Moncrief Springs: French Crown Jewels of Jacksonville

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What follows is one of the most colorful and incredible legends of Jacksonville's surprising past. In an article written by Bob Mann on September 23, 2008, in the same manner that it was told to him, southern storyteller style. The student of history will notice glaringly unhistorical libels and inaccuracies, and the tale is not meant to accurately relate the details of the well documented history since it is the story of a missing and literally fabulous treasure that is believed to have been buried here in Jacksonville.



Had the infamous Jethro Bodine had as much as one drop of any monarchs precious fluids, it could easily have been identified as that of Louie XVI. For here in one exalted throne, was a misguided fool seen as fat, shy, gentle, weak minded, gluttonous, unambitious and not particularly smart in general. Not only did the bumbling Louie make just about every mistake that could be asked, he compounded his comedy of errors by bribing an Austrian Prince into giving him the hand of Marie Antoinette, in marriage. She being blinded by beauty and privilege,

These mistakes lead to the French Revolution and even the beheading of King Louie. Throughout Louie’s rein one mistake stands out more than any other. The biggest mistake Louie made was when he bribed the Austrian's  for the  hand of princess Marie Antoinette at the age of fifteen . Because of Antoinette and Louie’s passion for her France underwent a horrible time period. She is the worst queen France has ever seen.  led to Louie’s death and the uprising of the French people.


French Revolution roaring onward on August 10, 1792.

 

  The bribe to get Marie’s hand in marriage was one of the first mistakes that Louie had faced. Louie showered Marie with jewelry and hundreds of dresses. Marie got exactly what she asked for every time she asked for it. This had a horrible affect on the economy in France. All of this buying of dresses and gemstone and red diamond jewelry for the queen was depleting the French money. She was said to have dresses of gold. Some dresses even were covered in diamonds. Marie had a huge amount of dresses all different and all extravagant. There is little doubt that Marie was one of the most well dressed queens in France’s history. Not only did she need dresses, she wanted many other exotic things. She demanded parties for her and her friends and even made a small scale model of Paris . With all of this it is obvious that Marie was a big problem when it comes to the French money. Another way that Marie loved to give away the French money was when some radicals from America came. These radicals asked Louie for some aid in the American Revolution. The money borrowed by these radicals was promised to be paid back. Marie thought this idea was a great investment and urged Louie to fund these radicals. Well the radicals won and France saw no money for their help. France was in a great depression. France was bankrupt. On top of this was a drought in France making the cost of living skyrocket but the wages of the people stayed the same. This is a cause of the people of France to get increasingly mad at the leaders.

 The French people were outraged. Here they are, thousands of peasants that work as hard as they can and struggle to live, then a drought comes, the living wages rise and now their kids are starving. While all of these is going on, the queen is picking out her next dress.

  So this weak minded king knowing the country was running low on money gave the queen everything she asked for without question.  Marie was very promiscuous. She was often seen with many other men and had a lot of affairs. So not only was she a terrible queen she was a horrible wife as well. One of these affairs got her in a lot of trouble in the world famous diamond necklace affair.

 

The Mayors, Moncrief House - Hotel, with the springs right outside the door in 1875/6.

  The diamond necklace affair was a con against the queen. The queen actually had no involvement in this con but the blame was put to her and this was a huge reason that the French people started to hate this Austrian lady. The con started with a con-woman named Jeanne DE St Remy DE Valois. What this woman did was con a Cardinal named Louis DE Rohan. It was said that Marie did not favor Rohan very much because Rohan talked poorly about the queen to her mother. Well Rohan wanted Marie to like him because Rohan wanted to be the Prime Minister. Valois, who was aware of this, thought up a naughty little trick to get herself some cash. The con went pretty well. What Valois did was she made Rohan believe that Marie was actually in love with him. She told Rohan that she speaks for the queen and that the queen really enjoyed him and started a fake affair between the two. Rohan decided that he wanted a secret meeting with the queen herself. Valois went and got a dress similar to that of the queen’s and actually pretended to be the queen. The “queen” convinced Rohan to purchase a necklace for her and she was going to repay the Cardinal. The Cardinal went to the jewelers and told them that the queen wanted this necklace and if they gave it to him he would repay them with the queen’s money. The jewelers gave the necklace to the Cardinal and he took it to Valois. It was said that Valois took the necklace to London and sold it. A theory on why Valois made this con was to get money to get a higher social class. After a while the jewelers went to the queen in order to receive these payments for the necklace and the queen told them that she never ordered the necklace. The queen investigated and the Cardinal and some others were arrested and Valois seemed to get away with this con. This all may not have been Marie’s fault but the whole incident did not help Marie’s popularity. Gossip swept the country with stories of Marie and her affairs with other men and the people got even more furious with Marie as their queen. Also as a result of this Louie was to become aware of his wife’s secret life drawing him closer to her.

