Metro Jacksonville takes a look at the City of Callahan, one of the semi rural bedroom cities to the north of Jacksonville Proper. Callahan is experiencing growth and sprawl and is making the DNA decisions which will determine the future development of the area. Located in Nassau County, it is one of the areas which looks to the metropolitan authorities of Jacksonville to steward its future as part of the regional vision which is guiding Northeast Florida.
Callahan is scarcely a 20 minute drive from Downtown Jacksonville, less time than it takes to get to Julington Creek from Springfield, and yet in many ways it is like a separate world.
Despite the rural and isolated nature of the community, it is connected to Jacksonville by its dependence on our retail, transportation, cultural, educational, and economic opportunities.
It shares its main street into town with Jacksonville: Lem Turner, as well as its Main Intersection -- A1A and US 1 (which is called New Kings in the small downtown.
Callahan has changed remarkably in the past 20 years.
An old Trailer about three blocks out of the Downtown.
House with a Lean To about a block out of the Downtown
What was once a thundering herd of trailer parks, country farm houses and old Florida homes now hosts two suburban style home communities, glassy roads mixed in with the occasional dirt road, and a small central downtown composed mostly of strip mall style buildings which have replaced the old country shacks and brick buildings a few blocks away which used to be the town center.
The Medical Center, one of the many businesses located in the Suburban style new Downtown district.
Nassau County has decided that they will concentrate their growth in Callahan, despite the larger historic role played by the Hilliard Township a few miles away, mostly because of the small town's access to the main transportation corridors.
In MPO meetings (The MPO is short for Metropolitan Planning Organization---it is alternately called the TPO or Transportation Planning Organization--- the shadowy body which is charged with long and short term planning for the area and which has recently decided to consider itself a regional rather than countywide body) when the Nassau County representatives are called to speak they reportedly mention Callahan during plans for regional transportation and development routes and regulations.
Growth will continue to come to Callahan, whose housing market has been largely unaffected by the recent crashes in the cities.
Metro Jacksonville went to visit the City recently to have a look around.
Callahan BarbeQue, known as The Chicken House by generations of customers
The Former Location of The Chicken House a few blocks from the new location.
The Chicken House, actually named the Callahan Barbeque, owned by Dan Murray is the busiest place in town. By far. The place is jam packed and full of the various strata of Callahan Society, both low and high.
In Callahan, Barbeque is no respecter of persons, it brings sauce to the godly and the ungodly alike.
We ordered pulled pork sandwiches, sweet tea and onion rings from a sweet little girl sporting a bible verse t-shirt.
First Baptist of Callahan
Everyone in Callahan goes to church, and church activities are pretty much the backbone of all the socializing and activity. The largest, First Baptist of Callahan, was well represented at The Chicken House.
The Chicken House is an amazing local landmark, and recently moved into larger and more modern digs from its traditional location in an old shack down the road. Its in the new strip mall center downtown a few shopfronts down from the new Italian place.
The people (at least the mob inside the Chicken House) are kind, welcoming and open to outsiders.
There is a local newspaper. The cover story discusses a recent "European Visit to the Local Library." (an exchange student showed up at the library and was duly immortalized in Callahan print). All the rest of its stories are charming and gossipy, including a column by a 90 something year old lady in a nursing home called "Hilliard Doin's"
We are quickly engaged in conversation with the tables around us only to find a curious and amusing fact.
No one in town seems to know who the Mayor of Callahan is. They know that there is one, and that the last one was a woman, but there was an election recently and no one is quite sure who may have won it---- The teenagers don't know. The workers don't know, not even the charming family heads from Callahan First Baptist have the faintest clue who the mayor is.
For the record, the Mayor is Shirley Graham, who handily won her third election in '08 and has no reason not to expect winning another term in 2010.
After it had been thoroughly established that the Mayor enigma was certainly not going to be solved by further discussion, the proprietor of the Chicken House, Dan Murray, walked out into the dining room.
"There's the real mayor of Callahan!" announced one of the First Baptist gentlemen. It's clear from the sentiment in the room that the man from First Baptist might as well be speaking the truth.
