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Sniffing Along The Jacksonville Waterfront

During the Summer of 1969, the following editorial by Malcolm Johnson was printed in the Tallahassee Democrat. Mr. Johnson grew up in Jacksonville before moving to Tallahassee in 1937. Fifty years later, it offers us an incredible glimpse into the character of Jacksonville's historic urban waterfront.

Published July 31, 2009 in History      42 Comments    Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article


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A boast, once, that I could sniff my way blindfolded from one end of the Jacksonville waterfront to the other if they hadn't gone and sterilized it into a comely civic center has come to roost.



A friend over there says they're trying to reconstruct the old hometown at various periods of its history for a new Children's Museum, and she challenges my scented memories to help recall Bay Street during the twenties.


Commodore's Point. Today, the same warehouses still stand as a part of the North Florida Shipyards.


I can smell it all now, from the sharp, clean redolence of pine lumber and gum rosin loading at Commodore's Point to the foul stench of guano ships unloading at McGiffin's docks, and the acrid fumes of coal-fueled steam locomotives switching under the Broad Street viaduct.


An image of the railyard from the Broad Street viaduct.


I don't know how they are going to reproduce it for a museum, but it can be done because the Coca Cola exhibit at the most recent New York World's fair took us around the world through the scents of jungles and teeming cities in 30 minutes.

I'd start eastward from Broad Street past the wholesale produce markets with the scent of onions in crocus sacks over-riding the fragrance of fresh vegetables, then to the docks beyond where banana boats were unloading perfumed cargoes.



A shipment of potatoes being stored inside of a waterfront warehouse.


On, then across the street to the Casino theater, from which the fried onions at the hot dog and hamburger stand at the entrance beckoned with as much allure as the shootem-up advertised on the marquis.  Inside, admission 10 cents, hawkers sold peanuts, popcorn, candy up and down the aisle without disturbing anyone's reading of the silent movie titles. (You didn't sit too far down front, unless you didn't mind fat rats darting out of the orchestra pit over your feet to forage for dropped tidbits.)

One the same side of the street was Osky's, a souvenir shop whose tanks of baby alligators and turtles gave an odor all their own to mingle with burning incense.

Back, then, to the south side of the street past Hubbard's hardware store, where an unsold grindstone had stood so long out front that the top side of it had been worn flat by people pausing to sharpen pocket knives.



Hubbard's Hardware on Bay Street. This is the present site of the MODIS Tower.


The ferry slip at the foot of Main Street was an entryway to a clean breathe of fresh air on the Southside, but first you had to clear the fetid stench of fish and floating oil from the shoreline flushed with the sewage of a thriving city.


The ferry slip can be seen from the intersection of Main and Bay Streets.


That odor was stronger as you went eastward on the waterfront past the Red Star market where, for a nickel, you could get a couple of cold wieners to munch out behind where Negroes caught catfish from a rickety dock.


A bartender inside of the Red Star market.


Nearby was Martin's seed and feed store, with puppies always in the window, and a stock of merchandise that put a country boy in mind of the prairie far away.  Seeds smell the same everywhere.

There was the National Lunch, all white and clean, and through the open door drifted the savory fragrance of the specialty - a big bowl of beef stew, 20 cents.



A fish market at the end of Ocean Street. Today, this area is a parking lot for the Jacksonville Landing.

More fish and oil fumes arose through the shanty warehouse (Trenary Fish Company) at the foot of Newnan Street where we used to pick up our quotas of Saturday Evening Post to peddle, and farther along at the dock where the polished fireboat - the John C. Calhoun - was berthed near the venerable Three Friends on which Napoleon B. Broward rode to the governorship with intrepid running of guns for the Cuban revolution.


The Three Friends.


To the big, cleaner docks of the Clyde Line, merchants, miners and P&O passenger ships then, where few cargoes overpowered the rank emanation from stevedores slapping cards down incessantly in a mystifying game of "skin" played atop a stack of cross-ties.

There, if the wind blew from the land, though, the air would be filled with the aroma of roasting coffee at the Maxwell House plant a few blocks north (and it's still there).


The Maxwell Coffee plant is now the downtown waterfront's last link to its industrial past.


