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Jacksonville History Matters: NEWS & EVENTS


In this ninetieth year of the existence of the Jacksonville Historical Society, we sometimes ponder the historical moment in which the Society was founded. It was 1929, the year of the Great Stock Market Crash. In retrospect, the Crash precipitated the Great Depression, but that became clear only gradually. In Jacksonville, as throughout Florida, an economic depression was already entrenched, having begun in 1926 with the Florida real estate crash. By the time most Americans realized that a major depression was underway, Florida had been in one for several years.

In 1929, Jacksonville remained Florida’s largest and most important city, the center of commerce and shipping. Its economic profile compared to the rest of the state may be seen in a fact highlighted by the Florida Times Union on September 30, 1929, which read: “Duval County used more gas than in any other county in August, the state Inspection Bureau reported. Duval County consumed 1,985,185 gallons, leading Dade and Hillsborough counties, which used 1,847,864 gallons and 1,721,724 gallons, respectively. St. Johns and Nassau counties trailed far behind, using used less than 350,000 gallons combined.” (During the 1920s Dade and Hillsborough counties often vied with Duval for first place in gasoline consumption, then seen as a desirable marker of prosperity in a time of economic gloom).

One Jacksonvillian who had been grappling with the effects of the real estate crash was an engineer-turned entrepreneur named George W. Simons, Jr. (1891-1976). In 1916 Simons, newly graduated from MIT, had arrived in Jacksonville to go to work for the State Board of Health as Florida’s first sanitary consultant. In 1923, during Florida’s real estate boom, he joined the Jacksonville-based Consolidated Development Corporation as its principal engineer, designing the planned residential communities of Lake Forest in Jacksonville, Woodlawn (in St. Petersburg), and then Venetia in Jacksonville. By 1925, he resigned his position with the State Board of Health, turning entirely to real-estate development.

After the statewide real estate crash of 1926, land sales collapsed, and the Venetia project came to a halt. Falling back on his training and education, Simons became a municipal consultant. Long an advocate of city planning, he had previously helped establish Jacksonville’s planning advisory board, which by 1926 was led by some of the city’s most influential women, including Mrs. George W. Trout, Mrs. Arthur Gerrish Cummer, and Mrs. John T. Alsop Jr.

City planning had been languishing since 1923, when Mayor John Alsop (1874-1958) appointed the city’s first planning board. As Simons told the story forty years later, Jacksonville's women had by 1926 grown “restive,“ and were animated by ideas for city-wide beautification and improvement. In a letter to the city commission on July 28, 1926, the three influential women of the Garden Club's Governing Board (Alsop, Cummer, and Trout) called attention to the city's many problems, and declared, “[t]here is a need for prompt action...” Immediately thereafter, the Federated Garden Clubs of Jacksonville collectively made it their goal to establish city planning. By drafting a representative gentleman from each of Jacksonville’s many civic clubs, these astute ladies formulated a “men’s advisory committee,” deftly assuring themselves powerful support in the city’s male-dominated political culture.

The City hired Simons to craft its first municipal plan, which would become the first to be adopted in Florida. Topics of study included housing, development, roads and mass transportation, parks and recreation spaces, cultural life, the seaport and railroads, and the adequacy of fire stations. More buses and a ''belt-line railway around the city'' were proposed to reduce traffic congestion in downtown Jacksonville. Simons also proposed a metropolitan park system, a so-called “emerald necklace” running from McGirt’s Creek to the Trout River.

Recognizing the constraints of a depressed economy, Simons conceded that many planning ideas would be delayed. ''These recommendations are not necessarily for immediate realization but rather for future consideration when the demand is greater and financial possibilities more promising,'' he said.

Ninety years later, Simon’s 301-page plan of 1929 appears prescient in many respects. Mr. Simon's 1929 Plan can be viewed here. In other ways, it is frustrating to contemplate issues that he diagnosed and that remain unresolved nine decades hence. Simons himself went on to a distinguished career as a city planner, authoring plans for more than seventy cities throughout the American South. He died in Jacksonville in 1976, philosophical to the end about his profession’s occasional successes and more frequent unmet promises. Were he here today, he would likely urge us to plan afresh, making our best estimates of Jacksonville future needs and how to provide for them.

Alan Bliss
Executive Director

Myrtle Avenue Subway - George Simons

Simons called this the Myrtle Avenue subway, a constricted, flood-prone bottleneck where the street passed beneath the railroad tracks just west of the downtown Union Station terminal. His recommendations for improvements or replacement of this feature, already obsolete in 1929, apparently fell on deaf ears. Credit: UNF Carpenter Library, Special Collections

Mrytle Avenue Subway 2014 Alan Bliss

Yes, it’s still the old the Myrtle Avenue subway, photographed by Alan Bliss on July 19, 2014. Truck traffic must be diverted several blocks to the west, owing to the low (9 foot) vertical clearance beneath the rail-bed. Above Myrtle Avenue here is Interstate 95. Credit: Alan Bliss

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Earlier this month, the Jacksonville Historical Society had the honor of attending a stakeholders meeting with the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission. This full day event was held at White Oak Conservation in Yulee, and included a lunch and tour of the property between morning and afternoon sessions. The goal was to better understand what is being done in Nassau, Duval and St. Johns counties to help preserve, protect and share the history and culture of the Gullah Geechee communities of coastal Florida. Oftentimes, these stories are hiding in plain sight.

