For our bucket list, we decided that taking time to learn about another area in our community may spark inspiration for a new home project or neighborhood improvement.
You don’t have to be an athlete to enjoy the many roads and trails that Northeast Florida has to offer, and if you join one of Leigh Burdett’s historic bike tours, you don’t even have to own a bike. “Just show up in your flip flops and t-shirt,” she says. “We provide the rest—sunscreen, bike, helmet, even cold water and snacks.” Burdett, founder and guide of e2ride (pronounced red-e-to-ride), combines interesting local history with recreation and fun on her guided tours: “I cover art, recreation, architecture, history, and humanitarian stories.”
On a Sunday morning, we met Burdett at Three Layers Café in Springfield for an exclusive First Coast Magazine e2ride bike tour around Jacksonville’s oldest suburb. She has a trailer full of bikes, and there are helmets and water bottles for everyone. After gearing up, we headed over to Confederate Park where, in 1914, Jacksonville hosted the reunion of the United Confederate Veterans.
“So often people aren’t aware of where the parks are in Jacksonville,” she says. Whether it’s a park or a sculpture or an historic building, she hears the same thing again and again from her riders: “I’ve lived in this town for years, and I had no idea this was here.”
When Springfield Preservation and Revitalization (SPAR) approached her about setting up a tour in Springfield, Burdett had already been doing guided tours in other historic neighborhoods for several years. At first she wondered, “how much history could this neighborhood have? It’s only one square mile.”
But as she researched, she quickly realized that it’s the most densely historic neighborhood in Jacksonville. Truman Capote, Chuck Williams (of Williams-Sonoma), Oliver Hardy, and Henry Klutho are just a few of the famous characters who once lived in this charming neighborhood.
Burdett shows us the house where the infamous serial killer Ottis Toole tied George Sonnenberg to a chair and set the home on fire, one of many grisly crimes to which Toole confessed. “He’s a person who committed atrocities throughout this area….but he was severely abused as a child and, at that time, nobody was there to care for him,” she says.
Today, the Springfield bunch is known for taking care of one another. Its front porch culture and frequent get-togethers foster an authentic sense of community. “In any other neighborhood people don’t know many of their neighbors,” Burdett says. “In this neighborhood if you ask residents how many neighbors they know, they will normally say 200 to 300 neighbors…and they know the names of their kids and the names of their pets.”
We bike along, waving to neighbors and other cyclists, until we arrive at a yellow two-story home. “Truman Capote lived here at 1604 Liberty Street until he was seven years old,” she says. Across the street, she points out the Prairie style home where Chuck Williams lived as a child with his grandparents.
E2ride also hosts tours in the Riverside-Avondale area, Olde Mandarin, the Beaches and Amelia Island. On the 20-mile Beaches ride, “You learn about the history of the coastline, from Mayport all the way down to Ponte Vedra,” she says. “Each of our neighborhoods offers so many diverse things to see.”
There’s no doubt that joining a bike tour can transform the way you see your city; there are works of art to enjoy, historical landmarks to discover and new friends to meet. Burdette says that one of her riders told her, “You changed the way I ride my bike. You taught me to simply say hello to people. It has totally changed the way I see the neighborhood.”