By Stephen D. Bowling
Near the intersection of Broadway and Cherry Street stands one of the most recognizable structures in the city of Jackson– the Jackson Federal Building.
The stately building was once the scene of daily activities and the home of the Jackson Post Office and a Federal Court for Eastern Kentucky.
For more than a year, the Federal Court at Jackson met in the second-floor Circuit Courtroom of the Breathitt County Courthouse on Main Street. Constant overcrowding and conflicting schedules with the County Court of Claims and the Circuit Court caused the Judges of the Federal Court system to begin searching for a new location. The court had started sessions at Jackson after the expense of trying numerous cases in Lexington and other Federal Courts grew.
Officials reported that a new Federal Courthouse at Jackson would save the court system thousands of dollars each year. In addition, the Jackson Post Office, which was located in the J. R. Blake Building on College Avenue, had recently experienced a rent increase that more than doubled the Postal Service’s annual expense. Faced with these financial issues, the United States Government initiated a search for a suitable lot to construct a building to house both the Post Office and the Federal Court system.
The committee appointed to find a building site focused its attention on the Frog Pond section of Jackson near the end of Broadway due to the amount of open space that was available following a devastating Halloween fire that consumed nearly one-third of the city.
The United States Government purchased the corner lot on the southeast corner of Broadway and Hawk Street intersection from Dr. John S. and Addie (Combs) Redwine for $10,000. The Redwines were among the most prominent and influential families in the city of Jackson. They had purchased most of North Broadway from the David B. and Nellie Redwine, Hiram and Sarah Ann Centers, and the America Combs heirs.
The United States Government awarded the construction contract to J. D. Rogers and Co. from Moorestown, New Jersey, and Arthur Johnson of Princeton, New Jersey, was appointed construction supervisor.
At two o’clock on the afternoon of Monday, November 30, 1914, a large crowd gathered at the government lot to officially break ground on the “Federal Building Project.” Jackson Mayor Lewis Hays presided over the groundbreaking before a crowd, which The Jackson Times reported consisted of “a hundred men and women, fourteen cows, one dog, a photographer, three lawyers, two doctors, and some children.”
Following some martial music and a few songs from a rented band from the Zarlington Comedy Club from Lexington, Mayor Hays and several guest speakers, including Chester Bach, Kelly Kash, and Ryland C. Musick, expounded on the significance of the day and the importance of the structure for the City of Jackson and Eastern Kentucky. Mayor Lewis Hays swung the first pick and shoveled dirt to officially begin the project.
In the spring of 1915, a large cornerstone ceremony was conducted, and a prominent, permanent cornerstone was laid in the northeast corner of the building; from that point, work was “full steam,” as the Times described. In the coming months, frequent rain and difficulty obtaining the marble needed for the building stalled the work. The first court session was delayed until the building was completed in 1916 at a final cost of $100,000.
The Jackson Federal Building became the center of Jackson’s social life. Large groups gathered on the steps each morning to “visit” before the mail was “put up,” and hundreds attended the Federal Court sessions.
In the mid-1970s, the Jackson Federal Court closed, and the building continued to house the Jackson Post Office until 1986, when the new Post Office was constructed on Highway 15 North. The Breathitt County Board of Health purchased the building in 1997 and renovated the structure to accommodate their needs. The building was later remodeled and converted into apartments. It operates today as the “Federal Place Apartments.”
The Jackson Federal Building stands today as one of the most beautiful buildings in the City of Jackson and as a living symbol of the significant role that Jackson and Breathitt County played in the development of Eastern Kentucky.
© 2022 Stephen D. Bowling