February 2020 Newsletter Banner Vol VI Issue II

In recent months, Jacksonville’s historic buildings have been a lively topic in the public discourse. The attention drawn by the demolition of Fire Station #5, on Riverside Avenue, as well as that of a group of houses in the Cathedral District, has raised awareness and sensitivity to the future of old buildings. The conversation promises to continue, as the First Baptist Church recently has applied to the Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission for a demolition permit for one of its buildings at 125 West Church Street.

Built in 1927, the six-story building was designed by architect Reuben H. Hunt, of Chattanooga, and constructed by Jacksonville contractor Robert J. Gallespie. Commissioned as the Sunday School building for First Baptist’s then-growing congregation, it served in that capacity until 1938, when it was purchased from the church by the Gulf Life Insurance Company. Gulf Life was headquartered there until 1967, when it relocated across the St. Johns River to what was then christened the Gulf Life Tower (now the iconic 28-story Riverplace Tower). Subsequently the church reacquired the building on Church Street, and uses it today while preparing to sell portions of its multi-block downtown campus, and consolidate into renovated quarters.

In the 21st century, First Baptist faces headwinds similar to those experienced by urban congregations across the United States. During the 1920s in Jacksonville, as in many places, construction of new churches boomed. First Baptist’s property is an example of urban churches financed, designed and built during a decade when American downtowns were vibrant economic and social centers. Downtown houses of worship were convenient, the natural result of desirable neighborhoods close to the urban core, lower automobile ownership, and effective transit by streetcar and bus. In the early 1920s, church building committees were unconcerned about the costs of maintaining a spacious new sanctuary or education building. Air conditioning was unusual, and the expense of electricity was relatively minor. During the 1920s, church attendance across America was robust and growing, right along with the urban population. (The 1920 census showed that, for the first time, more Americans lived in cities than elsewhere, a trend that has increased ever since).

That wave of ambitious expansion during the 1920s yielded a legacy of church buildings, such as First Baptist’s, that are now approaching their centennials. Even those that have been well-cared for over the decades require modernization and continuing, sophisticated care. All face costly utilities expenses. Increased automobile ownership since the 1920s resulted in unanticipated parking and access issues, with many churches having to build and maintain costly parking decks. Church membership in general has declined in recent decades, while residential neighborhoods have spread further away from downtown cores. In this context, it’s unsurprising that urban congregations undergoing retrenchment must look for alternative uses for the real estate that they inherited. In the years ahead, it’s likely that more historic urban churches will confront these decisions.

First Baptist’s building at 125 W. Church Street is listed as a contributing structure to the National Register of Historic Places Jacksonville Downtown Historic District. Demolition will require review and approval from the Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission. The Commission will consider the request at its meeting of February 26, 2020, at 3 p.m. Meetings take place in Conference Room #1002, in the City’s Ed Ball Building, 1st Floor, 214 N. Hogan Street, Jacksonville, FL 32202. Pay parking is available in the adjacent Ed Ball Garage, or in other nearby garage facilities as well as in metered spaces along the surrounding streets.

For detailed information about the regulations governing historic preservation in Jacksonville, contact:

Historic Preservation Section
Planning and Development Department
214 North Hogan Street, Suite 300
Jacksonville, FL 32202
Phone: (904) 255-7800
Fax: (904) 255-7885
Email: historicpreservation@coj.net

Information about the Historic Preservation Commission may be found here.

Alan Bliss
Executive Director

casket factory only

Thanks to City Council President Scott Wilson and At-Large Council Member Matt Carlucci, the Historical Society’s campaign to pay for renovations to its century-old Florida Casket Company building may receive significant help from the Council’s reserve. On January 30, JHS Executive Director Alan Bliss and Archivist Mitch Hemann met with Wilson and Carlucci to discuss the urgency of expanding the Society's archival processing and storage facility. To illustrate the point, Hemann showed a badly deteriorated photo negative of former Major League baseball player Hank Aaron. Audible gasps from others in the room indicated the point was well received. The photo was one among tens of thousands in the JHS collection, most of which await digitization and, by the end of the meeting, Wilson and Carlucci agreed to co-sponsor a bill to allocate up to $35,000 in funds toward the renovation campaign.

At the publicly-noticed meeting was a team from Action News Jax, the CBS affiliate. Following the meeting, reporter Jamarlo Phillips took a tour of the Florida Casket Company building at 318 Palmetto Street, where Bliss talked about the vision for the three-story, 13,500-square-foot brick building at the corner of Duval and Palmetto Streets. The first floor was originally designated for fabricating caskets, the second floor for finishing, and the third floor for storage. The company’s products were for sale across the Southeast.

The first 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 space will house the JHS's sensitive collections – donated from many of Jacksonville’s families, businesses, and organizations such as the Woman's Club of Jacksonville, Memorial Park Association, and Riverside Avondale Preservation, as well as records from local government, and the Florida Times-Union – in a secure, stable environment. Our plans are to digitize and catalog these records, along with our tens of thousands of photographs and photo negatives, making them available to researchers everywhere.