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A resident of White Oak pays us a visit

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A rare glimpse of the days when enslaved people toiled over this land

With an emphasis on the question: What do we know about Gullah Geechee Heritage?, each of us presented our goals to highlight these seldom told stories. One way the JHS can do this is to digitize its oral history collection, Conversations From Cosmo, compiled by Lynn Corley in 2015. This collection has already been transcribed, but remains on micro cassette. In order to preserve the voices of one of our very own Gullah communities, we'll need to digitize them as soon as possible.

We are grateful to the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission for giving us a place at the table. We all have a responsibility to preserve these incredible stories and ensure that they are not lost to the ravages of time.

Mitchell Hemann
Head Archivist

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It is with a heavy heart that we announce the passing of Marjorie Ann Grimes Broward, who died on September 11th, 2019. A member and long time supporter of the Jacksonville Historical Society, Mrs. Broward led an impressive life.

Born on July 28th, 1924 in Grand Meadow MN, she earned her graduate library degree at the University of Michigan in 1948. She went on to establish an Architecture and City Planning Library at Georgia Tech. It was there that she met Robert C. Broward, an architecture student and protégé of Frank Lloyd Wright. They were soon married in 1952 and moved to Jacksonville shortly thereafter where Mr. Broward started his practice in 1953. Marjorie began working with local libraries and started a bookmobile for underserved areas of the city. The Browards divorced in 1963, and Marjorie and her daughter Kristanna moved to Boulder, CO, where she established a business library at the University of Colorado. She then spent many years consulting and teaching in Australia. Later, she travelled the world computerizing theological seminary libraries in places like Malaysia, Namibia, Jamaica, Nairobi, Kenya and India. Returning to Jacksonville to be near her grandchildren, Mrs. Broward helped to start JAX READS in 2002. Though divorced, Marjorie and Robert Broward remained close, and she was instrumental in helping him write his book The Broward Family: From France to Florida, 1764-2011, published in 2011 by the Jacksonville Historical Society.

We've recently gotten to know Mrs. Broward quite well, when she generously donated a large collection of personal and research material belonging to Robert Broward. She was a friend and supporter of the JHS, and we always looked forward to seeing her face in the audience at our programs. She was a remarkable woman, and we wish peace to her and to all who loved and admired her.



Reservations for Gingerbread entries are now being accepted. If you or your group wish to participate, please send in your registration soon. Reservations will be accepted until space is full.

The Gingerbread Extravaganza is one of the most creative design shows that occurs in Northeast Florida each year. Amateurs and professionals of all skill levels design and construct 85% edible creations based on a subject or theme of their interest. The building experience reinforces team-building and project management skills. Participation provides great PR exposure as the event receives significant media coverage and over 4,000 visitors parade through the show each year.

A completed Builder Permit Form is required to reserve space in the show. Click on Gingerbread Builder link below to reserve your spot. Space is limited.

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Edible creations from years gone by

Merrill House Docent Training 2


Year round you can find Merrill House Docents lead small group tours of this famous Jacksonville home. Through guided tours, we share early twentieth century lifestyles with visitors. Many visitors are expected this December during the 16th Annual Gingerbread Extravaganza. Expected docent time commitment is a few hours per week, based on your availability. If you can join us in this important role, please RSVP to attend one of the Docent Training sessions:

RSVP - DOCENT TRAINING: Friday, Oct. 4, 9am

RSVP - DOCENT TRAINING: Monday, Oct. 14, 9am


Special opportunity: Holiday parties at Old St. Andrews!

Impress your friends, clients or staff by hosting your holiday party in this beautiful building surrounded by Gingerbread Extravaganza. Our Venue Coordinators have catering resources available to provide a turnkey event for you! For more information, contact our Venue Coordinators:
Jade Stanley: 904-878-8122
Rob Jackson: 904-878-2241

Gift Shop Donations with text

JHS is accepting gently used holiday treasures to re-sell in the Gingerbread Holiday Shop. Your donations will find new homes and help generate operating funds for JHS. Bring them to any and all JHS events, or drop them off at the office between 9am - 5pm.


Make gift giving easy this year. Order some of these impressive books or historic ornaments for your friends and family. JHS is proud to be a retailer for the 50th Anniversary Edition of the Quiet Revolution, which chronicles the consolidation of Jacksonville and Duval County governments. Hardback history books are always an impressive gift to recieve. And you will find many more great ideas in the JHS Bookstore!


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.

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



Alan Bliss, Ph.D. , Executive Director | Mitch Hemann, Archivist | Susan Prattos, Administrator | Imani Phillips, Archives & Office Assistant | Sherrard Ceglia, Archives Assistant | Anna Verney, 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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