The New York Laundry, all steaming, cast off the rancid stench of dirty clothes coming clean as a wandering boy would bend back westward on the north side of the street past the ship chandelries with their keen attar of rope and okum among the glistening brass hardware in the stock.



There was a Kenny's tea and coffee shop on that side, with spiciness that was a pleasure to sniff (we have in our house two nine-sided tea chests which came from that place), and closer to Main Street, Harkisheimer's market and delicatessen with all the delights of good food nidor compounded.

If they're going much further along the waterfront in their exhibit, they should follow the river all the way to Talleyrand, where the fertilizer plants poured a choking fog of sulfur and phosphate fumes into the air to make your eyes water and set you to coughing uncontrollably.



National Container Corporation's Tallyrand paper mill.

There was real pollution in our cities in those days.  You have to think back to realize how bad it was, and how much we have done to clean it up.

So museums shouldn't be too realistic in their reconstruction of the scents of yesteryear. We couldn't stand it.  Let's only recall the pleasanter scents.



Merill-Stevens Shipyards (The Shipyards site).

Images from the State Library & Archives of Florida: http://www.floridamemory.com/PhotographicCollection/







42 Comments

copperfiend

July 31, 2009, 08:04:02 AM
Great read

hightowerlover

July 31, 2009, 08:25:52 AM
Smelly

lindab

July 31, 2009, 08:37:46 AM
This is a trip down memory lane for me. My dad had an office in a warehouse on the waterfront in the 1950s where the CSX building now stands. We always went past those scenes of activity - hustle and bustle - on our way to his office.

The more obvious pollution had been cleaned up but the river was still a dump for lots of stuff.
I remember the tar smell of the pilings and sitting on the docks watching the river's porpoise and manatees swim up river.
The waterfront then was a place for marine commerce, not a pretty overlook for office workers and casual riverwalk strollers.

TD*

July 31, 2009, 08:50:36 AM
Intersting, love the historical pieces

jaxnative

July 31, 2009, 09:35:50 AM
Quote
To the big, cleaner docks of the Clyde Line, merchants, miners and P&O passenger ships then, where few cargoes overpowered the rank emanation from stevedores slapping cards down incessantly in a mystifying game of "skin" played atop a stack of cross-ties.

My great-grandfather was the agent for the Clyde Steamship Line in Jacksonville in the 20's and 30's. 

JaxNative68

July 31, 2009, 11:21:30 AM
its a shame that Hubbard's Hardware on Bay Street, along with the surrounding buildings, has been lost.  What a nice building it was.

Dog Walker

July 31, 2009, 11:29:03 AM
Do you think in fifty years the Independent Life/Modis building will ever be considered "classic mid-twentieth century" architecture?

BridgeTroll

July 31, 2009, 11:49:26 AM
Great piece!

Bewler

July 31, 2009, 11:53:10 AM
God what an enormous mistake it was to demolish our wharfs.

tufsu1

July 31, 2009, 01:10:14 PM
Do you think in fifty years the Independent Life/Modis building will ever be considered "classic mid-twentieth century" architecture?

some might already consider it that.

Overstreet

July 31, 2009, 01:58:52 PM
God what an enormous mistake it was to demolish our wharfs.

If that were the case everything south of Bay street to the river would be run down wood pilings and ruins.  I'll post a picture later when I can access it.

Dog Walker

July 31, 2009, 02:07:51 PM
Ships got bigger, freight got containerized and wooden pilings in tropical waters have a limited lifespan.  It was a fascinating, vibrant area in its heyday, but times moved on.

JaxNative68

July 31, 2009, 03:21:41 PM
There is no reason that the wharfs couldn't have been modernized over the years and converted to private enterprises such us marinas, a city market, artesian center, etc.  But it all circles back to our city official not embracing our past and building upon it, but instead ignoring it and removing it.  Many other cities have taken the proper route with their old wharf areas such as Annapolis, Alexandria and San Fransico, just to name a few off the top of my head.

