Being so close to St. Augustine, the oldest city in the United States, as well as one of the most haunted, it would be foolish to think that the hauntings come to halt once one arrives in Jacksonville. With haunted restaurants, bars and hotels, the list of ghost sightings and paranormal activity is extensive in Northeast Florida. But just as extensive is the list of abandoned buildings and houses. Considering the spooky season among us, I began to wonder, were these places left to deteriorate due to their lack of usefulness or for more spine-chilling reasons? It’s fair to think that every rundown house you come across was not abandoned because of the horrors that lie within, but it sure is fun to think that way.
Before going any further, I want to note that I am not a verified ghost hunter, nor am I a medium of sorts. But being an empath, I am sensitive to the energies around me. So take my findings with a grain of salt. If you decide to check out these places for yourself, understand that most of these abandoned sites are private and trespassing is illegal. It would be wise to abide unless you want to bring haunting spirits home with you.
Claude Nolan Cadillac Building
The backstory: Sitting on Main Street right next to Confederate Park, is the Claude Nolan Cadillac Building. Claude Nolan was a man of many firsts. The first person to drive to Key West, the first local Floridian to fly an airplane across the state, and the first person to open an automobile dealership in Jacksonville. The year was 1905. Nolan graduated from Vanderbilt University law school and decided to move back to his hometown, where he eventually got into the auto sales business and opened his first Cadillac dealership on Church Street. After running a successful business for a couple of years, the company began its expansion and built a three-story structure (designed by Henry Klutho) in 1910. It served Nolan and his business well until 1943 when Nolan passed away. The building was remodeled in 1948, which is the design we see today when passing the abandoned site. Almost 100 years later, Claude Nolan Cadillac is still in business, though now it’s on Southside Boulevard.
My read: There is always a little something off-putting about abandoned structures, but I felt no presence at all near this building. Other than broken glasses and items left behind, it seems no one (not even Nolan) roams this building
Verdict: Haunted? I don’t think so.
Horace Drew Mansion
The backstory: Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the three-story home, which sits at the corner of West Third and Pearl streets in Springfield, was built in 1909 with hints of a Spanish colonial revival style. The mansion was home to Dr. Rainsford Horace Drew and his family for many years until his death in 1951. Shortly after being occupied by another family in the 1960s, the building was abandoned, allowing nature to take over. By the 1970s, the abandoned structure was nicknamed “The Haunted House,” probably due to being the site of an ugly kidnapping situation as well as the fully preserved human head that was found buried in its backyard. In the mid-’70s, the house was sold and brought back to life. The family who bought the house ran into financial problems, and the house was abandoned again in 2006. In 2015 it was bought by an owner of a construction group, who eventually sold it in 2018. It still sits, untouched, except for a new roof.
My read: The fact that this historic, one-of-a-kind home that overlooks a beautiful park has been abandoned multiple times leads me to think that something sinister may lie within its walls. Upon arriving at the site, I instantly felt unwelcome. A crow seemed to arrive just as I did, as if warning me not to dwell any longer. Still, curiosity got the best of me and I roamed around the abandoned building only to feel a daunting presence. For Dr. Drew and his family to have lived in the house for so many years, as well as being the only owners not to abandon it, leads me to think he may not want anyone else having the satisfaction of calling that place home.
Verdict: Haunted? Probably.
Public School Number Four
Schools are notorious for gossip and rumors being passed around like bubblegum, but the rumors of this abandoned school are much darker. Before becoming the large brick structure we see today, Riverside Grammar School, as it was originally known, was a small wooden schoolhouse built in 1891. Due to an increase in students and fire hazards, the school was rebuilt in 1918 and renamed after former principal Annie Lytle Housh in the 1950s. But the name and school wouldn’t last long as the construction and traffic of I-95 and I-10 would become too noisy for the school to run effectively. By the 1960s the school was closed down. And there it still sits, untouched. There had been a lot of talk on what to do with the space. For a short time after its closure, it was used as a storage facility, but by the ’70s the space became vacant once again. In the 2000s it was listed as a historical landmark and protected by any possible demolition plans.
There are plenty of rumors circulating about the abandoned school leading many to believe that the space is haunted. A cannibal principal, a janitor who would take kids down to the boiler room and burn them alive, and even rumors of devil worshippers occupying the space. These rumors have been spread far and wide, so much so that the school is nicknamed “The Devil School.” But alas, they are just rumors, and there is no real evidence of these sinister crimes ever happening. Even as I walked around snapping photos, I could feel no unwelcome presence except for the ‘Keep Out’ signs posted all around the fenced area.
Verdict: Haunted? Probably not.
Moncrief Road Cemeteries
Along Moncrief Road are a row of cemeteries. It started with the Memorial Cemetery, established in 1909 by Leo Benedict and sold to the Memorial Cemetery Association in 1911 . The association enlisted the Afro-American Life Insurance Company, founded by Abraham Lincoln Lewis, to operate and maintain the cemetery. By 1936, the Memorial Cemetery Association expanded to acquire Sunset Cemetery and Pinehurst Cemetery while the Lewis family continued to operate the site privately. During the 1920s, the Moncrief area was well known for its part in the Jacksonville entertainment business, but by the ‘60s many businesses were closed. By the late ’80s, the Lewis family sold ownership of the properties to a non-profit memorial corporation after having trouble upkeeping the cemeteries. The non-profit organization also had trouble taking care of the grounds and eventually sold them to the City of Jacksonville to continue the upkeep. To this day, Moncrief is one of the most impoverished areas in Jacksonville, and the cemeteries along its roads are no exception.
My read: When I arrived at the cemeteries, it seemed that there had been some work to try and salvage the land and keep it clear of litter, but the damage done to most of the tombstones makes it seem that the possibility of a remaining a proper burial grounds is too far out of reach. It’s as if a line had been drawn through the middle of the road—on one side, flowers and polished tombstones shining in the light and on the other side, tombstones breathe their last breath as only inches are visible through the overgrown grass. If I were a spirit buried on these grounds, I would definitely haunt the land after being so neglected.
The verdict: Haunted? I would be surprised if they weren’t.