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Lost Jacksonville: Wilder Park

In every vibrant urban community you'll find a vibrant public space, and Jacksonville's Sugar Hill was no exception. Today, Metro Jacksonville remembers the city's largest public space for African-Americans during the Jim Crow era: Wilder Park.

Published October 4, 2011 in History      15 Comments    Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article


feature

History of Wilder Park


Wilder Park Community Center.

The economic prosperity associated with Jacksonville's growing African American community in the 1920s supported new and exciting social opportunities.  To serve this rapidly growing population, the Jacksonville Public Library opened the Wilder Park Library at the intersection of 3rd & Lee Streets in 1927.  

Three years later, the descendants of Charles B. Wilder donated thirty acres surrounding the library to be used as a recreational area for Jacksonville’s African American community.

Accessible via the Davis Street streetcar line, Wilder Park was the largest public park in the city for African Americans.  It included a track, a baseball diamond, a diamond ball field and the branch library.  The playground accommodated several thousand spectators at football games, and within a decade of its opening, the Wilder Park branch library had grown to contain "one of the highest volumes of circulations" of any of the city's libraries. These amenities were joined by the opening of the Wilder Park Community Center in 1938.

Located at the intersection of 3rd & Mt. Herman Streets, the community center provided a number of recreational and social activities for Sugar Hill, including Saturday night dances sponsored by the "Mummies Club."  


Wilder Park was located just north of Kings Road and west of Davis Street.


The Wilder Park Branch Library.


The entrance of the Wilder Park Branch Library.


A 1939 aerial highlighting the location of Wilder Park.


A 1939 aerial highlighting the location of Wilder Park.


Discriminatory Destruction


Wilder Park was replaced by what would become I-95 in 1958.

Jacksonville's grand public space for the African American community would be short lived.  Established by the Florida Legislature in 1955, the Jacksonville Expressway Authority found a new use for Wilder Park and the vibrant community surrounding it.  That use would be to serve as the belly for a new expressway that would facilitate Northside automobile movement between the Trout and St. Johns Rivers. Enamored by the discriminatory practices of Robert Moses, this superhighway would also serve as a dividing line between the highly minority populated Northwest Jacksonville, downtown, and the majority white (during Jim Crow era) neighborhoods north of downtown.  Jacksonville Historic Commission records indicate that the Wilder Park Community Center was demolished to make way for what would become Interstate 95 in 1958.

The completion of Interstate 95 in 1960 put a concrete barrier between the library and neighborhoods to the west, where a major community park had existed since 1930.  In 1965, the severed Wilder Park Library branch closed and was replaced by the Myrtle Avenue Branch, which still exists today.  The old building housing this proud public institution was demolished in 1972 in preparation of the failed Hogans Creek Urban Renewal Area Project.  Today, not much is left of this grand public space or the community that surrounded it.


Looking at the present day location of Wilder Park.


Sources:

Organizing Black America: An Encyclopedia of African American Associations, page 251

Jacksonville Public Library: http://jpl.coj.net/lib/timeline.html

Jacksonville Expressway Authority: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacksonville_Expressway_Authority

Jacksonville Historic Commission


Article by Ennis Davis.








15 Comments

ricker

October 04, 2011, 03:45:57 AM
Sad.

north miami

October 04, 2011, 06:09:29 AM

Now what?......

billy

October 04, 2011, 06:53:32 AM
Good article, sad to see the original layout of Confederate/Klutho Park as well.

Noone

October 04, 2011, 07:13:28 AM
Great history lesson. Ricker, Glad your still around. Lets kayak under the TU and we'll wine and dine on Exchange Club Island. Wait a minute..........Wine and dine on Exchange Club Island that will be NM.......(Nice Menu) Can't wait to Make It Happen.

North Miami and ricker, Dist 14 the Marina Mile and FIND projects being identified out of 14 city council districts all a council member has to do is ask.

As to the Hogans Creek reference councilman Gaffney where are you? Its a slam dunk for Dist.7.

Moving forward who on the Jacksonville city council will provide the help so that we can all access, promote, preserve, and celebrate our St. Johns River our American Heritage River   

thelakelander

October 04, 2011, 08:58:10 AM

Now what?......

There is a method to my madness.  There's an entire section of urban Jacksonville whose history is virtually unknown and ignored in this city.  Articles highlighting historic and cultural elements like Wilder Park, Edward Waters College, Jax Beer, The Innes Automobile, Moncrief Springs, and the Jacksonville Red Caps are only the tip of the iceberg.  The more we expose the Northside's rich history the better the chance the masses will understand its important role in the revitalization of our urban core.

Wacca Pilatka

October 04, 2011, 09:03:42 AM
Great work, Ennis.

Doctor_K

October 04, 2011, 09:47:33 AM
Great work, Ennis.
+1 and concur.

Is there a place (other than this site, of course), like physically, where stuff like this could be compiled and put on display for ALL to see??