Bewler

July 31, 2009, 06:36:26 PM
^ Exactly, that was my point.

urbanlibertarian

July 31, 2009, 06:58:54 PM
Mayor Haydon Burns was trying to make DT Jax more appealing to the insurance companies he wanted to move here.  IMO the riverwalk we have now is better than a series of wharves.

stephendare

July 31, 2009, 06:59:54 PM
It was actually considered a source of crime

tufsu1

July 31, 2009, 07:42:57 PM
God what an enormous mistake it was to demolish our wharfs.

that's what they said in Baltimore in the 1970's....I think they're pretty happy with the end product now!

stephendare

July 31, 2009, 07:58:44 PM
Commercial wharves drive money and profit and business.  They gave downtown a vibrancy that it lacks now.  It was a tactical error to destroy the wharves.

heights unknown

July 31, 2009, 08:08:09 PM
Way before my time.  All I remember is a clean waterfront with parking lots back in the 60's when I first arrived as a Country Boy new entry.  Negroes catching catfish from a rickety dock?  Glad stereotyping of African Americans is almost over...yes we still catch catfish and yes we still eat them, but I'll bet caucasians, in the past and moreso now that times are hard, catch and eat more catfish than we did and do now.  Just joking y'all, it's just real interesting how the race thing was back then. Hope one day it is all buried, on both sides, once and for all.

Heights Unknown

stjr

July 31, 2009, 08:27:30 PM


My grandfather came to Jax in 1940 to help build and operate the National Container plant on Tallyrand.  I believe it's now Smurfit-Stone's plant.  He also oversaw the National Container paper mill in Valdosta, Ga. which was far larger.   The Georgia mill was eventually acquired by Georgia Pacific but now appears to be Packaging Corporation of America (see aerial below).  National Container was owned by Sam Kipnis who was another Jax business legend that became very prominent in both Jax and New York City circles.  National Container was bought out by Owens Illinois in the mid-50's.

Here is some info on Sam Kipnis and National Container found in a book about a Georgia lumber company that did business with them:
http://books.google.com/books?id=IO02VExuINMC&pg=PA211&lpg=PA211&dq=national+container+kipnis&source=bl&ots=JfNqNH-66r&sig=3TTf1kLCz5miccxm0MhwI5A0muE&hl=en&ei=xnlzSrWIGcWgmAfUoq3KBg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1#v=onepage&q=national%20container%20kipnis&f=false

An aerial shot of the mill in Valdosta: http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=5495+Clyattville+Lake+Park+Road,+Valdosta,+GA+31601&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=48.641855,78.837891&ie=UTF8&ll=30.694778,-83.303339&spn=0.01299,0.019248&t=h&z=16

More shots of the Jacksonville plant:















Worker at the factory for the National Container Corporation (Mill Division) : Jacksonville, Florida picture:



Worker in laboratory at the factory for the National Container Corporation (Mill Division) : Jacksonville, Florida picture:



Worker at the factory for the National Container Corporation (Mill Division) : Jacksonville, Florida picture:



Worker at the factory for the National Container Corporation (Mill Division) : Jacksonville, Florida picture:


urbanlibertarian

July 31, 2009, 08:53:08 PM
stephendare wrote "Commercial wharves drive money and profit and business."

I know they did up through the 1950's but how would they in the 21st century?

thelakelander

July 31, 2009, 09:23:20 PM
My dad's first job out of college was in the accounting office of Owens-Illinois at the Wigmore Street mill, in the images above.  After a brief stay in the military (Vietnam years), he was given a promotion to relocate to either Valdosta or Winter Haven, FL.  He ended up choosing Winter Haven because it was a short drive from his birthplace (Tampa).  He just retired about a year ago after spending 40 years with PCA (his plant went from Owens Illinois to Nekoosa Packaging to Georgia-Pacific to Packaging Corporation of America).

Growing up, every now and then, he'd take us (me and my brothers), with him to Owens-Illinois' headquarters in Toledo.

One SeaGate Place (Owens-Illinois Headquarters in Toledo (1982-2006) *-The tall glass tower on the right


The base of One SeaGate Place had a Rouse festival center called Portside Festival Marketplace.  Opened in 1984, like the Landing (for Jacksonville), it was supposed to renovate downtown Toledo.  As a kid, I remember it being quite empty.  Unlike the Landing, it closed for good in 1990 and has since been converted into a science museum.