  This lady was terrible to France. She would spend and spend and would give nothing back. The logical thing for this queen to do would be to stop spending. If she stopped spending money and buying her dresses and jewelry then the country would not lose as much money. This was the exact intent of Louie’s financial adviser Turgot. “yes, I have made up my mind: M. Turgot she have finance.” This was a quote from the king himself. It is obvious that Turgot was an important man in the King’s life. I know that you are determined and upright and that I could not make a better choice” stated the king to Turgot. Turgot used his common sense to help the financial depression that France was in. Turgot basically tried to tax landowners and put a stop to the queen’s spending. The reforms that Turgot proposed where not popular with most people. Turgot’s plans where not popular to important people in France. They did not want to pay taxes. Marie did not like Turgot. He wanted to put a stop to her spending. So the king dismissed Turgot.

  Marie's ignorance for the French people was shown many times throughout her rein. When the revolution was getting ready and everyone was as mad as they could be Marie made another stupid mistake. She decided that the people of France needed to just see her. She thought a glimpse of her would be enough to calm the people down. So what she did was rode in her carriage through the streets of Paris waving at the people in her nice little gown. This to the people was just a slap in the face and just made the people increasingly mad at her.

  Meanwhile, a French born pawn broker, Eugene Moncrief, was making the best of a bad situation as blood flowed ever more liberally form the public executions. Setting up business in a convenient location, on the Loire River in LaVendee, France, allowed the royalty or well connected, to slip into Moncrief's little shop and pawn the family jewels. Thousands of panicked Frenchmen, found their way to this commoners little business until the pawnbroker himself was no longer such a commoner. As a man of some great means, he began to attract the wrong kind of attention from the revolutionaries. Soon they were searching for Moncrief's head, and the missing "crown jewels" of France.


Moncrief House shortly after the resort opened on a shell road, far out in the country.
 
  Marie was Austrian born. Her family ruled Austria. When the revolution got bad and the fear for Marie’s life increased Austria wanted her back. The French people on October 16, 1793 the revolutionaries put Marie Antoinette to death by guillotine . This really made Austria mad at France making them a enemy to France.

By the time Marie and Louie's heads were collected in the basket, Eugene Moncrief, crossed over the bar in the St. Johns River, aboard the galley Esperance. The sailors recalled Eugene was nervously protecting his 5 little chests of material wealth, as the ship weighed anchor and slid out to sea. Wooden chests or trunks were so common in those days as to not draw any undue attention, something that wouldn't have been the case had the rough-n-tumble seafarers known the crown jewels of France, were aboard that vessel. Moncrief must have sensed it coming, as he escaped on April 19, 1793, almost 6 months to the day, before the executions of his primary customers.

Early photo of the Moncrief Park Band in Jacksonville

But for Moncrief, the future site of Jacksonville wouldn't be the panacea he had hoped for. Within a short time, he had hiked up the trails leading NW of today's urban core. Far out in the woods, he came to a little hill, and just over the hill, amid the giant old growth hardwood forests, was a perfect spring. A bottomless sump in the ground about 20 feet in diameter that boiled forth with the most wonderful waters, the clarity and sweetness of which Moncrief had never before seen. He built his camp there next to the Spring that would take his family name. He was one of the first European settlers in this remote corner of Florida. 

 

 
He was soon acquainted with the local native tribes and had fallen in love with a beautiful shapely Indian maiden named Sun Flower. Moncrief described her in his Protestant manner, using the "Song of Solomon" as his apparent outline. He went on that she danced in a most erotic manner and wore tortoise shell bracelet's and anklets that rattled and kept time to her music. Moncrief, was so smitten, that he went into the Spring and soon emerged with one of his small chests. He opened it for his bride and Sun Flower plunged in with both hands to touch all of the beautiful colorful stones and gold pieces. After some time she chose a couple of pieces to adorn her own neck and as night fell, she headed back down the trail to her own home. Eugene couldn't have known the jealous rage that awaited at the end of that trail, as a native warrior named Gun Powder*, set his sights on Moncrief's head.

(*Note: Several variations of this name may be correct, such as Gold Power, Great Power, Great Powder, Good etc...)

Within a month, it was all over, Sun Flower and Gun Powder had married and Eugene Moncrief's scalp was hanging at the front door. Just a short time later, a storm would catch both of Sun Flower and Gun powder out in the wide stretches of the Trout River, where they both died at the hand of God.

