May 2020 Newsletter Banner Vol VI Issue V

      Those of us who are living through the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences will never forget these fast-changing times. All that seems certain for now is that the changes wrought by this event will continue.
      I miss seeing and visiting with you, our members and friends, at the monthly Speaker Series programs, where we gather at Old St. Andrew’s Church for a time around admittedly cheap wine, cheese and crackers, and then sit down together to learn more about our city’s extraordinary legacies. I miss the researchers, journalists, students and donors who stop in every day to our offices and archives in the Old St. Luke’s Hospital. And I miss the opportunity to visit the civic groups and neighborhoods who often welcome a chance to discuss the latest developments in historic preservation and education.
      At the JHS, we are keeping up with research requests, fulfilling book orders, and continuing with projects such as the renovation of the Casket Factory building. We are also doing ambitious things to share Jacksonville’s stories more widely. In the April newsletter you read about plans for a video history of our Old St. Andrew’s church and its neighborhood. That is an example of educational programming that we are preparing to share virtually (online) as well as having ready when we can gather in person again. Our Educational Programs Committee, chaired by Professor David Jamison, is intent on elevating our capacity to be present to audiences large or small, wherever they are.
      So, despite social distancing, we continue to be with you and hope that are with us in our work of preserving and sharing Jacksonville’s many interesting stories. It’s steady work!

Alan Bliss


      May’s educational focus is, as always, on National Historic Preservation Month. This is when the JHS releases its annual list of Jacksonville’s Most Endangered Buildings, which is now available on the JHS YouTube page. Demolition of the buildings that represent this city’s past has been increasingly in the news, and so historic preservation needs thoughtful emphasis.
      Old buildings are troublesome, let’s face it. Anyone who has ever restored even an old house knows that the complications, conflicts and costs seem endless and endlessly surprising. One of my early mentors in historic preservation warned, only half-jokingly, that when renovating and restoring an historic building, one should estimate every imaginable expense at the maximum possible amount, add them up, take that number and then double it. Then, he said, it still would probably not be enough!
      Then there are the compromises required to accommodate an old building to the needs and tastes of the 21st century. From bathrooms to air conditioning, from parking to access for disabled persons, from energy efficiencies to life-safety measures, the practices of contemporary architecture and construction are absent in buildings that are a century old.
      The challenges of historic preservation are daunting. Why bother?
      People who take on a renovation project must have a passion for the task, because the economic rewards take time to appear. But, the benefits to the community are typically immediate. Aside from intangibles such as civic pride and interest, historic preservation represents economic development. Spending on construction materials and highly skilled labor is one example. Successfully completed restorations create wealth through increases to the value of the restored property as well as to those surrounding it. Enhanced property values grow the tax base, strengthening the municipal economy.
      Historic structures are the authentic fabric of a neighborhood or a city. They are original illustrations of the people and events of the past, making history visible and accessible. The presence of historic properties draws visitors attracted by the experience of a place. The result is heritage tourism, the convergence of people who want more than just to see, but who also want to know more about where they are.
      That matters to any city, but it matters a lot here in Jacksonville. That is because our city is an authentic place. Northeast Florida is not the Florida of Disney. Our natural and built environments are real. We should own that, take pride in it, and sustain those places that are authentic Jacksonville.
      Please visit our 2020 list of Jacksonville’s Most Endangered Historic Buildings, and visit some of the actual sites in person. Listen closely, and they just might speak to you about the people who came before us, and the city we inherited from them.

Alan Bliss

Doro Fixture Company Resized

Photo by Mark Krancer, Kram Kran Photo

      Despite objections from at least 20 people who spoke publicly at the May 14 meeting of the Downtown Development Review Board, the application to demolish the 116-year-old George Doro Fixture Company building was approved 6-1.
     A real estate company based in Valdosta, Georgia, has plans to raze the structure and build an eight-story apartment building with retail space at 102 A. Philip Randolph Blvd.

First Baptist SS Building Resized

Photo by Mark Krancer, Kram Kran Photo

      The First Baptist Church’s Sunday School Building, at 125 W. Church Street, may also face demolition. The Church is seeking a reversal of the Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission's Feb. 26, 2020 denial of an application to raze the building. See the February edition of this newsletter for a more thorough discussion of this topic.

