Around Florida – Jacksonville, The Gateway City

Like most travelers to Florida we enter the state by way of Jacksonville, the metropolis and largest city of the state, which appropriately calls itself “The Gateway City.” The three great railway systems running through trains from the Northeast to Florida converge at Jacksonville, through whose Union Terminal pass more loaded passenger cars than through any other railway station in America. From Jacksonville substantially all the railway traffic of Florida radiates. It is the center of Florida’s transportation web. The largest seaport in the state, through it passes a large part of the water-borne passenger traffic. The great arterial highway which parallels the Atlantic coast from Eastport, Maine, to Miami and beyond to the uttermost southern extremity of the nation, Key West, passes through Jacksonville. Along the highways passing through Jacksonville flow the fleets of busses and a high proportion of the private passenger cars, with or without trailers, in which Florida-bound tourists migrate southward. Here, in Jacksonville’s harbor, one may see in the tourist season yachts of every degree, from tiny cabin cruisers to the famous and luxurious craft of the ultra-rich.

Jacksonville airport is the first stop of the through airmail planes as they speed southward from New York on their way to Miami. It is the principal terminal of the motor bus lines which cover all Florida as with a net and connect the state and the city with every other part of the country. Through the port of Jacksonville passes a large proportion of the ocean freight which originates in Florida or which is destined for Florida consumption. The latter is distributed through Jacksonville’s warehouses over a trade area which includes not only all of the northern part of Florida but a large part of southern Georgia and southeastern Alabama. With the improvement of physical facilities for distribution and the increasing importance of Jacksonville as an industrial producing center, its trade territory is steadily extending in every direction. Through its three great banks, each with numerous branches strategically located in commercial centers throughout the state, Jacksonville is the financial metropolis of Florida as well as the dominant factor in the state’s industrial and commercial life. It is the headquarters for most of the Federal government’s activities in Florida, and of many of those of the State government.

Situated twenty-two miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean, at the head of deepwater navigation on the St. Johns River, Jacksonville’s history begins with the arrival, at the mouth of the St. Johns, on April 30, 1562, of Captain John Ribault, leader of a band of French Huguenots seeking refuge in America. The following morning, May l, a service of thanksgiving was held on Fort George Island. A stone column today marks the spot where this first Protestant religious service was held in America. Two years later the French established what was intended for a permanent settlement, at St. John’s Bluff, a few miles up the river. Under the direction of Rene de Laudonniere they built Fort Caroline. The settlement was raided and the Huguenot colonists exterminated by a Spanish expedition from St. Augustine, on September 20, 1565.

Under Spanish occupancy the old Indian trail between St. Augustine and the point on the St. Johns which was then shallow enough to wade across at low tide became a well-beaten highway, terminating at Fort St. Nicholas in what is now South Jacksonville. Along this road Sir John Hawkins and his English slave-traders drove shackled bands of captured Indians to the Charleston slave market more than three hundred years ago. The English, roughly translating the Indian name of the river crossing, called it Cow Ford, and that name it held until 1822, when the settlement around the foot of what is now Liberty Street was named Jacksonville in honor of Florida’s first territorial governor after its annexation to the United States, General Andrew Jackson, afterwards President.

England had taken over Florida from Spain by treaty in 1763. The English colonists of Governor Oglethorpe were already in possession of what the Spaniards had called North Florida, but which from 1735 on was known as Georgia.

At the beginning of the American Revolution the English settlers in Georgia whose loyalty to the King was stronger than their enthusiasm for independence, emulated the example of some of their cousins in the North. Just as thousands of New England families crossed the border into Canada, so did hundreds of Georgia families migrate southward into Florida and settled on the banks of the St. Johns at Cow Ford. They built the Kings Highway southward from Georgia, and down the East Coast to New Smyrna, which the main motor road from the North still follows closely.

