Fairfield & East Jacksonville: Photo Tour

January 13, 2007 2 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Today the area is dominated by heavy industry, major entertainment venues, parking lots and elevated expressways. However, one hundred years ago, the communities of Fairfield and East Jacksonville were two of Jacksonville's early suburbs. This photo tour is intended to give viewers a glimpse of what remains of these interesting communities.




Fairfield beginnings came in the late 1860’s when New Yorker Jacob S. Parker acquired over 150 acres along the St. Johns River. Soon, Parker helped establish the second paved road and first toll facility in Duval County through the area. A few years later in 1876, Jacksonville’s fairgrounds were established on the northernmost portion of Parker’s property, partially because he was the manager of the first Florida state fair.

The fair’s popularity focused Parker’s attention on real estate, which resulted in him naming the surrounding area "Fairfield". In 1880, the community was incorporated as a town and Parker was elected as the first mayor.


East Jacksonville

At the same time, East Jacksonville began to emerge as a residential community along with Fairfield, although an attempt in 1878 to incorporate the community had been defeated. Commercial growth would come to the community when H.B. Plant’s Jacksonville Street Railway Co. began operations connecting East Jacksonville and Fairfield with Downtown. In 1887, Jacksonville annexed East Jacksonville (pop.1, 939), Fairfield (pop.543) and Oakland (pop. 400).

Over the years, the things (roads, entertainment, industry and the fairgrounds) that help establish these communities resulted in their downfall. With over 30 of it’s blocks being leveled for the sports complex, today East Jacksonville only lives in history books. Fairfield has been morphed into Alltel Stadium grass parking lots and a foundation for several elevated expressways, turning it’s old grid layout into a maze of dead end streets, while Oakland (which will have it’s own photo tour) is now referred as the "Eastside."



The Matthews Bridge offers premium views of the Jacksonville skyline from above.




However, it helped erase and divide the once vibrant community under it.




This two-story brick building was orginally constructed as the Fairfield Public School in 1910.  In 1919, it was remodeled by local architects, Mark & Sheftall.  It became the Fairfield Correctional Institute, housing over 100 prisoners a year after the 1971 closing, due to desegregation, and now houses a Head Start program.



Believe it or not, despite the division of Fairfield from expressway construction, there's still a good collection of homes mixed in with game day parking lots.



Parker Street, just west of Alltel Stadium, runs through the heart of Fairfield.  Despite the challenges presented by the Matthews Bridge and game day lots, you can still find a number of structures along this corridor still standing from Fairfield's early years.


This Gothic-inspired structure is located at 648 Parker Street.  It was built as the Livingston Mission Methodist Episcopal Church in 1912.  Although now abandoned, it serves as a reminder of Fairfield's glory days.


The massive structure that housed the Ford Motor Company Assembly Plant lies beneath the Matthews Bridge on the riverfront.  Constructed in 1924 by famed industrial architect Albert Kahn, this factory produced 200 Model-T Fords a day and employed 800 people during it's heyday.  Today it sits awaiting a new use to take advantage of it's 800' long skylight panels.


Despite years of abandonment, the Ford plant's herringbone patterned brick detailing still stands out as a thing of beauty.  Maybe it's time for the Port Authority to revisit the idea of this structure serving as a cruise ship terminal, combined with destination oriented uses, such as a marketplace, farmer's market, aquarium or maritime related museum?


These occupied houses are located on Clarkson Street, just west of Parker Street.


The North Florida Shipyards line the river between the Hart and Matthews Bridges.  While Downtown's riverfront no longer has any industrial uses, Fairfield riverfront is dominated by heavy industry.  Although the buildings cut-off the community from the river, they also serve as an economic generator for the neighborhood and inner city.




The former community of East Jacksonville has now been replaced by the Sports District and a number of game day surface parking lots.  The community of Fairfield can be seen where the MLK Parkway, Matthews Bridge and on-ramps to the Hart Bridge meet.


Alltel Stadium is a major inner city destination that sits in a sea of city-owned asphalt.  Somebody need "Flex-Space"?  Here's an alternative solution to losing millions by relocating Kid's Kampus.  Build up on the surface lots by constructing parking garages and carve out pieces of this massive parking lot to serve as "flex" greenspace with the retention pond to the west recreated to become a water amenity.  In the very least, this solution follows the idea of increasing urban density and connecting major core destinations in a pedestrian friendly manner.


The Duval County Veteran's Memorial Wall lies in the middle of Alltel's parking lots.  By going along with the idea of using the parking lot as "flex" greenspace, the forgotten memorial would serve as one of the "flex" greenspace's permanent attractions.


The eternal flame at the Duval County Veterans Memorial Wall


The Queen Anne style James E. Merrill residence was constructed in 1886 and recently renovated by the Jacksonville Historical Society.  In 1875, Merrill started a small iron works in town that eventually grew to become the Merrill-Stevens Shipyards (Jacksonville Shipyards site), one of the largest shipbuilding companies in the South.


The Old St. Andrew's Episcopal Church was constructed in 1887.  Unlike the majority of historic buildings sitting in the middle of a redevelopment area, this towering Gothic Revival church was sparred demolition and now sits as an interesting neighbor to the new Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville. 

The new Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville has been recognized as one of the country's top minor league stadiums.  Along with Alltel and Veterans Arena, the Sports District brings thousands of visitors into the core on a regular basis.  However, the investment of constructing these facilities on the surrounding districts has been wasted because game and event day traffic is herded out of the core, like cows to a slaughterhouse.  Fixing this problem will be one of the major challenges Mayor Peyton will face in revitalizing the urban core.



Doro Fixture Company serves as a reminder of East Jacksonville's industrial years.   




The $130 million 16,000 seat Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena was funded by Delaney's Better Jacksonville Plan and opened in 2004. 



The Old St. Luke's Hospital remains forgotten at the base of the Hart Bridge expressway ramps.  This structure was completed in 1878 and played a prominent role in 1888 yellow fever epidemic, 1898 typhoid epidemic and the Great Fire of 1901.  Although the north and south wings have been demolished, the central structure remains as one of our city's oldest public buildings still standing.