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

Kate A. Hallock
Director of Marketing and Communications


Since acquiring the photo collection of the Florida Times-Union, we have spent considerable time working with its rich and diverse materials. Whether it’s a national media outlet in need of a photo of a young Hank Aaron, or preparations for our recent Speaker Series program at Edward Waters College, we enjoy any opportunity to go digging through the seemingly endless drawers of rescued photo negatives. You never know what you’ll discover. Many of them are in advanced stages of deterioration, and there’s often no time to lose when scanning a preservation copy.

IMG 9535

Damaged negative of Hank Aaron with the Jacksonville Braves in 1953

Hank Aaron Times Union 1953

Preservation copy from the damaged negative

These crumbling negatives are like faded, distant memories. A reminder of how fragile history can be. That’s why it’s so gratifying to see these subjects spring back to life in front of our eyes. Each snapshot is a moment frozen in time, a story captured in the blink of an eye. The triumphs and the struggles of ordinary people who’ve walked these streets for nearly two centuries.

IMG 9538

Drawer full of negatives of Edward Waters College

IMG 9431

Unidentified woman from an Edward Waters College negative, 1952

EWC Special Feature 1-10-1950 046

Students in the library, 1950

EWC Freshman Class and Football 9-14-1950 039

Unidentified freshman at orientation, 1950

The Jacksonville Historical Society endeavors to tell every story, because we recognize that every story has value. Our mission is to educate and inspire, but we also believe that our work can foster a stronger sense of community. Because the more we see each other, the more we understand each other. Thanks to our preservation efforts, the people and places within these images will not be forgotten.

Mitch Hemann
Senior Archivist


Our 2020 Speaker Series was off to a rousing start, beginning with our January program on the History of the Insurance Industry in Jacksonville. Board Member J.F. Bryan IV presented to a nearly full house at Old St. Andrew's Church on Jan. 23. We thank our title sponsor Retina Associates / Fred H. Lambrou, Jr., M.D., and our program sponsors Matt Carlucci of State Farm Insurance, Jim Love of State Farm Insurance, and Brightway Insurance.

The February program was held off-site at Edward Waters College on Feb. 3, and was presented by David Jamison, Ph.D., assistant professor of history. The Milne Auditorium was also nearly full as members of the Jacksonville Historical Society were joined by students and faculty from the college and by residents of the community. Catering was sponsored by Corporate Caterers Jacksonville and we are grateful for the volunteers who set up and served and handled registration: Nancy Gandy, Georgia Pribanic and June Paula.

Join us for the March and April 2020 programs! Details below.

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

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. Pre-register no later than March 15 to ensure your choice of a box lunch. Cost: $15, includes lunch.
Where: Old St. Andrew's Church, 317 A. Philip Randolph Blvd.


April 23, 2020: Joseph E. Lee presented by The Honorable Brian J. Davis

Joseph E Lee

Joseph Lee (Photo from UNF Special Library Collections)

Join us Thursday, April 23, to hear the Honorable Brian J. Davis, a United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida, speak about Joseph E. Lee, the first African American to practice law in Jacksonville, having been admitted to the Florida Bar in 1873. During his lifetime, Lee was also a municipal judge, minister, collector of customs and internal revenue, as well as a member of the Florida House of Representatives (1875-1880) and the Florida Senate (1881-1882). He also served as dean of the law department of Edward Waters College and was a trustee of the college for over 30 years.

Judge Davis was appointed a U.S. District Court Judge on Dec. 26, 2013 by President Barack Obama. A Jacksonville native, he earned a bachelor's degree from Princeton University and a juris doctorate from the University of Florida. He practiced in civil and criminal arenas, serving on family, juvenile and civil benches in Jacksonville prior to serving as a state Circuit Court judge in the Historic Courthouse on Amelia Island.

Social Hour: 6-7 p.m., with presentation to follow.
Location: Old St. Andrew's Church, 317 A. Philip Randolph Blvd.
Free to members of the Jacksonville Historical Society; suggested $10 donation for non-members.

Fire Run logo with date

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. The race will begin and end at Old St. Andrew's Church, 317 A. Philip Randolph Blvd.

Allison DeFoor Web

The Rev. Canon Dr. J. Allison DeFoor

David Jamison Web

David Jamison, Ph.D.

The Jacksonville Historical Society's Board of Directors met January 27 for its first meeting of the new calendar year and appointed two new members to the board while biding farewell to Dr. Wayne Wood, Doug Milne, Esq., and Harry Reagan, who had all termed out according to the bylaws. The new board members include the Rev. Canon Dr. J. Allison DeFoor, an Episcopal priest who serves as Canon to the Ordinary to the Bishop of the Diocese of Florida, and David Jamison, Ph.D., an assistant professor of history at Edward Waters College.

Also at the board meeting, Wayne Wood was named Historian At Large, and the board welcomed Kate A. Hallock as the Society's new marketing and communications director.


We love visitors! But...

The office of the Jacksonville Historical Society has a small staff, which is frequently off-site. To ensure we are available to assist you, please call us at (904) 665-0064 or email info@jaxhistory.org to schedule an appointment if you wish to view archives or research a historical subject. Your courtesy will be very much appreciated.

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

2020 JHS Board

Frederick H. Kent III, Esq., President | David Chauncey, Esq., Vice President | Jeffrey K. Graf, Treasurer | Charisse Thornton, Secretary | Michael Fackler, Esq., Immediate Past-President |Pat Andrews | 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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