Throughout the Revolution Florida remained the only English colony south of the St. Lawrence River that was loyal to King George III; but with the end of the war England not only lost the rebellious colonies but it ceded Florida back to Spain. Determined not to submit to Spanish rule, most of the English at Cow Ford returned to England, abandoning their plantations and their homes. The new Spanish Governor confiscated the lands of the departing settlers and sent agents into the states of the newly formed Republic to the North to induce Americans to come into Florida and take up the lands which the English had abandoned. Those who responded were largely rough and reckless veterans of General Francis Marion’s southern army, rebels at heart against discipline and imbued with the restlessness that always characterizes newly discharged fighting men. They promptly declared themselves and the lands they occupied, comprising the whole territory between the St. Johns and the St. Marys River, an independent republic. They seized Fernandina, not without sharp fighting and loss of life on both the Spanish and the American sides; they burned Fort St. Nicholas at the Cow Ford and captured St. Augustine from the Spaniards.

Their Republic of Florida had little semblance of government or order. For twenty years pirates from the waterfront, bandits along the highways and Indians from the forests of the back country raided and robbed the planters and their homes almost without restraint. Cow Ford, an almost deserted village, became the haunt and rendezvous of desperate, dangerous men. This condition lasted until the purchase of Florida by the United States from Spain in 1819. General Jackson, valiant soldier and rigorous disciplinarian, marched across Florida from Pensacola to Cow Ford, with a well-trained body of troops. He restored order on the banks of the St. Johns, drove the Indians back to their forest lairs, hanged a few highwaymen and once more made the settlement and the surrounding territory a peaceful inhabitation for peaceful folk. They gratefully named their town in his honor.

The railroads early cast an eye upon Fernandina, thirtysix miles northeast of Jacksonville, and with a far better deepwater natural harbor, on Cumberland Sound. The first railroad across Florida, the Florida Railroad and Navigation Company, ran from Fernandina to Cedar Key. Its builders acquired all of the waterfront in Fernandina. When Henry Al. Flagler began his railroad operations on the East Coast he planned to start from Fernandina, but the Railroad and Navigation Company refused to let him have any of their waterfront property. He built southward from Jacksonville. The result was to start Jacksonville on its upward climb to metropolitan eminence, while Fernandina declined to its former status of a fishing village. Only now is it starting toward the destiny which its favorable location on Amelia Island between Ocean and Sound has always pointed to.

In the summer of 1937 construction began on the first of two great paper mills at Fernandina, where pine from the millions of acres of timberlands in northeastern Florida and southeastern Georgia will be converted at the rate of hundreds of tons a day into the tough “kraft” wrapping paper and packaging board which is in world-wide demand far in excess of the present supply. And, to finish with Fernandina, which Jacksonville regards as its suburb, it is well worth the visitor’s while, stopping off in Jacksonville, to make the motor trip to Fernandina if for nothing else than to see the nearest remaining traces of primitive Florida life, and, in contrast, the thousand-acre State Park created by the joint efforts of the WPA and the CCC around old Fort Clinch, the ancient fortress which marks the farthest north of Spain’s occupancy of the Atlantic seaboard, and which still stands, facing the sea, no longer a menace to Governor Oglethorpe’s Georgia colonists but a monument to a picturesque epoch of pre-Revolutionary American history.

Romantic traditions hover over Fernandina. Eight flags have flown over the port, not counting the jolly Roger, if, indeed, the pirates of the Spanish Main, who frequently used its harbor as a rendezvous, bothered to identify themselves by hoisting the Skull-and-Crossbones. Jean Ribault hoisted the Fleur-de-Lys of France. The ensigns of Spain, of England and of the turbulent Republic of Florida have fluttered over Fort Clinch. For a brief period, when the South American republics were struggling for their freedom from Spain, Gregor McGregor, the brother-in-law of General Bolivar the Liberator, seized Fernandina as a base of operations against the Spanish in Florida; for Bolivar’s ambitious program took in the abolition of Spanish rule everywhere in the Western Hemisphere. During our war with Mexico, Fernandina was one of the few spots on United States soil which was invaded by General Santa Ana’s forces, and for a short time the Mexican flag flew here, too. Then, in the 1860’s, Fernandina displayed the Stars and Bars of the Confederacy.

