The story of the city of Jacksonville is one of continual rebirth. It began as Wacca Pilatka or “place of the cows’ crossing,” where a narrowing of the St. Johns River allowed the Timucua Indians to cross with cattle and continue down a trade route south to St. Augustine. British colonists rebranded the river crossing as Cowford in the late 1700s, which was probably much catchier to pitch to future English settlers. But, the Revolutionary War left Florida to Spain, until 1819 when Spain sold her for $5 million to the youthful United States of America in the Adams-Onís Treaty.
Three years later, the settlers sent a petition to the U.S. Secretary of State requesting that it would make a perfect port of entry for the burgeoning territory. Maybe the petitioners thought “Cowford” sounded a little too country for a thriving trade center, or maybe they wanted to showcase their patriotic desire to help build a new nation. Either way, in the petition the new town was named Jacksonville, in honor of General Andrew Jackson, first military-governor of Florida under the American flag. It was officially incorporated as a township in 1832. Like so much of the South, the town was devastated during the Civil War, but it was quickly rebuilt after the war ended.
According to local historian Wayne Wood, after the Civil War, “Jacksonville became a tourist mecca of the Eastern seaboard.” The largest city in Florida, it was a destination which drew many entrepreneurs. At this time, a new breed of cartographer set forth across America to create aerial maps of the nation’s growing cities. The artists would arrive in a city by train, and market their talents to the local newspaper. The newspaper would publicize their work to local businessmen and officials, who would then invest in their production. Once the maps were financed, the artists would walk the streets and sketch, with precision, each block. The accuracy was astounding, from the number of windows in a building down to the number of shrubs that lined the sidewalk. If there was a new development in the works, then at times, they would draw it in order to boost the image of the city. When finished, the artists would convert their drawings to a birds-eye view perspective of about 500 – 600 feet above ground, creating a complete vision of the city proper to be used when marketing the city as a great place to invest.
“The heritage of this type of map goes back to the Renaissance,” says Wood. “Many of these artists were German immigrants.”
One such artist was Augustus Koch. He arrived first in Jacksonville in 1876 and created a map for the city, then returned in 1893 to execute another. It is from these maps that historians have a clear picture of Jacksonville prior to the Great Fire of 1901. And thanks to Koch, historians have been able to locate the handful of buildings that survived that tragedy. After the fire, acclaimed architects from all over the country helped rebuild this city. By early 1916, it had become a hub for the silent film industry and was known as “The Hollywood of the South.”
Now, a century later, Jacksonville seems to be undergoing another renaissance. Over the past year, it seems like we hear about a new exciting development underway in our urban core every month. In the spirit of celebrating the long history of entrepreneurship and regeneration of what in many ways has always been The Bold New City of the South, we asked Wayne Wood to share with our readers, from his private collection of Northeast Florida artifacts, the incredible maps created by Koch which showcase the astounding progress of the city of Jacksonville over the years.
1. Unity Plaza/220 Riverside Ave.
220 Riverside is one of the newest developments in the urban core. The 285 unit urban mixed-use apartment community is built around Unity Plaza, a park complete with an outdoor amphitheater, restaurants and shopping, just a stone’s throw from the St. Johns River.
2. Hemming Park and Snyder Memorial Church
From daily live music, food trucks, free yoga classes and regular festivals, Hemming Park has redefined itself as the heart of our urban core. This public square has undergone a makeover that has energized the downtown and transformed our city center with a sense of vibrant optimism.
3. Jessie Ball DuPont Center at 112 Ocean Street
Once the Haydon Burns Library, this mid-century modern architectural gem is being retrofitted to become the epicenter of the nonprofit community. It will house numerous organizations under one roof, fostering a network of resources dedicated to generating good karma.
4. Jacksonville Landing
The Downtown Investment Authority petitioned design firms to conceptualize the future of the Landing, a destination that has the potential to be the crown jewel of our urban core. Some have proposed a futuristic aquarium, others a killer local artisan market similar to the Chelsea Market in New York City. Whatever it may be, this new project is going to be a game changer.
5. El Modelo Cigar Factory at 501-513 West Bay Street
Built in 1887, this is one of the few buildings to survive the Great Fire. This historic building was once a cigar factory and a hotel. It is now home to offices for a multitude of companies. It is a perfect example of historic preservation as a sound real estate investment.
6. The Laura Street Trio
In 2016, a boutique Marriot is set to open in this iconic cluster of buildings, bringing another hotel to our city. Sandwiched in between the two wings of the hotel sits the Marble Bank, future home of Chef Scott Schwartz’s new destination restaurant, The Bullbriar.
7. The Bostwick Building at the corner of Ocean and East Bay Streets
Word on the street is that this building will be restored to house a chop house with a rooftop bar. The gateway to the Elbow District, the center of downtown nightlife, the restaurant would be a boon to the dining scene.
8. The Shipyards
Shad Khan wowed the region with his proposal to take what is now a blighted area next to EverBank Field and create a waterfront urban mixed-use area including rooftop community fields, a boardwalk and a bustling marina. Rumor has it that Intuition Ale Works might be opening a brewery and beer garden here too…which is perfect for game day tailgating!
9. Jacksonville Regional Transportation Center
JTA is building a transportation hub next to the Prime Osborn Center that will centralize the bus system, the Skyway, Amtrack, and Park-and-Ride. This is a definitive step in the right direction for bringing our public transit up to par with the needs of the region.
10. Brooklyn Station
What was a blighted vacant lot is now Brooklyn Station. The shopping center houses a brand new Fresh Market, and a variety of restaurants and shops, which transform Riverside Avenue into a commercial corridor linking downtown to Riverside. We look forward to the Burrito Gallery opening up their rooftop bar and restaurant there soon!