ingredients it needed to be restored, revitalized and promoted — history, architecture, established businesses and dedicated townspeople. In 2015, Jasper became a recognized community of Main Street Alabama. To implement Jasper Main Street, city leaders chose a team led by Mike Putman, a slogan of “Flourish With Us!”and the hard but rewarding work of bringing Jasper back to life began.
With a goal of putting a thriving business in every storefront in the Main Street district (consisting of 18th, 19th and 20th Streets), the progress to this point is remarkable. You can easily spend a whole day shopping, eating, finding art and exploring Jasper’s unique history.
As of right now, there are six eateries within a couple of blocks of each other. Depending on your dietary preferences, you can choose Mexican (Los Reyes Grill), Italian (Johnny Brusco’s), Japanese (Rock n Roll Sushi), Southern (Danny’s Downtown Barbecue) and a broader range (Black Rock Bistro and Warehouse 3Nineteen).
I only had time to check out a few shops, but I will definitely reserve time soon to go back and peruse all of the offerings in each store soon. So much appealing and beautiful merchandise. Maybe I should leave Steve home next time for a less hurried chance to look. (Sorry, hon). Be sure to include Bernard’s Store for Men, Shmic and Boo’s, Bare Bones Cargo, Elizabeth Garner Interiors, Lavish, Young Jewelers and White Tulip Antiques, but I’m sure others will be added soon.
Take time to notice the interesting murals that have been painted throughout the downtown area. Especially notice the one showing Jasper’s namesake in action.
If you take children or grandchildren with you, a scavenger hunt looking for all of the painted mules would be fun. A Mule Trail map is available at the Arts Alliance office in the basement of the First Bank building. Mules are the chosen symbol of Jasper in reference to their role during the town’s mining days.
How many towns do you know of the size of Jasper (population approximately 14,300) that can boast of visits by Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman and notable citizens born in Jasper, such as Tallulah Bankhead, her father William Brockman Bankhead (former Speaker of the House in Washington, DC), George “Goober” Lindsey and Polly Holliday. Visit the sanctuary of First United Methodist Church where Roosevelt attended William B. Bankhead’s funeral and the Bankhead House and Heritage Center. In the church, you will see magnificent stained glass, and at the Heritage Center, you’ll learn about many famous people with Walker County connections.
Two yearly events might interest you. The Tallulah Bankhead Tribute Weekend on June 9 and the Foothills Festival on September 8-9. Make a note of those or click on the links above that sound appealing and plan a trip very soon.
And, by the way, if you’re from a small town, you might find yourself asking: What symbol could we use to represent our town? How can we bring more businesses back to Main Street? Who are some notable people who were born in our town? How can we incorporate art and repurpose and refurbish historic buildings? Who would be good leaders to promote our town? At least, those were some of the questions I asked myself.
P.S. Athens folks, check out my article in the March 2018 Senior Scene Magazine for more details and photos. It’s on pages 24-25.