Here, in the safe haven of Cumberland Sound, the blockade runners of the War between the States loaded their contraband cargoes of cotton and tobacco, trusting to luck and darkness to slip past the Northern gunboat coast patrol to their bases at Bermuda or the nearby Bahamas. Now deepwater ships will again ply in and out of Fernandina’s harbor with cargoes of paper for the world.

A wide, hard-paved highway connects Fernandina with Jacksonville, many of whose residents maintain summer fishing and hunting camps on the smaller islands which cluster about Amelia Island.

Returning to Jacksonville from Fernandina we encounter at the city limits a wide, well parked highway traversing what is becoming the city’s chief inland recreation center, with a zoological park attractively housed among mingled palms and pines, where curious and interesting birds and beasts live in the open the year around except for shelter sheds against the rain. Even Minnie, the African elephant, needs no door to her concrete shelter. It is probably the most completely odorless zoo in the world!

The population of Jacksonville by the Florida State Census of 1935 was 148,202. This was an increase of 45,000, or nearly 43 percent, over the 1925 figures; more than double the prewar population of the 1915 census. With its increasing commercial and industrial growth, all the indications are that Jacksonville is growing at even a faster rate of acceleration. Its residential building development has difficulty in keeping pace with the demand for homes. In the heart of its downtown business center, whose wide streets are lined with shops which would do credit to any city, both in appointments and in the quality of merchandise offered, the years since the beginning of the depression have seen a larger proportionate volume of new construction of business buildings, hotels and public buildings than either New York or Philadelphia.

Jacksonville’s retail trade runs above $50,000,000 a year and its wholesale business close to $150,000,000, while the value of its manufactured products is estimated at $100,000, 000. The ocean commerce of the port aggregates about three and one-half million tons a year, inbound and outbound, with a total cargo value of around $150,000,000. Jacksonville is the largest port for the distribution of petroleum products on the South Atlantic coast, second only to Savannah for the shipment of naval stores (turpentine and rosin) and first in lumber shipments. The lumber industry is one of the city’s largest. Lying as it does on the very edge of the vast pine forests of Florida and Southern Georgia, Jacksonville has developed not only an enormous trade in both coastwise and foreign shipments of lumber, but a wide variety of industries based upon the utilization of this huge supply of raw material. Other important Jacksonville industries include such widely diversified items as cigars, fertilizer, chemical products, crushed oyster shell, concrete products, acetylene gas, glass bottles, storage batteries, ship and boat building, beverages, brick, palmetto fibres, coffee roasting, matches, meat packing and stockyards, upholstery and refrigeration plants.

To those has lately been added the manufacture of paper from pinewood pulp, an industry which is rapidly assuming dominant importance throughout Florida.

Unique among the world’s industries is the one in Jacksonville which produces raw material for the use of hens in the manufacture of eggshells and ships its product all over the world. Underlying the marshes along the lower reaches of the St. Johns river are incalculable millions of tons of prehistoric oyster-shells, a solid bed of them more than fifty feet deep and covering many square miles. Now they are dredging these million-year-old oyster-shells, bringing them up to Jacksonville on barges, crushing and grinding them with most ingenious machinery, and selling the product by carloads and shiploads to poultry growers everywhere, to provide the lime grit which hens need to make the shells of their eggs out of it.

One of the world’s largest factories, turning out a million and a half “domestic” cigars a day was established in Jacksonville because a cigar manufacturer visited Florida as a winter tourist from the North and decided he wanted to make his permanent home in the state. He picked Jacksonville for his factory site because it was the most economical spot at which to assemble tobaccos from Connecticut, New York and Ohio and from West Florida, as well as the most advantageously situated center from which to distribute the finished product.

