January 2020 Newsletter Banner Vol VI Issue I

The Jacksonville Historical Society laments the passing of Robert “Bob” Shircliff, who died on Thursday, January 2, at 91. Having moved to Jacksonville in 1967, Mr. Shircliff lived most of his life here, establishing a towering reputation as a businessman, philanthropist, and engaged citizen. His concern for Jacksonville was an example to all who knew him, and he set the bar high for generosity to many of the city’s important undertakings. We appreciate his support for the work of the Jacksonville Historical Society. Peace to Bob Shircliff, to his family and to all of us who admired him.


This year marks the centennial of two landmark amendments to the U.S. Constitution, previously approved by the U.S. Congress, and taking effect in 1920. The 18th Amendment prohibited “intoxicating liquors,” while the 19th Amendment extended the protection of the federal law to women voters. Florida’s stance on these two amendments varied wildly. By the time the federal government implemented Prohibition on January 16th, 1920, the entire Sunshine State had already been legally “dry” for a year, in a change ratified by voters statewide. On the other hand, when offered the opportunity to ratify the 19th Amendment guaranteeing the rights of women to vote, the Florida legislature demurred. Not until 1969 did Florida get around to ratifying the 19th Amendment!

Like many cities, Jacksonville’s compliance with Prohibition was uneven. Smuggling, bootlegging and moon-shining became linked with the criminal underground economy, and public corruption ensued. Enforcing Prohibition was difficult. All of those factors, plus public antipathy toward the law, led to the prompt repeal of the 18th Amendment in 1933. It took just seven months for the necessary three-fourths of the states to ratify repeal, Florida among them.

By contrast, changes that had been predicted if women began voting in large numbers happened slowly! Not until 1929, for example, did Floridians elect the first woman to represent them in Congress, Ruth Bryan Owen (1885-1954). Not until 1981 did Florida send a woman, Paula Hawkins (1927-2009), to the U.S. Senate. (So far, Hawkins remains the only woman elected to the Senate from Florida.) No woman has yet been elected as Florida’s governor.

Women have, nonetheless, powerfully influenced Florida in general, and Jacksonville in particular. This March we will learn more about them, when our Speaker Series event focuses on Women’s History Month. Former JHS Executive Director Emily Lisska will present a “Lunch and Learn” program, titled “Remarkable Women in North Florida History.” Details and sign-up below.

The 1920s roared across America, and especially the Sunshine State. Florida became defined by its epic real estate boom and bust of the 1920s. Jacksonville, then Florida’s largest city, was part of the bubble and the collapse, though with somewhat less drama than other parts of the state. Forthcoming issues of this newsletter will look more closely at those experiences.

casket factory only

In 1920, the Florida Casket Company built a new factory and warehouse in Jacksonville at 314 Palmetto Street. Previously known as the Florida Casket and Coffin Company, at 1457 West Adams Street, the corporation’s officers were Robert L. Hardage, President, E.L. Nathaniel P. Cannon, Vice President, and Ernest R. Paris, Secretary-Treasurer. The company raised $200,000 in capital to build and equip its new plant.

Billing itself as manufacturers of “High Grade Caskets and Undertakers Supplies,” the firm constructed a three-story, 13,500-square-foot brick building at the corner of Duval and Palmetto Streets. The first floor was for fabricating caskets, the second floor for finishing, and the third floor for storage. The company’s products were for sale across the southeast.

314 Palmetto Street was home to Florida Casket Co. until 1966. Later occupants included an office furniture firm and the Arthritis Foundation of Florida, from which the Jacksonville Historical Society purchased the building in 2012. Since then, the first floor has been used by the JHS to store the old official record books of Duval County, while the upper floors have awaited renovation. The time for that project has arrived.

In 2018, a team of architects and engineers from the Haskell Company assessed the building and crafted a renovation feasibility report and budget. Crowley Maritime provided a shipping container in which to temporarily store a portion of the heavy Duval County Official Record books. The local chapter of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Alumni Association helped move the books from the building into the on-site container.

Now, thanks to a matching grant from the Delores Barr Weaver Fund at the Community Foundation for Northeast Florida, the Jacksonville Historical Society has launched a campaign to fund the first stage of renovations to the former Casket Company building. The budget for the initial stage is $300,000. Financial support for this campaign, given in honor of former Executive Director Emily Lisska, are being matched by Mrs. Weaver’s grant dollar for dollar, up to $50,000.

This phase of renovations will result in an up-to-date, 4,500 square-foot archival processing and storage facility throughout the second floor of the building. This badly-needed space will house the JHS's sensitive collections in a secure, stable environment. Furnishings will include contemporary technology for scanning, digitizing and cataloging such things as our tens of thousands of photographs and photo negatives. Ample space will allow us to expand our teams of archives staff and volunteers, and to equip them to work in safe, professional conditions.

Jacksonville deserves a state-of-the art public history archive. Will you help take the Jacksonville Historical Society to the next level?

