‘Our Town: Jackson’ Set to Premiere This Sunday In Jackson

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Randy Heath has been mayor of Jackson, OH for over 10 years. He also grew up in the close-knit Appalachian town.

“As a matter of fact, the house I live in now is the house my parents brought me home to after I was born,” said Heath. “There isn’t any other place I’d rather live.”

In addition to being mayor, Heath has also announced public addresses at Jackson High School for 26 years; been the executive director of the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce for 21 years, and was a former city councilperson for eight years. He’s also widely recognized across the state for his distinctive basketball broadcasting style.

Jackson is the subject of WOUB Public Media’s 2017 Our Town documentary, a series that documents various small towns throughout the WOUB listenership area, culminating with a showing of the resulting documentary in the town that it documents. In past years the series has focused on Pomeroy, Lancaster, Nelsonville and others.

An archival image of the historic streets of Jackson, OH. (Submitted)
An archival image of the historic streets of Jackson, OH. (Submitted)

“Jackson is a really unique town, and its history really helped develop Ohio, especially with salt and the iron industry,” said Evan Shaw, WOUB’s award-winning film producer and director who is spearheading the project. “The history of Jackson is also really well preserved, and it’s a story that I wanted to tell.”

Shaw said that the documentary begins with documentation of some of Jackson’s earliest contributions to the state: it’s enormous salt deposits. Shaw said that Jackson was formerly known as “Salt Lick Town” because of the salt that was trapped in the sandstone in the area, making it a valuable and prosperous spot throughout the 1600s onward.

A colorized photo of Jackson
A colorized photo of Jackson, OH’s Globe and Furnace Company. (Submitted)

The town also hosted a large Welsh immigration in the early 1800s. At one point, Jackson and Gallia counties in Ohio had the largest Welsh populations of anyplace in the country. The influence of those immigrants and the culture that they brought to the area is still evident in the town, well over 150 years later.

“A significant part of the impact that the Welsh made upon the area is their love of nature, and particularly, their love of singing,” said Megan Malone, the director of the Lillian E. Jones Museum in Jackson. “As a result, just about everyone in Jackson sings. Jackson City Schools has, for a very long time, hosted a very specific artistic competition called an eisteddfod. It’s not necessarily singing; it’s not necessarily drama; it’s not necessarily recitations; it’s all of those things.”

Traditionally eisteddfods consisted of a diversity of artistic competitive acts, but these days in Jackson, they focus on musical acts. It’s just another Jackson tradition that makes the area truly unique.

Malone was also born and reared in Jackson, and although she went away for a short period to attend college at the University of Dayton and work throughout the state, she ultimately ended up coming back after marrying her husband, who graduated a year ahead of her from Jackson High School.

Jackson, OH Court House and Sheriff’s Residence. (Submitted)

“I grew up here, and so did my parents and my grandparents, and I think that you will see that that is the case with a lot of people in the area,” said Malone. “There’s a tendency for people to stay put in Jackson.”

If you ask most people in Jackson, there’s a reason for that.

“I believe in caring about my fellow man and my fellow resident,” said Heath. “(Jackson) is a community where we don’t mind being in Appalachia – and we love being in Ohio, and this is a place where the people who grew up here have always been comfortable calling it home.”

Our Town: Jackson will premiere at Jackson Middle School, 21 Tropic St., Jackson, at 3 p.m. on Sunday, March 26. The program will broadcast on WOUB-TV on Monday, March 27 at 8 p.m.

WOUB’s Tom Hodson talked with director, Evan Shaw, about Our Town: Jackson and the upcoming premier: