A few years ago, a good friend of mine decided to abandon her life in California and move to sunny Florida. Crazy, I know, but she wanted to buy a home and be close to her son and his wife - I am sure the price and pace of living in California had nothing to do with it.... Anyway, she settled in Jacksonville, Florida so, being an amateur historian, I decided to put this blog together about Jacksonville from a historical perspective.
European explorers first arrived in the area 1562, when French Huguenot explorer Jean Ribault charted the St. Johns River. In 1564, René Goulaine de Laudonnière established the first European settlement, Fort Caroline, on the St. Johns near the main village of the Saturiwa. On September 20, 1565, a Spanish force from the nearby Spanish settlement of St. Augustine attacked Fort Caroline, and killed nearly all the French soldiers defending it. The Spanish renamed the fort San Mateo, and following the ejection of the French, St. Augustine's position as the most important settlement in Florida was solidified.
Spain ceded Florida to the British in 1763, after the French and Indian War, and the British soon constructed the King's Road connecting St. Augustine to Georgia. The road crossed the St. Johns River at a narrow point, which the Seminole called Wacca Pilatka and the British named the "Cow Ford", both names ostensibly reflecting the fact that cattle were brought across the river there. Britain ceded control of the territory back to Spain in 1783, after its defeat in the American Revolutionary War, and The settlement at the Cow Ford continued to grow. After Spain ceded the Florida Territory to the United States in 1821, American settlers on the north side of the Cow Ford decided to plan a town, laying out the streets and plats. They soon named the town "Jacksonville", after Andrew Jackson. Led by Isaiah D. Hart, residents wrote a charter for a town government, which was approved by the Florida Legislative Council on February 9, 1832.
During the American Civil War, Jacksonville was a key supply point for hogs and cattle being shipped from Florida to aid the Confederate cause. The city was blockaded by Union forces, who gained control of the nearby Fort Clinch. From 1862, they controlled the city and most of the First Coast for the duration of the war. Though no battles were fought in Jacksonville proper, the city changed hands several times between Union and Confederate forces. Warfare and the long occupation left the city disrupted after the war.
During Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, Jacksonville and nearby St. Augustine became popular winter resorts for the rich and famous. Visitors arrived by steamboat and later by railroad. President Grover Cleveland attended the Sub-Tropical Exposition in the city on February 22, 1888 during his trip to Florida. This highlighted the visibility of the state as a worthy place for tourism. The city's tourism, however, was dealt major blows in the late 19th century by yellow fever outbreaks. In addition, extension of the Florida East Coast Railway further south drew visitors to other areas. From 1893 to 1938 Jacksonville was the site of the Florida Old Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Home with a nearby cemetery.
On May 3, 1901, downtown Jacksonville was ravaged by a fire that started at a fiber factory. Known as the "Great Fire of 1901", it was one of the worst disasters in Florida history and the largest urban fire in the southeastern United States. In just eight hours, it destroyed the business district and left approximately 10,000 residents homeless. It is said the glow from the flames could be seen in Savannah, Georgia, and the smoke plumes in Raleigh, North Carolina. Architect Henry John Klutho was a primary figure in the reconstruction of the city. More than 13,000 buildings were constructed between 1901 and 1912.
In the 1910s, New York–based filmmakers were attracted to Jacksonville's warm climate, exotic locations, excellent rail access, and cheap labor. Over the course of the decade, more than 30 silent film studios were established, earning Jacksonville the title of "Winter Film Capital of the World". However, the city's conservative political climate and the emergence of Hollywood as a major film production center ended the city's film industry. One converted movie studio site, Norman Studios, remains in Arlington; It has been converted to the Jacksonville Silent Film Museum at Norman Studios.
During this time, Jacksonville also became a banking and insurance center, with companies such as Barnett Bank, Atlantic National Bank, Florida National Bank, Prudential, Gulf Life, Afro-American Insurance, Independent Life and American Heritage Life thriving in the business district. The U.S. Navy also became a major employer and economic force during the 1940s, with the construction of three naval bases in the city.
Jacksonville, like most large cities in the United States, suffered from negative effects of rapid urban sprawl after World War II. The construction of highways led residents to move to newer housing in the suburbs. After World War II, the government of the city of Jacksonville began to increase spending to fund new public building projects in the boom that occurred after the war. Mayor W. Haydon Burns' Jacksonville Story resulted in the construction of a new city hall, civic auditorium, public library and other projects that created a dynamic sense of civic pride. However, the development of suburbs and a subsequent wave of middle class "white flight" left Jacksonville with a much poorer population than before.
Much of the city's tax base dissipated, leading to problems with funding education, sanitation, and traffic control within the city limits. In addition, residents in unincorporated suburbs had difficulty obtaining municipal services, such as sewage and building code enforcement. In 1958, a study recommended that the city of Jacksonville begin annexing outlying communities in order to create the needed tax base to improve services throughout the county. Voters outside the city limits rejected annexation plans in six referendums between 1960 and 1965.
In the mid 1960s, corruption scandals began to arise among many of the city's officials, who were mainly elected through the traditional good ol' boy network. After a grand jury was convened to investigate, 11 officials were indicted and more were forced to resign. Consolidation, led by J. J. Daniel and Claude Yates, began to win more support during this period, from both inner city blacks, who wanted more involvement in government, and whites in the suburbs, who wanted more services and more control over the central city. In 1964 all 15 of Duval County's public high schools lost their accreditation. This added momentum to proposals for government reform. Lower taxes, increased economic development, unification of the community, better public spending and effective administration by a more central authority were all cited as reasons for a new consolidated government.
Live Long and Prosper....