Neighborhoods: Lake Forest

October 20, 2010 7 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville takes a visit to one of the Northside's earliest automobile oriented communities: Lake Forest.

About Lake Forest

Looking at Lake Forest in the late 1940s before the construction of I-95

Although initially platted as early as 1926, development in the neighborhood of Lake Forest did not really take off until 1944. Known as one of Jacksonville's early automobile oriented suburbs, the streets and parks of Lake Forest exhibit an American Revolutionary War theme.

Lake Forest is surrounded by three navigable bodies of water. The Ribault River (west), Trout River (north) and Moncrief Creek (east).

Like many Northside communities, the neighborhood is split in half by the prescene of Interstate 95.  Once surrounded by modest single family homes, Concord Park now has prime visual frontage of thousands of vehicles speeding through the area 24/7.

Concord Park is one of two half-oval parks that were named and platted by the developers in 1944. Battles at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts on April 19, 1775 between the colonial Minutemen and the British redcoats marked the beginning of the War. Through the years, the park has remained a small, neighborhood facility with play equipment for the children, and a major improvement project in 1999 added picnic facilities, new benches, and a water fountain. With several towering pine trees providing shade and visual relief, the park offers a place for fellowship and relaxation.

Lake Forest Elementary School is a magnet school of the Visual and Performing Arts.  Areas of study offered include dance, strings, guitar, piano, orchestra, chorus, drama and visual arts. Lake Forest has program continuity to LaVilla School of the Arts.

Marion Park is one of two half-oval parks that were named and platted by the developers in 1944. Francis Marion (1732-1795), for whom the park is named, hastened the victory by the Continental (American) forces in the War, which began April 19, 1775. Nicknamed the Swamp Fox because of his elusive tactics, he rose to the rank of general and commanded the militias of North and South Carolina against the British. Later, the fort in St. Augustine bore his name from 1825 until 1942. The park contained the tennis courts and playground equipment in 1965, and improvements over the years added picnic facilities in 1999 and a water-feature playscape in 2001.

60 years ago, along with University Blvd. (Arlington/Southside), Edgewood Avenue served as the original beltway surrounding the city of Jacksonville.  Today, the street remains an efficient route for those traveling between the North and Westsides of the city.

Lem Turner Road

Early mid-20th century suburban sprawl growth on Lem Turner Road was driven by the once popular Gateway Mall.  The original Gateway opened in 1959 as an outdoor strip plaza. The indoor portion opened Oct. 12, 1967 as the Greater Gateway Shopping Center, and at the time was believed to be the largest of its kind in North Florida and South Georgia.

The mall incorporated about 50 existing shops and added another 32 in a new enclosed area. During its heyday, shoppers could browse in retail stores such as JCPenney, May Cohens, Jefferson Ward, Service Merchandise, pick up groceries at Winn-Dixie or dine in at Morrison's. The center and the adjacent Lem Turner Road commercial district would remain a retail powerhouse until the late 1980s and early 1990s when a series of retailers, including Jefferson Ward, G.C. Murphy and Ames moved out. Today, the Lem Turner Road district is home to a mix of national fast food chains and neighborhood oriented local retailers.

Who was Lem Turner?

Lem Turner Road is named after Lemuel Turner. Turner (1824-1912) operated a cypress shingle mill and ran a ferry across the Trout River.

The intersection of Lem Turner Road and Edgewood Drive can be seen near the center of this late 1940's era aerial.

During the English Occupation of Florida, at the time of the Revolutionary War, north of Trout River there were a few sawmills and isolated farms raising mostly cotton, tobacco, and indigo. These were mostly abandoned when England gave Florida back to Spain.
During the War Between the States there were a number of skirmishes in the area. One such, on July 13, 1864, took place on the north bank of Trout River near what the records of the times describe as the "Turner Place." This would be on what is now Lem Turner Road just east of present day Capper Road.

Other skirmises took place when Union forces went north to Callahan in Nassau County, Florida using trails which roughly followed present day Lem Turner Road.

Lemuel Turner was born in the old family homestead just east of Capper Road; and, during the early part of this century, he started a shingle mill in the Dinsmore area and a ferry on what was then called Trout Creek although I don't know why. The tributary of the St. John's is a wide expansive river, not at all the little narrow thing most of us think of as a creek.

The ferry was known as Turner's Ferry.

Lem Turner then built a road to that ferry which was called Turner's Ferry Road. In 1913, the Garden City Realty, then owned by William Clarke and T. Frazier Bowie, were hired to map out the area for Dunn Avenue and Lem Turner roads to be paved where they are now. At that time from West Court to Duval Road were known as Pinehurst and from across and to North Court was called Blakehurst. Lem Turner Road was relocated and part of Pinehurst is now Lem Turner Road. The Roads were paved and in 1929 turned over to the county.

Lake Forest is located along the Trout River at the I-95 interchanges with Lem Turner Road and Edgewood Avenue.

Article and photographs by Ennis Davis