      In observance of National Historic Preservation Month, the Jacksonville Historical Society released its annual list of Jacksonville’s Most Endangered Historic Buildings on May 13.
      “Historic sites and properties matter to Jacksonville’s people. When historic buildings – such as Fire Station No. 5 and soon the George Doro Fixture Company building – are demolished, we erase another part of the culture, history, and life stories that form our Jacksonville,” said Alan Bliss, the Jacksonville Historical Society’s chief executive officer. “Historic places lend authenticity to their surroundings, making us all more invested as citizens. In addition, data proves that historic preservation adds value by strengthening economic development. Recognizing this, the Jacksonville Historical Society advocates for preservation through its annual Endangered Historic Properties list.”
      Bliss added that the news that Rise Properties LLC is not planning to incorporate the existing Doro Fixture building into its plan for a mixed-use retail and apartment complex came as a surprise to the Society’s Historic Sites Committee. “Unfortunately, the property is not part of the Downtown Historic Register District nor is the building a locally designated landmark,” said Bliss. “The Society’s office is just a couple of blocks away from the Doro Fixture building so we are saddened to learn it will not be part of the downtown fabric for years to come.”
      The members of the 2020 Historic Sites Committee include David Chauncey, Esq., committee chair; Michael Fackler, Esq., immediate past board chair; Wayne Wood, Historian At Large; Ed Booth and Harry Reagan, both former JHS presidents; Brian Bush, vice president at the Tom Bush Family of Dealerships, and Amy Palmer, director of grants administration for the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville.
      Due to health and life safety concerns, the 2020 List of Endangered Historic Properties – as selected by the Society’s Historic Sites Committee – was shared via video. Visit the JHS YouTube page to view this important list of two dozen structures and sites.

Kate A. Hallock
Marketing & Communications Director


         The Jacksonville Historical Society has many intriguing objects in its collection, and every one of them tells a story. Oftentimes, it’s the story attached to the object that adds to its value. We recently received a wonderful donation of material from a descendant of the Bisbee family, and what makes the donation so exciting is the story behind it.
         This rather ornate lamp, crystal epergne and pieces of silver are survivors of the Great Fire of 1901. The story that has been handed down through the family is that Charles R. Bisbee and his wife Alma rescued these items from their home on the corner of Laura and Adams, where the Laura Street Trio stands today. But this incredible story creates more questions than answers.

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Bisbee Family Silver

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Custom Engraved Monogram

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Lamp and Crystal Epergne Vase

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Monogrammed Napkin Ring for C.R. Bisbee (front)

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Monogrammed Napkin Ring for C.R. Bisbee (back)

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Monogrammed Napkin Ring for Alma Bisbee (front)

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Monogrammed Napkin Ring for Alma Bisbee (back)

         What we do know is that Alma Bisbee, in the midst of all the excitement, decided that these items were worth saving. The silver, now divided amongst extended family, was an understandable choice at the time. Beautifully engraved with a monogram specifically designed for the Bisbee family, the silver was typically considered one of the most treasured family possessions. But what about the lamp?
         Can you imagine carrying it through the streets of Jacksonville amidst the panic and chaos? They may have been fortunate enough to secure a wagon, but we don’t know for certain. Many had to carry their belongings through the streets on foot.
         We’re told that the family headed for safety in Springfield, but there’s an interesting clue that points to the route they may have taken. From their home on Laura and Adams, it would seem they headed east toward Main Street, then turned north. This is evidenced by a curious bit of info that was printed in The Metropolis on May 9, 1901:

"Two baskets of silver were left at Coleman and Neals’, corner of Monroe and Main Streets, by Mrs. C.R. Bisbee, who will be glad to learn of their whereabouts."

