Ruins of Jacksonville: Main Street

February 4, 2010 28 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville takes a look at Main Street's evolution over the last century.

After the Great Fire of 1901, Main Street became a major focal point in the revitalization of a new and exciting Jacksonville.  In Downtown, Main Street quickly became a major retail destination for Jacksonville residents and visitors.  Major chains once located along Main Street included S.H. Kress & Co., Woolworth, Lane Drugs, JCPenney, McCrory and Grant's.

Bay & Main after the Great Fire of 1901

The Great Fire of 1901 was one of the worst disasters in Florida history and the largest urban fire in the Southeast. It was similar in scale and destruction to the 1871 Great Chicago Fire.


Around noon of Friday, May 3, 1901 a spark from a kitchen fire during the lunch hour at a mattress factory set mattresses filled with Spanish moss on fire at the factory, located in an area known as LaVilla. The fire was soon discovered and its magnitude was underestimated. The causers thought it could be put out with only a few buckets of water and consequently did not sound an alarm until the fire had grown beyond their control.


The fire swept through 146 city blocks, destroyed over 2,368 buildings and left almost 10,000 people homeless all in the course of eight hours. It is said the glow from the flames could be seen in Savannah, Georgia; smoke plumes in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Florida Governor William S. Jennings declared a state of martial law in Jacksonville and dispatched several state militia units to help. Reconstruction started immediately, and the city was returned to civil authority on May 17. Despite the widespread damage, only seven deaths were reported.

The George A. Brewster Hospital and School of Nurse Training, which later became Methodist Medical Center, opened to treat African-American victims of the Great Fire of 1901.

St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, built of bricks in 1887, was the only major church in the city that survived the fire.


Famed New York architect Henry John Klutho helped rebuild the city. Klutho and other architects, enamored by the "Prairie Style" of architecture then being popularized by architect Frank Lloyd Wright in Chicago and other Midwestern cities, designed exuberant local buildings with a Florida flair. While many of Klutho's buildings were demolished by the 1980s, a number of his creations remain, including the St. James Building from 1911 (a former department store that is now Jacksonville's City Hall) and the Morocco Temple from 1910. The Klutho Apartments, in Springfield, were recently restored and converted into office space by local charity Fresh Ministries. Despite the losses of the last several decades, Jacksonville still has one of the largest collections of Prairie Style buildings (particularly residences) outside the Midwest.

Less than a decade after the Great Fire

Looking south from Main & Bay Streets.

An aerial of Main Street in the early 1900s

Main Street around 1910

The Woolworth Building at Main & Forsyth in 1910.  Today, this building houses Purdue Office Interiors.

Main Street in 1917

The opening of the Main Street Bridge in 1941

The Main Street Bridge was the second Jacksonville bridge built across the St. Johns River. It carries four lanes of traffic, and is signed as U.S. Route 1/US 90. The lift bridge opened in July 1941 at a cost of $1.5 million. In 1957 it was named after Mayor John T. Alsop, Jr., but continues to be known, even on road signs, as the Main Street Bridge.

When the bridge was first built, its north end was at the intersection of Main Street and Water Street. Traffic continued north on Main Street, with a one-way pair being made at some point; after that, northbound traffic turned right on Water Street and left on Ocean Street.

In 1978, several approach bridges and ramps were built. Main Street now goes over Water Street, and a ramp now carries all traffic from the bridge diagonally into Ocean Street, with a second bridge over Water Street. Ramps provide access to and from Water Street.

On the Southbank, the bridge originally ended at Miami Road (now Prudential Drive). When Jacksonville's original expressway system was built, in 1958, ramps were built connecting this intersection to the new expressway (now I-95) connecting the Fuller Warren Bridge and the Acosta Bridge to Phillips Highway (U.S. Route 1) and Atlantic Boulevard (US 90).

In 1968, a flyover was built between the ramps to I-95 and the bridge, with frontage roads continuing to serve Miami Road and several other cross streets. Thus there is now uninterrupted traffic flow from I-95 to the Main Street Bridge.

Foot traffic on Main was common in 1941

Aerials of downtown over Main Street in 1948.

An accident at Main & Ashley Streets in 1949.

The Main Street Bridge in 1957.

Main Street during the 1960s.

Downtown's Main Street Today

The difference is day and night. What was once a vibrant street filled with diverse urban architecture and a mix of uses has been converted into a one-way "freeway" with stoplights surrounded by surface parking lots and parking garages.

Springfield Historic District

Main Street has always served as the main conduit for travel between Downtown Jacksonville and Springfield.  Springfield's early boom years can be partially attributed to the extension of the streetcar along the Main Street corridor.

Main Street in 1904.

Main Street in 1910.