Portside Festival Marketplace


Anyway, over the years, both of my brothers ended up getting jobs (one still works for them) at the Winter Haven box plant.  I was the only one to go the opposite route (high school-college-career).  

After a visit to Sloss Furnances in Birmingham five years ago, I always thought the old paper mill would have made a great industrial museum.  However, except for a kiln, the entire complex has been demolished.  Future plans for this site call for converting it into a coal terminal.

By the way, when did they demolish the old power plant next door?  From the images, it looked to be pretty architecturally impressive for an industrial facility.








thelakelander

July 31, 2009, 09:30:19 PM
stephendare wrote "Commercial wharves drive money and profit and business."

I know they did up through the 1950's but how would they in the 21st century?

Over time, the uses would have changed, but if a few were left they would have been ideal for a public market.

stjr

July 31, 2009, 09:50:44 PM
My dad's first job out of college was in the accounting office of Owens-Illinois at the Wigmore Street mill, in the images above.  After a brief stay in the military (Vietnam years), he was given a promotion to relocate to either Valdosta or Winter Haven, FL.  He ended up choosing Winter Haven because it was a short drive from his birthplace (Tampa).  He just retired about a year ago after spending 40 years with PCA (his plant went from Owens Illinois to Nekoosa Packaging to Georgia-Pacific to Packaging Corporation of America).

Growing up, every now and then, he'd take us (me and my brothers), with him to Owens-Illinois' headquarters in Toledo.

Lake, your Dad started at the same time my granddad was retiring.  Hey, we have a common ancestry with National Container/Owens Illinois/PCA.  Neat.

stjr

July 31, 2009, 09:58:16 PM
The state archives identifies this power plant as serving electirc trolleys.  Based on the landscaping, apparent age, and design, could it be anywhere else but Jacksonville?  What year?

stjr

July 31, 2009, 10:15:08 PM
Quote
By the way, when did they demolish the old power plant next door?  From the images, it looked to be pretty architecturally impressive for an industrial facility.

I don't know but JEA could probably tell us.  Here is one more image, apparently a bit older than the one you posted above:

stjr

July 31, 2009, 10:50:37 PM






Aerial still showing wharves in place:







Waterfront after "cleaning it up".  First picture appears to be late 50's based on construction pictured of old city hall:







heights unknown

August 01, 2009, 06:59:16 AM
Wow; Jax was truly an "industrial waste fart" back in the day; much more industry (especially fishing, textile, etc.) than is here now.

Heights Unknown

tufsu1

August 01, 2009, 02:52:23 PM
Commercial wharves drive money and profit and business.  They gave downtown a vibrancy that it lacks now.  It was a tactical error to destroy the wharves.

most cities moved their waterfront industrial uses away from downtown  (in our case, that would be the Tallyrand and Dames Point areas)....giving way to public space along the water....I don't see how that's a tactical error in any way.

stephendare

August 01, 2009, 04:18:03 PM
most cities also sprawled, and most cities had white flight, and most cities didnt start cleaning their water supply until recently.  There is a whole list of terrible mistakes that most cities have made.

Public space, while laudable, isnt the godhead of values for a cities well being.

sheclown

August 03, 2009, 07:27:13 AM
great piece.  What killed the industry and when did it die? 

thelakelander

August 03, 2009, 07:38:05 AM
It didn't die, it moved north to Tallyrand, Blount Island and Heckscher Drive.  Most of the wharfs were demolished during the Haydon Burns era (mid-1950s).

Overstreet

August 03, 2009, 10:35:05 AM
Most likely the businesses that used the wharfs evolved and the wharfs became useless.  Ships likely became larger and needed ports closer to the ocean. Other ports opened up.

The mainstreet bridge opened up and the ferry docks became obsolete. 

They used to move people and freight along the river to down town.  Land transportation probably took over and made river transportation less profitable. Then those docks became unused. 

In another example, the ship yards stopped being profitable and are evolving into something else.

Dog Walker

August 03, 2009, 03:07:12 PM
The marine shipping industry changed drastically with the invention of containerized freight.  The ships got bigger and deeper draft.  The time to load and unload ships dropped drastically.  The wharfs and docks along Jacksonville's downtown waterfront became obsolete.  Because they were no longer in use for shipping, they deteriorated into a real dangerous eyesore and a huge fire hazard.

