JACKSONVILLE'S NEIGHBORHOODS: A History of Springfield, Where Our Roots Grow Deeply

JACKSONVILLE’S NEIGHBORHOODS: A History of Springfield, Where Our Roots Grow Deeply

springfield mapWhere’s Springfield?

Springfield is a historic neighborhood located to the north of Downtown Jacksonville. The boundaries of Springfield are well defined. Hogan’s Creek lies along its south edge, and railroad lines are found on the north and east. A street called Boulevard, which wraps around Confederate Park and becomes Broad Street, defines the western limit of the district.  The park land next Hogan’s Creek is a defining feature of the neighborhood. Confederate Park contains a popular neighborhood dog park. Inside the bounds of nearby Klutho Park, also hugged by Hogan’s Creek, you’ll find the Disc Golf Course (Disc Golf is a fun cross between frisbee and golf). Contemporary with the overall residential area are two commercial strips along Main and Eighth Streets, which join at the heart of the district. The district contains 119 city blocks in an area of approximately 500 acres, or slightly less than one square mile. Hogan’s Creek separates the residences of Springfield from the Downtown business district. North of the creek, few buildings rise above two stories, and parks and tree-lined streets are common.

HISTORY OF SPRINGFIELD

Established in 1869, Springfield experienced its greatest growth from the early 1880s through the 1920s. It was originally named for a spring of good water located in a field on West 4th St. By 1879, there was a horse-drawn streetcar line built up Main (then Pine) from Bay to 8th St. As the area continued to grow, G.A. Backenstoe leased the trolley in 1884 and built a skating rink, dinner hall, and restaurant at 8th and Pine. The appetite for tourist attractions was in high gear in Jacksonville when the Board of Trade organized a Sub-Tropical Exposition at the Water Works Park on the corner of Pine and 1st. Construction began in the fall of 1887 ostensibly to compete with California for tourism. (Jacksonville had been a major resort destination for several years.) President Grover Cleveland and Frederick Douglas visited the Expo before its closure in 1891. On the wild side, in 1893, 1st and Laura became the Florida Zoological Gardens and Exposition until the 1920s, when it moved to Heckscher Drive.

In 1901, most of Downtown Jacksonville was burned down in the Great Fire. The flames and smoke from the Great Fire were so heavy that the smoke was reportedly seen as far away as North Carolina. The fire lasted 8 hours and consumed 146 city blocks, 3268 buildings, and killed seven people. After the fire, many of the city’s most prominent and wealthy citizens were now homeless, and turned to Springfield for help. Springfield became an upperclass suburb because several wealthy residents built their new homes there.

This film was produced 100 years ago by the local Norman Studios and distributed by a news reel company based in Jacksonville. It shows a lot of the Hogans Creek Park, and some pretty extensive footage of Springfield.

 

According to Bender “Doc” Cawthorn, a 19th century Springfield resident and senior projectionist at the Florida Theatre in the 1960s, Springfield had a tradition of “riding the loop” after Sunday church. In the days of the horse and buggy, the finer families of Jacksonville would parade down Talleyrand Ave. and back up Evergreen Ave. to picnic at one the many parks along Hogan’s Creek.

At the time the district was listed in the National Register, it contained 1,784 buildings fifty years old or older that contributed to its historical character. Of that number, 1,686 were classified as residential. Only 48 were commercial. The great majority of buildings, 1,595, were wood frame, and 201 were masonry. There were 1,294 buildings of two stories in height and 10 three-story structures. The remainder were all one-story structures. Contributing buildings retained enough of their original physical character to adequately embody the sense of time, place, and historic association normally required in establishing a historic district. These comprised 95 percent of all of the buildings in the district. The non-contributing buildings were either less than fifty years old and lacked exceptional significance or were more than fifty years old but retained little, if any, of their original physical integrity. These numbered five percent of the total.

The neighborhood did not experience a resurgence of construction during the 1920s, as did other residential sections of the city. The “boom” bypassed the area since much of the land was already occupied, except in the area north of Eighth Street. Construction was, therefore, limited to the occasional vacant lot or those sites where older structures had been lost or required replacement.

JACKSONVILLE'S NEIGHBORHOODS: A History of Springfield, Where Our Roots Grow Deeply

Springfield Memories

BY NANCY R. SPLANE

I lived in a little bungalow in Brentwood for six years, leaving in 1958, when I was almost ten, for the Mandarin of the fifties, Arlington. In houses with identical floor plans to mine, were my grandmother Register, aunt and uncle, and cousins across the street, and my grandmother and grandfather Gray three blocks away. But it was Springfield, just a few blocks away across Springfield Park, that had the fancy houses, the bakery where we bought lemon cheese cake with raspberry filling, and the majestic church with glistening coquina walls at the corner of Sixth and Silver, where we went every Sunday morning. Across Silver Street from the church was the house built by my great-grandparents in 1901, my great grandfather looking down the length of every piece of wood delivered to ensure its straightness, and refusing any that weren’t perfect.

My grandfather, Post to Post Links II error: No link found for term slug "George Robert Register, Sr.", was nineteen when they moved from Savannah, and lived at home until he went to Louisiana to ply the family trade of naval stores inspection on his own, meet and marry my grandmother, and then return to Jacksonville when the Great Depression hit.

JACKSONVILLE'S NEIGHBORHOODS: A History of Springfield, Where Our Roots Grow Deeply

By the late fifties, Springfield’s beauty had been waning for years, her beautiful houses peeling and sagging, and no sign of the restoration projects that would come in a couple of decades, bringing new energy and hope to the neighborhood. Endeavors like the project “Make It Happen!” of Preservation SOS (Save Our Springfield) which provides volunteer help to homeowners unable to make repairs necessary to avoid condemnation of their property, reflect the spirit of the current community that embraces diversity of all sorts.

The decline I saw included many houses being used as nursing homes, my great-grandparents’ home included. The children’s choir would occasionally leave after the worship service to sing at one of these homes. We would make our way through the rooms which housed as many beds as possible, singing a song in each room, not knowing where to look as the residents, which sometimes included old Sunday School teachers of mine, stared at us, silently holding out their hands to be touched.

The house reflected little of the energy that I imagined it held when my grandfather and his siblings were there. There were several brothers and they used to go hunting in the area now known as Southpoint. On one trip they shot a doe and later discovered she had a fawn. The family story always protected the character of the young men by inserting the legality of shooting a doe and that they didn’t know she had a fawn. They took the fawn home, named him Billy and he grew into a deer, complete with antlers and a penchant for raiding the kitchen gardens of the neighborhood. On occasions when the brothers had gone out for the evening, Billy would be waiting for them at the bottom of the outside staircase that led to their upstairs bedrooms, not to greet them but to prevent them from ascending. They kept a baseball bat at the bottom of the stairs not to hit him, but to fend him off so they could get past. My great-grandmother had a reputation for a kinship with animals and Billy apparently adored her. One day he wandered too far in his quest for tender, young vegetables. The owners of the garden didn’t know Billy and called the police, who shot him. Billy was mortally wounded but made his way home, climbed the steps to the front porch where my great-grandmother was shelling peas in a rocker, and died with his head in her lap.

About Will Henley

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