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Bisbee home listed on the corner of Laura and Adams (1890 City Directory)


Rooftop view of the fire looking south from Adams Street and Laura

          Could this be the very same silver that has been donated to the Jacksonville Historical Society? It would appear to be. But, why were they left behind, and how were they returned to the family? So many questions! This tantalizing story is one of many that help us comprehend the experience of Jacksonville’s people during those frightening, pivotal hours.
         The Jacksonville Historical Society would like to thank Louise Bisbee Geib for her generous donation, and for sharing this fascinating story from her family history.

Mitch Hemann
Senior Archivist


          It’s somewhat ironic that Jacksonville’s Great Fire of 1901 – which destroyed many grand old churches and cathedrals – occurred during the month of May, later established as National Historic Preservation Month.
          The celebration of historic preservation was originally delegated as a week-long event, during the week of May 6-12, 1973, when President Richard M. Nixon signed a resolution into law May 5, 1973. One year later, Riverside Avondale Preservation was formed in 1974 to fight a local trend to demolish historic buildings or let them decay. In 2005, National Historic Preservation Week became a month-long observance.
          The wasteland left by the Great Fire became the drawing board for a frenzy of construction, drawing architects, builders and craftsmen from many parts of the country to ply their trades in Jacksonville, both downtown and in what are now the city’s Historic Districts of Springfield, Riverside and Avondale.
          On May 3, 2020, the Jacksonville Historical Society’s Senior Archivist Mitch Hemann posted an article on our Facebook page sharing the history of the Great Fire. The response was immediate, strong and continued at a fast pace for the next several days. As of May 24, the numbers reached were over 113,500 with more than 18,000 post clicks and 6,265 shares, reactions and comments. Among the 100 comments directly made on the post, some of the most interesting were from people whose ancestors were involved in the event:
          “My great-great and great-grandfathers both battled this fire. George Slattery, his pump wagon was on display at the zoo, and Michael Joseph Slattery, his father, whose cane is in the museum at Metro Park. What a terrible day for the city.” Henry Madsen
          “My grandfather came to Jacksonville to build Dixieland Park in 1906. There was so much construction rebuilding from the fire he moved his terrazzo, tile and ornamental plaster company here.” William Ross Cesery Jr.
          “My great-grandmother, Edith Pacetti Gandy, had just died in April, leaving her young husband, Arthur O. Gandy, with three young children and after the fire, no business or home.” Liz Merritt Wheeler
          “My great-grandma was sent home from school. They told them to run. She didn’t wear shoes and her poor feet got burned. So the story is told.” Melissa Werner Rigdon

JFD 1902

          “This is a picture of a Jacksonville FD wagon from 1902 with my great-grandfather, William Q. Dowling, who is on the right in the back. He was later Fire Chief from 1933-1943. I imagine he would have been there during the Great Fire.” Tad Denham

JET Bowden

          “A picture of me looking at a picture of my great-great-grandfather, Mayor J.E.T. Bowden, as he surveys the fire damage.” Ronald DeGrove

          Bowden, a Democrat, served two terms as Jacksonville's mayor: 1899-1901, 1915-1917

Masonic Temple Jacksonville

          “The state headquarters for the Negro Masonic Hall: Most Worshipful Union Grand Lodge of Florida (MWUGL) burned down that day. It took years for them to rebuild and they chose a different location, which is currently 410 Broad Street (across from courthouse).” Anne Huffman

          Thank you to everyone who read the Facebook post, shared it and commented on it!

Kate A. Hallock
Marketing & Communications Director

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          Who's ready for gingerbread? We're calling upon all past and future gingerbread creators to let us know if you would participate in Gingerbread Extravaganza 2020.
          Would you participate if it were deemed safe to hold the annual event at Old St. Andrew's Church as long as social distancing and other health protocols were put in place?
          If life safety is still a concern in December, would you be willing to participate virtually by bringing a creation to the church for a video?
          Please let us know via survey below as soon as possible so that we might better plan for our signature fundraising event. If you have already participated in the survey, please do not take it again. Thank you!