Like a MOSH exhibit?

thelakelander

October 04, 2011, 10:02:18 AM
Someone would have to fund the prints, boards, etc. but it could easily go up as a temporary exhibit in a place like the public library, MOCA Jax, Cummer, MOSH, City Hall or the visitor's information center.

urbaknight

October 04, 2011, 01:15:43 PM
I think since the urban core was destroyed by racism, The city should make a grand apology to it's people by reversing the last fifty years of DT demolition.

Timkin

October 04, 2011, 11:01:25 PM
I agree  Urbaknight... But the City could not begin to afford to , presently.

Interesting article.  it would be interesting as well to see all the amazing Architecture that was razed to make way for I-95/ I-10.    Nauseating would probably be an understatement.

The more I read about what has been destroyed , the more I wish part of the Annie Lytle School , should it ever by the grace of god, be spared and restored,  would be made into a museum to exhibit such documents.   It would be a shining example of a neighborhood , destroyed for the most part , to make way for the expressway.

Noone

October 05, 2011, 04:01:56 AM

Now what?......

There is a method to my madness.  There's an entire section of urban Jacksonville whose history is virtually unknown and ignored in this city.  Articles highlighting historic and cultural elements like Wilder Park, Edward Waters College, Jax Beer, The Innes Automobile, Moncrief Springs, and the Jacksonville Red Caps are only the tip of the iceberg.  The more we expose the Northside's rich history the better the chance the masses will understand its important role in the revitalization of our urban core.

Noone

October 05, 2011, 04:11:55 AM
In your continuing research show the vibrancy if any of the Waterways in the surrounding communities and any role that they played. FIND projects are now being identified. I stopped by a project that was done with FIND when Denise Lee was on the council previously. Maybe she will be the one that will do it again.

To find the FIND current projects call 630-1377 and ask for Don Redman, Chair of Waterways. Jacksonville Waterways Commission meeting in 7 days. In a city of almost 1 million if one person just asks they just may be heard.

thelakelander

October 05, 2011, 06:51:42 AM
Quote
In your continuing research show the vibrancy if any of the Waterways in the surrounding communities and any role that they played.

We have a ton already.  Here are a few: 

http://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2011-may-southbank-riverwalk-plan-unveiled

http://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2010-oct-downtown-jacksonville-from-the-st-johns-river

http://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2009-jun-the-ruins-of-jacksonville-hogans-creek

http://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2011-jun-the-hogans-creek-master-plan

http://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2010-oct-exposing-hogans-creek

http://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2010-sep-downtowns-best-kept-secret-mccoys-creek

http://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2011-jun-remembering-the-east-bay-street-district

http://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2011-jul-exploring-downtowns-commodore-point

http://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2009-jan-urban-parks-northbank-riverwalk

http://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2009-oct-the-steamships-of-jacksonville

http://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2010-sep-urban-parks-exchange-club-island

http://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2010-nov-a-vision-for-the-shipyards

http://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2009-nov-lost-jacksonville-the-jacksonville-shipyards

http://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2007-sep-exploring-the-trout-river-waterfront

Landlocked Wilder Park really doesn't apply.  Imo, try targeting something like the Shipyards, Hogans Creek Master Plan, Southbank Riverwalk Master Plan for FIND. 

Noone

October 17, 2011, 06:47:35 AM
Quote
In your continuing research show the vibrancy if any of the Waterways in the surrounding communities and any role that they played.

We have a ton already.  Here are a few: 

http://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2011-may-southbank-riverwalk-plan-unveiled

http://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2010-oct-downtown-jacksonville-from-the-st-johns-river

http://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2009-jun-the-ruins-of-jacksonville-hogans-creek

http://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2011-jun-the-hogans-creek-master-plan

http://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2010-oct-exposing-hogans-creek

http://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2010-sep-downtowns-best-kept-secret-mccoys-creek

http://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2011-jun-remembering-the-east-bay-street-district

http://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2011-jul-exploring-downtowns-commodore-point

http://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2009-jan-urban-parks-northbank-riverwalk

http://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2009-oct-the-steamships-of-jacksonville

http://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2010-sep-urban-parks-exchange-club-island

http://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2010-nov-a-vision-for-the-shipyards

http://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2009-nov-lost-jacksonville-the-jacksonville-shipyards

http://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2007-sep-exploring-the-trout-river-waterfront

Landlocked Wilder Park really doesn't apply.  Imo, try targeting something like the Shipyards, Hogans Creek Master Plan, Southbank Riverwalk Master Plan for FIND. 

Lake,
Thanks for all the links and you just capture it for everyone with this. So why isn't legislation forthcoming?
Because the Public Trust is just being destroyed when it comes to economic opportunity to the Waterways. And its criminal.

Landlocked Wilder Park really doesn't apply.
Waterlocked St. Johns River really doesn't apply.

 

thelakelander

October 17, 2011, 06:49:20 AM
See what you can did up, put it in article format and we'll run it on the front page as a guest editorial.
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