The Streetcars of Florida's First Coast - New MJ Book!

November 1, 2014 8 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

The Streetcars of Florida's First Coast, Autographed copies of Metro Jacksonville's third book, published by Charleston, SC-based History Press, are now available online. Order yours now!

Order your autographed copy now!

Priced at $19.99 each.

In the late 1800s, a new method to power streetcars ushered Florida's First Coast cities into the modern era. Earlier travelers moved around town on hay burners, but after the very first electric-powered trolley cruised up Jacksonville's Main Street in 1893, railways cropped up throughout the region. When the new railroad terminal opened in 1919, it handled millions of passengers, becoming the hub of the streetcar system and the largest railroad station in the South. With almost sixty miles of track, the Jacksonville Traction Company was the largest streetcar system in Florida. Award-winning Metro Jacksonville author and historian Robert W. Mann chronicles the story behind Florida's bygone streetcar epoch and the dramatic history of city builders, financiers, organized labor, civil rights, fire, fever, nabobs and railway men.

Foreward by Glorious J. Johnson, Jacksonville City Councilwoman, 2003-2011

Looking West on Bay Street in front of the Jacksonville Union Terminal Station

Robert “Bob” Mann is one of the most impressive people I know when it comes to streetcars, trains and mass transportation. I have had the honor and pleasure to know this fantastic man who cares so much about making transportation better for the people to go to work, play, worship and travel. Bob gives an excellent historical perspective in Streetcars of Florida’s First Coast that includes many of the challenges faced by the early developers of the region and serves as a chronicler of historical events.

The story is much more than a tale of rail vehicles and nostalgia; it gives us a historical record of the development of our neighborhoods, cities and region. The reader will find many familiar, even famous, names ranging from Henry M. Flagler and St. Elmo Acosta to General Motors president and CEO, Alfred P. Sloan and Roger Rabbit. In this book that is packed with intrigue, the reader will discover that one of the greatest systems of mobility ever devised did not die a natural death—it was murdered. Unscrupulous corporate dealings and heavyhanded micromanagement at the municipal level, hints of outright political corruption, FBI transcripts, indictments and convictions finish the tale.

An award-winning author, Robert’s affectionate treatment of the streetcar systems is not one of a living organism, rather, it is as the arteries of mobility on which the living city is built. Robert builds a strong case for the success of streetcars as a development or redevelopment tool and explains why the same results cannot be had with modern buses.

Drawing on his broad experience in virtually every form of transportation and a personal library that could fill a streetcar barn, he leaves us with some important questions and offers some expert advice on how to recover what we have lost.

Robert is the father of contemporary efforts to rebuild street railways in Jacksonville and Northeast Florida, a fact that will surprise no one who reads his book. His presentation goes beyond a simple history lesson, and what he leaves us with may well be a manual to guide our urban future.

—Glorious J. Johnson
Jacksonville City Councilwoman, 2003–2011

Main Street in Springfield: 'The Most Beautiful Streetcar Line In The World'

Table of Contents

Foreword, by Glorious J. Johnson

Part I: Jacksonville

1. You’re Darn Tootin’
2. Their Purple Moment
3. The Devil’s Brother
4. Another Fine Mess
5. The Battle of the Century
6. The Stolen Jools
7. Hollywood Party
8. Men O’ War
9. On the Loose
10. Nothing but Trouble
11. One Good Turn
12. Call of the Cuckoo
13. Leave ’em Laughing

Part II: St. Augustine

14. Perfect Day
15. Unaccustomed As We Are

Part III: Fernandina Beach

16. Going Bye-Bye!

Part IV: Palatka

17. The Finishing Touch

Part V: Green Cove Springs

18. Big Business

About the Author

Preface: A word from the Author, Robert W. Mann

Looking West on Forsyth from Main Street

I have had the honor to meet many of the great men of the old Jacksonville and other area traction companies. Studying history at various colleges and universities, including Jones College locally and Oklahoma State University, I’ve made many important friendships that have pushed this work along. Perhaps transportation is in my blood—I’ve worked for Piedmont and Continental Airlines, owned an Amtrak Express cartage company and served as a supervisor for Tamiami Trailways Bus System and the United States Postal Service. Finally, I began to work on transportation projects; a trip to my wife’s native Republic of Colombia and her excellent connections put me face to face and later shoulder to shoulder with the inspector general of the national railroads.

In 1980, I was given the opportunity to address the Jacksonville Downtown Development Authority and present a plan for a reconstruction of a two and a half–mile vintage streetcar. The DDA quickly adopted the concept as a project, and immediately we ran headlong into, as Lincoln said, “combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, or by the powers vested in the marshals by law.” Reasoning that the downtown people mover was a free government gift and that the streetcars could derail that plan, the streetcar barn was leveled, and the five remaining streetcars around the city were reduced to sawdust. In the end, I was left jobless. A well-placed friend within the city visited at our home one evening in 1984 and said, “Bob, if you ever want to work again, get out of Jacksonville.”

I no longer need them nor do I need employment. I do not seek revenge for any past wrongs, but for my beloved streetcars, I’m seeking a reckoning.

Having grown up in Ortega and Ortega Hills, this story excites my sensibilities of both what might have been and what could be. Be it the corruption and graft of 1932 or the treacherousness of the 1980s, this is a story that needs to be told.

Reserve your autographed copy now!

Priced at $19.99 each.

Other Metro Jacksonville Books

Reclaiming Jacksonville

Cohen Brothers The Big Store