There has never been any shortage of labor, both white and negro, in Jacksonville. All industries here, as in the rest of the state, operate under a State Factory Law which prohibits the employment of children under fourteen, and of those under sixteen unless they have a work certificate, and limiting their working hours to nine a day or fifty-four hours a week. Living costs being materially lower in the South, where the climate itself eliminates most of the expense of fuel and clothing, wages are on a lower average scale. Many of Jacksonville’s industries operate on a piece-work basis. In the cigar factory, for example, which operates night and day in three eight-hour shifts, girls working full-time earn from eight to nine dollars a week, for the colored girls who operate the simplest machines, to from fifteen dollars and upward for the white operators running the more intricate wrapping and packing machinery.

Jacksonville’s industrial and commercial development and its rise to unchallenged leadership among Florida’s cities is not entirely due to the accident of its location. There is an aggres sive, forward-looking spirit among the business men of Jacksonville, which is reflected in the management of the affairs of the city and of Duval County. Jacksonville was one of the first cities in America to establish the commission form of government. It was also one of the first to take over the ownership and operation of electric light service as a municipal function. The result is that Jacksonville not only enjoys a very low rate for electric current for industrial and domestic purposes, but the profit realized by the city from the operation of that public utility pays a high percentage of the city’s operating expenses and keeps the tax rate down. Jacksonville’s city bonds have never sold below par in the financial markets of the North. The city’s bonded indebtedness at the end of 1937 was under $11,000,000, having been reduced more than $5,000,000 in the preceding seven years; while the assessed valuation of real estate is above $86,000,000.

In addition to its own good municipal housekeeping, Jacksonville leads almost every project for the advancement of the welfare and interests of the state as a whole. It is the head quarters of the State Chamber of Commerce, in which the local Chambers of Commerce of all Florida are federated, and which thus serves as a clearing house through which movements and enterprises of state-wide importance can be initiated, developed and put into effect.

One of the most important and far-reaching movements of this kind, of incalculable benefit to Florida, was initiated by the State Chamber of Commerce. Through its agricultural com mittee it brought about, in 1936, an agreement between citrus fruit growers of Florida and the association of national chain grocery stores whereby the chain stores undertook the direct distribution to consumers of Florida’s surplus grapefruit crop. The result was not only to stabilize this seasonal market but to extend it into regions and communities where grapefruit had never before been sold, or even seen by many people. Such a novelty was it that, according to a chain store manager in a remote northwestern town, one puzzled buyer of the new commodity wrote in to ask how to cook a grapefruit. She had boiled hers for an hour, she said, and it was still tough! There are no affidavits accompanying that anecdote.

One effect which had not been anticipated of this grapefruit marketing arrangement was to defeat the efforts made in the Florida legislative session of 1937 to impose a prohibitive tax upon chain stores. The citrus growers, comprising the largest industry in Florida, refused to subscribe to the doctrine that the chain store is a public enemy.

Jacksonville’s own Chamber of Commerce, a particularly well-organized and administered body of citizens, is not only especially energetic and effective in the business fields in which Chambers of Commerce customarily function, but it takes the initiative and active leadership in numerous fields where the ultimate benefit sought is the welfare of the entire state. Such an activity is the annual Fat Stock Show, held in Jacksonville every Spring under the auspices of the local Chamber of Commerce. It has proved one of the most stimulating factors in the state-wide campaign for the improvement of the grade of Florida beef cattle, thereby increasing the incomes of cattle breeders and making it worth while for the meat packing industry to establish new plants in the state.

As a result of the local interest stirred up by the series of cattle shows, such a strong public sentiment has been built up among the farmers who have been accustomed to pasture their cattle in the open, unfenced pine forests and let them roam at will over the highways, that with the sanction of an Act of the 1937 Legislature Duval County, of which Jacksonville is the seat, is proceeding with a program of fencing the entire county. Farmers who had been unmoved by the argument that letting their herds stray along the highways created a serious menace to motorists have been brought to a realization that they can get twice as much money for a grade Hereford steer as for one of the scrub range stock, and that while it was small loss to have a range yearling killed by a car it runs into real money when a “beef critter” worth ten cents a pound on the hoof is thus slaughtered.