Moncrief House Hotel and Resort about mid 1880's.



The Modern Take:

In 1874, the Moncrief legend was reignited by an heir of Moncrief who came calling to reclaim his birthright.  This triggered a hunt for the locations of the Spring that involved Peter Jones, the New York born Mayor of Greater Jacksonville.  After a few misadventures, he claimed that the spring had been rediscovered in 1874, and he had it purchased and tested in 1875.


  The mayor of Jacksonville couldn't hide his enthusiasm. "Not 20 men in all of Duval County have heard of it or seen it." With this purchase, I intend for the city to reap the benefits. A shell toll road will extend from the City to the spring, I shall have a toll gate, both houses, restaurant, nine pin bowling alley, horse racing track, baseball grounds. When  the resort opened 3 months later, a baseball game between Garden City Baseball Club and the Lee's of Moncrief Springs, tied up every hoof and wheel in the city. traffic moved at a snails pace as a solid wall of buggies and ox carts lined the road. Where there had once been some old rotting timbers around the spring, now, an 8' foot high and 20 foot around wall stood in place, with a solid sheet of sparkling - crystal pure water poured over the sides.

By 1911 the state of Florida made the horse track illegal, even so, a streetcar line was extended to the location. After the new law, the resort began to fade away, the pool cracked, and the picnic pavilion started to sag. In 1943, paratroopers in military training at Camp Blanding made practice jumps over the city at the springs. They used the old 8 acre clearing as a target landing area. One of the thirsty soldiers made his way down to "a spring" where he saw something sparkle in the water. Digging down, he uncovered a rotten crate with bottles of homemade liqueur in it. While the shine didn't prove the jewels exist, it did prove things in wooden boxes have been stashed in the spring for many, many years.

During the 1940's, the site became the home of a public pool for minorities.

In 1945,  Eartha White of the Clara White Mission bought the land to create a museum of "Negro History" and recreational area. Nothing much seems to have ever come of the efforts, or if they did, it is now long forgotten. Oddly, the spring itself is lost to the State, City and environmentalist. Some claim the state buried it under the widened Moncrief Road, and they joked that "THEY" didn't find any jewels. Yet the older USGS maps show a spring run between Moncrief Road and Moncrief Creek trestle, along the railroad track. There is certainly a hill, and certainly a wet seep, but no magical spring apparent. Some maps place it clearly on the SE corner of Moncrief Road and the Creek Crossing, but covered by new channel and berms. Again, there are a couple of other "possible" wet spots, or geographic possibilities within a short walk, most of it within the land of the original White Mission.

The strangest feeling of all, is one realizes that this beautiful old neighborhood, with it's share of closed public housing projects, mixed with manicured lawns, gardens and bungalows is a land of contrasts. Poor economics, racial struggles, and the exodus of the American dollar. Drug deals gone bad, or world famous breweries gone out of business, here and there in the grass or in the mud, the sparkle of a broken Jax Beer bottle , one of the more colorful and credible tales of Jacksonville's past leaps from the pages of history. 

 

Acres of diamonds awaiting rediscovery, The dramatic birthing enterprise of a new City, sealed in blood. Moncrief's 4 missing chests of treasure were never recovered, and never seen again, their ownership seems to be a curse to anyone that claims them. Even the mission failed to build the utopia promised. So maybe the true treasure isn't in the indescribable wealth of the gold and stones. Maybe the real treasure is sitting back on the property and listening to the creek wash over the sand and gravel in the creek bed. A flowing treasure of pure water, the breeze blows the late summer leaves, generous patches of shade shelter an impromptu picnic. For all of the blood, and money that has changed hands in this story, the sounds of God at work are priceless.





 The Hope Diamond


The history of the stone, which was eventually named the Hope diamond, began when the French merchant traveler Jean Baptiste Tavernier purchased a 112 3/16-carat diamond. This diamond, which was most likely from the Kollur mine in Golconda, India.  Tavernier sold the diamond to King Louis XIV of France in 1668 with 14 other large diamonds and several smaller ones.

King Louis XV, in 1749, had the stone reset by court jeweler Andre Jacquemin, in a piece of ceremonial jewelry for the Order of the Golden Fleece (Toison D'Or). In 1791, after an attempt by Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette to flee France, the jewels of the French Royal Treasury were turned over to the government. During a week-long looting of the crown jewels in September of 1792, the French Blue diamond was stolen.  This type of stone illustrates what may still lie beneath our feet in Jacksonville.

 

The Legend of Moncrief Springs



Article by Robert Mann on September 23, 2008