"The Main Street Railway"

The Pine Street Railway, was formed by B. Upton and built a line up Pine (Main Street) to 8Th Street. In 1884 the company was leased to G.A.Blackstone, who constructed a popular resort, skating rink, dinner hall and restaurant. The project fell short of paying for the improvements and the transit line so the property was sold to S. B Hubbard. Hubbard extended the street railway East on 8Th to Walnut, South on Walnut to First and West on First back to Pine. When the namesake "Pine Street" became "Main Street," the company changed it's name to "The Main Street Railway."

When news of Spague's experiment with electric powered trolleys in Richmond, Virginia, swept across the land. Jacksonville was caught up in "electric fever." The Main Street Railway, was first to string electric wire and bring in the new era of clean transport to Jacksonville. On February 24, 1893, the first electric streetcar rolled up Main Street from Bay to the Water Works at 1St. By March, the entire Main Street Railway was ready for electric service, and the cars were running up Main and around the Walnut Street loop on 10 minute headway's.

For more information:

Main Street shortly after the Great Fire in Springfield.

Main Street in 1913.

Fire Station Number 2 in 1915.

Main & 8th in the 1920s.

The Capital Theatre in 1927, near 8th & Main.

The Springfield Atlantic Bank in 1938.

Crossing the S-Line (looking NW), at Main & 12th, in 1944.

Crossing the S-Line (looking SE), at Main & 12th, in 1944.

Main & 5th in 1948.

Main & 8th in 1958 (north).

Main & 8th in 1958 (south).

Lovett's Grocery (Main & 15th) in 1949.

When Jax resident William "Bill" Lovett passed away in 1978, the Times-Union called him "perhaps the South's least known multimillionaire."  The eighty-seven-year-old tycoon had created a corporate empire reportedly worth $100 million -- or over $285 million in today's currency!   In large part, the Lovett fortune came from ships, shipyards, supermarkets, and a partnership in Merrill Lynch.  (CLICK HERE for a photo of Mr. Lovett.)    

A flyweight who stood 5'7'' and weighed 130 pounds, Mr. Lovett proved a heavyweight in the retail industry.  Based in Jax, the Winn-Lovett Grocery Company consisted of 73 stores, a sizeable chain at the time.  In 1939, Mr. Lovett sold his controlling interest in this business to a company that eventually became Winn-Dixie.  Although Mr. Lovett no longer owned the stores, the future Winn-Dixie company retained the Lovett name, as shown above.  

Later, Mr. Lovett possessed full or part interest in 200 Piggly Wiggly supermarkets, and he headed the Piggly Wiggly Corporation itself as president and chairman of the board.  This pioneer grocery chain was comprised of about 1,000 stores.  

During the 1960s, moreover, Mr. Lovett purchased two locally-known, competing shipyards.  These were the Merrill-Stevens yard on East Bay Street downtown and the old Gibbs Shipyard on the Southbank, located in the vicinity of today's Charthouse Restaurant.  After merging them into Jacksonville Shipyards Inc., he sold the business to Fruehauf Corporation in 1969.  At one point, the multimillionaire also commanded a fleet of 70 steamships.

Mr. Lovett hailed from the small Florida town of Monticello, near Tallahassee.  For many years, the publicity-shy financier lived in a handsome home overlooking the St. Johns River.  The dwelling still stands on Challen Avenue in the historic Jax neighborhood of Avondale.  Until late in life, Mr. Lovett drove himself to work in one of two 1966 Cadillacs, arriving at about 10:00 A.M. at a spartan downtown office on East Adams Street.  He toiled steadily, breaking only for a meal of peanut butter crackers and buttermilk.  The magnate would leave each evening at 6:00, taking home more work.  One family member described him as being quite devoted to his enterprises.  

In addition to his financial achievements, Mr. Lovett often contributed to a range of charitable causes.  His family has remained one of the River City's most affluent, a mover & shaker on the business scene. Story/Picture of Supermarket, Lovett's and Stewarts.htm

Main & 18th in 1949.

Main & 18th in 1949.

Springfield's Main Street Today

Unlike the downtown experience, Main Street still maintains a portion of it's historic urban integrity in the Springfield Historic District.  

The Future

The urban core of Jacksonville hasn't been the same since rail was ripped out of Main Street and downtown was intentionally isolated from Springfield and other Northside neighborhoods.  The restoration of the Main Street corridor remains a critical piece to solving the age old puzzle of bringing ultimate vibrancy back to the streets of the Urban Core.

Article by Ennis Davis

Historic Photographs from the Florida Photographic Collection:
Featuring over 160,000 digitized photographs from the State Library and Archives of Florida, the Florida Photographic Collection is the most complete online portrait of Florida available--one that draws its strength from family pictures, the homes of Floridians, their work, and their pastimes.[/i]