The interests of Jacksonville’s people, and the interest of the city itself to visitors from the North, are not confined, however, to business and industries. Winter tourists are beginning to discover that Jacksonville has attractions for the vacationist, particularly for such as prefer to enjoy the Florida climate without too much exposure to the sometimes forced gaiety and excitement of many of the distinctly holiday resorts. The city itself, especially in its delightful residential district stretching for miles along the St. Johns River on the north bank and spreading rapidly in a series of charming suburban developments on the south side, has a quiet charm all its own. Its excellent and modern downtown hotels have not acquired the practice, prevalent in the strictly resort communities, of making one rate in the Summer and another, much higher, in Winter, since they are not dependent upon seasonal business. One of them, the George Washington, is reputed to be the first completely air-conditioned hotel in America.

Supplementing the downtown hotel accommodations of Jacksonville are numerous excellent modern residential hotels in the western and southern suburbs, in which, also, are several country clubs and golf courses to which the transient visitor can obtain access at moderate cost. To the motor tourists, with or without trailer, Jacksonville affords the most favorable base for those whose idea of a restful vacation is to run up as much mileage as possible. The shortest and best routes to every part of Florida diverge from Jacksonville; and no one can say that he has seen Florida until he has taken in all that Jacksonville and its environs have to show him, including its truly marvelous beaches.

For the guidance and help of tourists Jacksonville maintains a tourist and recreation bureau with headquarters in Hemming Park, in the center of the city’s downtown district, under the joint auspices of the City Commission and the Chamber of Commerce. And the question which the attendants oftenest have to answer is: “How do I get to the beach?”

Jacksonville Beach stands by itself among the ocean frontages of the world. Imagine a stretch of smooth, white sand, packed so firmly that the wheels of an automobile hardly leave a visible track, more than six hundred feet wide at low tide, and freshly packed twice a day when the tide comes in, stretching 36 miles southward from the mouth of the St. Johns River, bordered on one side by palm-fringed dunes and on the other by the blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

That is Jacksonville Beach, reached from the city by a broad twenty-mile concrete boulevard, and offering to the people of Jacksonville and to the tourist every variety of recreation, from quiet cottages, beach clubs with their cabanas and sport facilities, salt water fishing from ocean piers, safe, well-protected ocean bathing, and for those who enjoy them the standard Coney Island attractions, all readily accessible but so grouped and segregated that none impinges too closely upon any of the others.

Many Jacksonville families maintain summer cottages at the beach and live there from May to October, renting their cottages in Winter to visitors from the North. An increasing number of Jacksonville residents have built their permanent homes at the southerly end of the beach, motoring daily back and forth to town. One of the most attractive residential developments in all Florida is at Ponta Vedra, where a country club behind the dunes is the center of a residential suburb in which fifty or more new homes have been built since 1935. The National Lead Company, during the war, acquired sixteen hundred acres of beach property for the sake of certain mineral contents necessary in the manufacture of paint, which it had been importing from Germany but could find nowhere else except in the sands of Jacksonville Beach when that supply was shut off by the war. With its normal source of supply again accessible and operations at its Florida plant terminated, the company looked about for means of disposing of the property without loss and hit upon the successful device of establishing the exclusive suburb of Ponta Vedra.

Leading southward from Jacksonville there are two roads to the oldest city in the United States, St. Augustine. One leads directly from the southerly end of the South Jacksonville bridge over the St. Johns River; the other, a new, hard-paved road, parallels the ocean front just behind the dunes. It is a forty-mile run by the inland route, somewhat more than fifty by way of the shore road.

Florida is a land of strange contrasts. Youngest of all the states east of the Mississippi, younger than any other state in respect of the realization of its possibilities and the develop ment of its natural resources, it contains, in St. Augustine, the oldest city of European pedigree in the United States. And, marvelously enough, St. Augustine, at least in its central downtown section, still looks like an ancient city. Therein lies its charm for the visitor from such modern communities as Boston, New York, or Philadelphia and their environs, or from the chronologically infantile regions of what was the Northwest Territory.