In their day they were fascinating, vital, ant beds of activity, but shipping technology changed as much as jet airplanes changed international travel.

Bewler

August 04, 2009, 11:45:43 AM
They still could have kept some around for a fresh seafood market for shoppers like in the example posted earlier. In the Downtown Frankenstein article that discusses this, it says that they were demolished to make way for that huge parking lot. Supposedly simultaneously helping the DT parking problem and ridding Bay Street of the seediness and crime brought on by the wharves.

So what’s the lesson here then? Well it’s if there’s crime in an area, don’t try to maintain order and police it, simply blow the whole place to shit!

they deteriorated into a real dangerous eyesore and a huge fire hazard.

Anything can become this if it's not maintained and updated.

tcu70

August 06, 2009, 11:34:24 AM
The electric plant was called Talleyrand Generating Station until sometime in the 60's when it was renamed for J. Dillon Kennedy, a former City Commissioner who was instrumental in growing what is now the JEA.  At that time, electricity in Jax was provided by this plant along with Southside (now demolished) and a floating power plant out by NAS JAX (The Inductance, left over from WWII).  They were building Northside generating station in the 60's.  There was an ongoing debate about whether Jax pollution was caused by the paper mill or the electric plant.  Probably some of both as they both burned high-sulphur content fuel oil and rained black soot down on the city from time to time.  I believe Talleyrand was built around 1900.

stephendare

August 06, 2009, 12:21:17 PM
Wow.  tcu70.  welcome to the forums and thanks for this really insightful post.  I wonder if there are any old pictures of these locations and plants?

Ocklawaha

August 27, 2009, 07:13:33 PM
The state archives identifies this power plant as serving electirc trolleys.  Based on the landscaping, apparent age, and design, could it be anywhere else but Jacksonville?  What year?



stjr, I just ran across this. Yes this was the streetcar generating plant. It was located where the Times-Union Buildings are today. There was also a grand old office building on the corner there at the foot of the Riverside viaduct that was one of the only technical academy's in the USA to teach streetcar operation and management skills. Across the street, where the Skyway barn is today stood the original streetcar barns. It was a large, nearly city block size building at least twice expanded...still had the track inside and the inspection pits between the rails when JTA decided the building had gotten in the way of the new Acosta Bridge approach and HAD TO BE TORN DOWN. Once it was down they had a SHAZAM MOMENT! Down in "Jake the Snakes" office, "Well lookie here boys, Boss Hogg says that old building wasn't in the way after all, that old site SURE WOULD MAKE A DANDY SKYWAY LOT, wouldn't it Roscoe?" It all could of been, should of been saved. Imagine the landing in that giant old power building, office and barns... JACKSONVILLE LANDING and THE CAR BARN! Oh and electric cars started around 1890 here in Jax., while I don't have a date, that could well be it.



OCKLAWAHA

stjr

August 27, 2009, 10:06:48 PM
Ock, thanks for the update.  I really wish we had those street cars instead of ye olde $ky-high-way.  So much more attractive, charming, warm, affordable, and useful!  ;)

psalmist51

October 10, 2009, 02:45:20 AM
tcu70 thank you so much for your insight on past Jacksonville.  My great grandfather was J. Dillion Kennedy, and until the other day I had no idea he used to be a Utilities Commissioner.

BOfficer

August 06, 2013, 12:00:11 PM
Great photos showing the old waterfront. 

I really would like to see Jacksonville take hold of it's biggest asset:  The Water!  We have a large river running right through the middle of some of our best real estate. 

Why not more waterfront based attractions?  Restaurants, bars, shopping, water sports, marinas, etc. 

Overstreet

August 06, 2013, 02:36:39 PM
Great photos showing the old waterfront. 

I really would like to see Jacksonville take hold of it's biggest asset:  The Water!  We have a large river running right through the middle of some of our best real estate. 

Why not more waterfront based attractions?  Restaurants, bars, shopping, water sports, marinas, etc.

Why not?

Twenty five years ago where were less than there is now. There are more  hotels, more restruants, fancy condos, river walks on the river and business just doesn't seem to thrive. 
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