The Jackson Building used to be the tallest office building between Atlanta and Charlotte.
Back when the building was completed in 1915, people might visit just to ride the elevator inside that would take them up to the fifth floor, likely one of the best views of downtown possible. It wasn’t until 1938 when the Hunt Tower was built that the Jackson Building lost its tallest building in Gainesville title.
About this series
As the pace of development in Gainesville reaches a fever pitch, The Times is examining the history of some of the buildings downtown and nearby in this weekly series. Other stories in the series include:
As downtown has developed to include the seven-story Regions Center, Pinnacle Bank building and even a seven-story parking deck, the Jackson Building still stands at 114 Washington St., imposing itself over nearby shops. With 100-plus years of history inside, the current owner, Micah McCracken, is trying to maintain its original design elements and integrity.
“We try to be mindful of any historic elements and try to preserve them,” McCracken said.
Since he bought the building in 2013, McCracken uncovered some original crown molding on the first floor, and he used baking soda to clean translucent glass windows that had been painted over. He’s also maintained much of the building’s original wood flooring and plaster.
When he bought the building, he said, he wasn’t sure about acquiring something in a downtown area in a city like Gainesville.
“I grew up in North Georgia, and when I drove over to look at the building — I hadn’t been to downtown Gainesville in a long time,” McCracken said. “I was kind of skeptical, because a lot of downtown areas are dead and there’s no activity. When I got to downtown Gainesville, I couldn’t find a parking spot.”
Of course, when the Jackson Building was built, Gainesville was a small town but growing because of its proximity to the railroad. It was designed by an Atlanta architect named S.D. Trowbridge for Felix Jackson, a businessman who lived in Gainesville briefly before he moved to Philadelphia where he established the Philadelphia and Norfolk Steamship Company. When it opened, the building housed Gainesville’s Chamber of Commerce.
For decades, it was a building for offices, but now holds several residential apartments, including a fifth floor penthouse.
Garland Reynolds, a Gainesville architect, remembers going to doctor and dentist appointments in the Jackson Building back in the 1950s, though now it holds different offices and storefronts including a pottery studio and a florist on the first floor. When he visited, the elevator still had an operator, Reynolds said. “I remember the place where he pushed the button was worn out,” he said. “I always enjoyed going there, even though I had to go to the dentist.”
The Jackson Building was one of the few buildings near the downtown square that was left unscathed by the tornado of 1936. And some pictures taken of the wreckage caused by the tornado were taken from the top of the Jackson Building. Its Chicago-style architecture made it sturdy, Reynolds said, meaning it was built similar to skyscrapers being built in Chicago at the turn of the century with features including a steel frame, a brick exterior with minimal detail, an elevator and many windows.
The National Register entry states: “The Jackson Building is Gainesville’s answer to the early 20th century skyscrapers built during the same period in some of Georgia’s major cities and across the country. … It is a good example of the early 20th century ‘tall buildings’ found in small but prosperous cities around Georgia.”
Though sturdy, it's not necessarily the most beautiful building aesthetically, Reynolds said. “It was way ahead of its time in Gainesville,” he said. “It’s a worthy building.”