Alan Bliss
Executive Director


Merrill House as it looks today

A new year is a time for reflection and fresh starts. As we put another successful holiday fundraiser in the books, we are hopeful and optimistic for what 2020 has to offer. There are so many things happening at the JHS this year, it’s impossible to list them all. But if we had to choose one, it would have be our historic Merrill House.

Every year during the Gingerbread Extravaganza, it is gratifying to see so many visitors pass through the rooms of this stunning Eastlake Victorian home. The look of awe and amazement on their faces is such a treat. Though tours of the house are offered year-round, the majority of them happen during the holidays. Because of this, much of the house’s potential remains untapped.

This year we intend to take better advantage of the potential of the Merrill House. Our archives team is in the process of doing deeper research in hopes of interpreting a broader and more inclusive story of Jacksonville. The heart of the house will always be the Merrill family, and we will continue to tell their story. However, there are so many more stories that can be told when interpreting the fascinating and sometimes complicated history of this city. There are also more opportunities for special events beyond the tours we offer. These are just some of the ideas we look forward to sharing with you as they develop.

The JHS is proud of the group of talented and dedicated docents it is so fortunate to work with. We couldn’t ask for better partners in this endeavor, as we work to strengthen the stories we tell. We wish you all a joyous and prosperous new year!

Mitch Hemann
Senior Archivist


The Merrill House in 1901


Join us for the January and February 2020 programs! Details below!

The Jacksonville Historical Society Speaker Series is sponsored by Retina Associates, Fred H. Lambrou, Jr., M.D.

Additional underwriters for the January program include Matt Carlucci, State Farm Insurance; and Brightway Insurance.

Insurance Industry image

JANUARY, 23 2020: Fueling a Financial Hub: The Insurance Industry in Jacksonville

Insurance industry executive and JHS board member J. F. Bryan IV will recount Jacksonville's role in the mid-20th century insurance boom.
When: Thursday, January 23, 2020, 6 p.m. social hour; speaker at 7 p.m.
Where: Old St. Andrew's Church - 317 A. Philip Randolph Blvd.
JHS Members: Free
Guests and Non-members: Suggested donation $10


FEBRUARY 3, 2020: The First College: 154 Years of Jacksonville’s Edward Waters College

Dr. David Jamison, Professor of History, will explore the history of Edward Waters College in its 154th year of operation as Florida’s oldest independent institution of higher learning as well as the state’s first institution established for the education of African Americans.
When: Monday, February 3, 6 p.m. social hour, speaker at 7 p.m.
Where: Edward Waters College - 1658 Kings Road Jacksonville, FL 32209
Social hour to be held in the Health Disparities Building, 1401 Grunthal Street; program will be held in the Milne Auditorium, 1650 Kings Road -- just a few yards away. Ample parking in the lots behind and across from the Health Disparities Building and along Grunthal Street as well as on W. 5th Street. Signs will indicate the event location and campus security will be on duty.

Remarkable Women in North Florida History

MARCH 18, 2020: Remarkable Women in North Florida History

Emily Lisska, former director of the Jacksonville Historical Society, will share the accomplishments of the some of the remarkable women who have impacted our community. Ms. Lisska continues to lead in historic preservation initiatives as president of the Florida Historical Society, board member of the Memorial Park Association and instructor at UNF's Osher Life Learning Institute.
When: Wednesday March 18, 2020 - 11:30 a.m. Lunch and Learn; doors open at 11 a.m.
Where: Old St. Andrew's Church - 317 A. Philip Randolph Blvd.

Registration and lunch details will be forthcoming.

Fire Run logo with date

The Great Fire Run - May 2, 2020

The Jacksonville Fire Department and fans will cheer you on as you run the outline of the May 3, 1901 that destroyed 146 city blocks, 1,700 homes and 2,368 buildings in downtown Jacksonville. Enjoy the morning downtown with post-race activities for the whole family. Route and registration details forthcoming.


The Jacksonville Historical Society has an opening for a part-time skilled Office Administrator: Office Administrator Job Responsibilities.
If you would like to join this important organization, send your resume and cover letter to Alan Bliss, Executive Director, alan.bliss@jaxhistory.org.


Our Mission:

To educate and inspire the greater Jacksonville community to value its history, by fostering understanding of how the region's past shapes our present.

JHS is thankful for the many organizations that support us in our mission!

Logo collage 2020


Alan Bliss, Ph.D. , Executive Director | Mitch Hemann, Archivist | Kate A. Hallock, Marketing & Communications Director | Imani Phillips, Archives & Office Assistant | Sherrard Ceglia, Archives Assistant | David Woodard, Facilities Manager

2018-19 JHS Board

Michael Fackler, Esq., President | Frederick H. Kent III, Esq., Vice-President | Jeffrey K. Graf, Treasurer | Charisse Thornton, Secretary | Pat Andrews, Immediate Past-President | J. F. Bryan IV | Ed Booth, Esq. | David Chauncey, Esq. | Drew Haramis | Hon. Gary Flower | Larry Kanter, M.D. | Doug Milne, Esq. | Maggie Means | Harry Reagan | Skip Willbach | Wayne Wood, O.D. Hon. AIA


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