"Don't put that on me!" declared Murray, self deprecatingly.
The man from First Baptist repeated his earlier charge. "He's the mayor, all right, or he could be if he wanted it".
That seemed to bring the conversation to a conclusion, and the next topic was on entertainment.
The entire group of girls who had been working the counter, (including the sweet bible versed tshirt girl who took our order) decided en masse to take their lunch break and seated themselves right next to our table.
So what do people do for entertainment in Callahan.
The Link, sponsored by Crossroads of Callahan
There is a teen hall sponsored by Crossroads and there are football games locally. For shopping the locals go to Jacksonville.
While the Town Center was mentioned, this was immediately pooh poohed by the girls.
"That place is too fancy" she said. "I like the mall by the airport".
But in general Callahan relies heavily on Jacksonville for all its retail---everything from home furniture and books to clothing and shoes.
Surprisingly the entertainment options of the metropolis aren't as enticing as its retail.
The Town Bar
Coffee and Breakfast at the Huddle House
Concerts and movies will motivate Nassauites to take the brief trip to Jax, but the real action for a Callahan teenager is in Waycross. Four Wheeling.
Apparently Florida Law prohibits 'Four Wheeling" for entertainment. Callahan largely ignored any such prohibitions until recently when some of the local hellraisers managed to make a local mess and the party was suddenly over.
Now all the kids mass in four wheel drive trucks and head up to Waycross Ga. Up to 50 and perhaps 100 trucks of Callahaners will drive up to the small township and join the rest of the four wheeling fun seekers every weekend.
Then there is always 'hogging'. (not the drunken frat boy sport)
Hog Hunting--- meaning the hunting of hogs---is apparently still popular for some of the Callahan boys---as is hunting of all varieties.
A group of the boys will take their hunting dogs out into the woods surrounding the town. The dogs will find the wild hogs (wild swine are extremely common here in north Florida. As recently as the 70s there were still significant numbers of wild pigs throughout Jacksonville.) and corner them. Then the boys will rush simultaneously, overturn the hog, tie up its legs and then toss it into the back of one of their trucks.
Pretty much the same way its been done for thousands of years (with the recent addition of trucks of course).
Fernandina Beach is the adjacent seaside community and many of the well to do Callahan families have a second home there. This may also be due to the economics uniting the two population.
Lumber is the largest employer in Callahan. It is surrounded by miles of forestry and the shepherding and cutting of the trees provides the majority of the income for the locals. There is a mulch plant in town, but the saw mill is in Fernandina, and creates a connection between the two communities.
Most of the people we spoke to have a very strong sense of place and community. They are Callahaners and despite the trips to Jax and Waycross, spend their time in town and would never consider moving to the City.
As Jacksonville is beginning to expand northward for the first time in three generations, it is driving the real estate prices up ever so slightly on the east side of town, and it might only be a matter of time before they are more and more Jacksonville identified.
As previously stated, growth is certain.
As the photos show, the City of Callahan is making some of the same suburban design mistakes that Jacksonville has come to regret. The old brick buildings have been replaced by pedestrian strip mall design, the charming historic look of the city is being abandoned, parking lots line the main street with set back and unwalkable retail developments.
Lem Turner connects Jacksonville to Callahan along a newly paved road and a beautiful drive.
The natural beauty and rural attractiveness is still intact, with horse farms and proud equestrian breeds lining the graze lands. The Lem Turner approach to town is breathtakingly lush and emerald, but the disposable architecture ethos is creeping in---even the town library has been moved into the Winn Dixie strip mall.
The old Retail district in Callahan.
There is a nod to the history of the area at the premises of the Nassau Chamber of Commerce--a lovingly restored Old Florida wood building with a restored rail and caboose on the property. A block away is the old retail district, replete with beautiful brick and balconies. But the activity has shifted slightly to the north, where the more modern buildings are located.
After visiting this delightful community, it is perhaps easier to see the immediate reasons why modern and new were valued over historic and old in our own city. If this area is going to grow at anything like the speed projected for it, now is a good time for it to take a serious look at its design ethos and look at a city plan.
Nassau County Chamber of Commerce
By Stephen Dare