Lost Jacksonville: Wharves, Merchant Marines and Port

September 10, 2010 26 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Today, the majority of Jacksonville's water based industry is located north of the Hart Bridge. During the mid 20th century, the downtown riverfront resembled cities like San Francisco, Seattle, San Diego and New York City. A bustling district filled with wharfs, seafood markets, shipyards, and wholesale water-based industry.

Downtown Waterfront Aerials

During Downtown's heyday, the city turned its back to the St. Johns River.  Springfield Parks served as the central public and recreation space for urban Jacksonville, while the river was the city's economic lifeblood.





Merrill-Stevens Shipyard

During this time, Berkman Plaza and the troubled redevelopment site known as the Jacksonville Shipyards was the home of one of Jacksonville's largest employers, the Merrill-Stevens Drydock & Repair Co.

Founded in 1866 by James Gilman Merill, Merrill-Stevens evolved from a blacksmith shop to the largest Atlantic shipyard south of Norfolk, Va. during World War II.  During the war, the shipyard was known for its production of motor gunboats  While the company no longer has any operations in Jacksonville, it lives on as Florida's oldest continuously operating yacht services company with production facilities on the Miami River, in South Florida.







Downtown Waterfront - Bay Street

During the mid 20th Century, Bay Street was Jacksonville's waterfront street of commerce.  The waterfront and many of the wharves where located less than a block south of Bay Street.


Commodore Point

Commodore Point was the home of the St. Johns River Shipbuilding shipyard during World War II.  This short lived shipyard employed 20,000 Jacksonville citizens in 1944, who produced Liberty ships bound for Europe and the Pacific.  During the 1950's, this area gained popularity in industrial based businesses that had begun the trend of moving outside of the heart of downtown.  Today, Metropolitan Park occupies the site of the old St. Johns River Shipbuilding Company. Despite the reduction in industrial activity, Commodore Point still is the home of the North Florida Shipyards, Inc.


The Southbank

During this era, the Southbank had a street grid, shipyards like the Northbank, and marshland where MOSH and Friendship Fountain are now located.  By the end of the decade, the Southbank had begun to see massive redevelopment with the construction of Prudential Tower (now Aetna), Baptist Medical Center and the Fuller Warren Bridge.









Northbank Waterfront - The Railyards

The west end of the Northbank waterfront was dominated by Atlantic Coast Line railyards and warves catering to warehouses and manufacturing facilities near the popular Jacksonville Terminal.






The age of modernization begins

Elected in 1949, William Haydon Burns began the first of five consecutive terms as the mayor of Jacksonville.  Under his leadership the face of downtown would change from one of riverfront industry by replacing blighted wharves with government facilities and massive surface parking lots. What was once known as skid row was replaced by the world's largest Sears store, Atlantic Coast Line Railroad's new headquarters, city hall and the Duval County Courthouse.  The face of the riverfront would never be the same.



Today, most of Jacksonville's river based industries are located north of the Hart Bridge.

Photo article by Ennis Davis


Historic images can be found at: http://www.floridamemory.com/photographiccollection/