David Auchter

G. David Auchter III

          At its April Board of Directors meeting, the Jacksonville Historical Society welcomed G. David Auchter IV as a new member of its Board of Directors.
          Auchter is a vice president with Jacksonville’s Haskell Company. He joined Haskell in 2016 and is a Shareholder, Officer and Vice President overseeing enterprise-wide Corporate Marketing and Business Development, a responsibility that covers more than 20 global offices, 1,300 Haskell team members, six distinct Haskell brands and $1 billion in annual revenue. Auchter also oversees Haskell’s Public Affairs.
          Auchter’s name is familiar to all who know the history of construction in Northeast Florida. The Jacksonville-based Auchter Construction Company was founded in 1929 by Auchter’s great-grandfather, George David Auchter. The firm’s projects included many area landmarks, such as office buildings, museums, hospitals, bridges and other infrastructure. Downtown Jacksonville’s iconic Wells Fargo Tower, originally the Independent Life building, was built by the Auchter Company, as was the Riverplace Tower and Jacksonville International Airport, to name just a few examples. Prior to the company’s sale, Auchter served as an executive with the legendary firm. He has also served with Touchdown Jacksonville, the group responsible for bringing major league football to Jacksonville, the Jacksonville Jaguars organization, and with the World Golf Village.
          Auchter received his bachelor’s degree from Lynchburg College and has completed executive education through Columbia University. He is a licensed real estate professional, a 2002 graduate of Leadership Jacksonville, and has an extensive record of service to the boards of the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, the Jacksonville Public Library, the Jacksonville Sports Council (JAXSPORTS), and numerous other community organizations, as well as having chaired the Downtown Development Review Board.

Mitch Hemann Web

Mitch Hemann

Coming in June: Please Be With Me: A Musical Story of the Roots of Southern Rock

          The June Speaker Series program will be a continuation of last year's program by Senior Archivist Mitch Hemann on Jacksonville's rich musical history. As we consider it too early yet to host any gatherings of more than 10 people at our event venue, Old St. Andrew's Church, we will post a prerecorded performance on our YouTube page and announce it through Facebook. Watch for the announcement in late June.
          Speaking of Jacksonville's rich musical history, aficionados of Southern rock 'n roll and other music genres which evolved in the decades prior to Southern Rock will be thrilled to learn of a new venture soon to be announced. Watch our social media for details.
          The Jacksonville Historical Society Speaker Series is sponsored by Retina Associates, Fred H. Lambrou, Jr., M.D.

Fire Run logo with date

          The Great Fire Run has been tentatively rescheduled for Saturday, November 7. If public health and safety is still of great concern at that time, the Jacksonville Historical Society will pursue the possibility of holding the run virtually. Watch for updates on social media in the coming weeks.


          Although City of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry has lifted the stay-at-home mandate for workers and the city is moving into Phase 2 of reopening, the Jacksonville Historical Society’s facilities, including the archives and research library, will remain closed to the public until further notice. As soon as normal operations resume, research appointments can be scheduled.
          In the meantime, the JHS staff remains available and committed to serve the Jacksonville community by telephone and email. As some tasks are being performed remotely, requests for assistance will be answered as soon as possible. Contact our office by phone at (904) 665-0064, or email For archives and research assistance, contact For any additional questions or concerns, contact Executive Director Alan Bliss directly at
          For the latest news of historical interest, please visit and follow news of the Jacksonville Historical Society through our social media channels. Thank you for continuing to support the work and educational resources of the JHS!

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. , Chief Executive Officer | Mitch Hemann, Senior Archivist | Kate A. Hallock, Marketing & Communications Director | Silvia Romero, Office Administrator | Imani Phillips, Archives & Office Assistant | Sherrard Ceglia and Susan Williams, Archives Assistants | David Woodard, Facilities Manager

2020 JHS Board

Frederick H. Kent III, Esq., Chair | David Chauncey, Esq., Chair-Elect | Jeffrey K. Graf, Treasurer | Charisse Thornton, Secretary | Michael Fackler, Esq., Immediate Past-President | Pat Andrews | David Auchter | J. F. Bryan, IV | Rev. Canon Dr. J. Allison DeFoor | Hon. Gary Flower | Drew Haramis | David J. Jamison, Ph.D. | Larry Kanter, M.D. | Maggie Means

Historian At Large

Wayne W. Wood, O.D., Honorary AIA


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