Urban Parks: Waterworks Park

May 4, 2009 19 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Today, only remnants remain of a public space that was once home to Jacksonville's largest tourist attraction.

Waterworks Park Timeline

1878 - 5.5 acres of low lying land was purchased for $3,300 by the City to establish a waterworks facility.

1884 - Wells were sunk in Waterworks Park to provide the city with an ample supply of fresh water.

1888 - The Sub-Tropical Exposition is built to lure tourist to Florida. Exhibits include a Seminole Indian camp, displays of Florida products, an art gallery, two artificial lakes, and a zoo.

1889 - President Grover Cleveland visits the Sub-Tropical Exposition for the second time.

1889 - Jacksonville's tourism industry begins to decline and the city battles a yellow fever epidemic.

1890 - A 32-inch copper steam whistle, named Big Jim, blows for the first time.

1897 - Sup-Tropical Exposition building is torn down to make way for a new water reservoir.

1898 - The 40 acre Springfield Park is deeded to the city by the Springfield Development Company. Springfield Park stretches from 10th to Laura Streets.

1904 - "Old Joe", Waterworks Park's resident 10-foot alligator is said to have died.

Jacksonville history ripe with tales of roaming reptiles
The Florida Times-Union - Sunday, July 27, 1997
Author: Bill Foley, Times-Union columnist

Alligator sightings around Jacksonville are increasing these days as natural gator ground gives way to development. Saurian life is seeping into golf courses, retention ponds and other venues deemed suitable. Legally protected from being turned into shoes and wallets, the reptiles are multiplying Southwide. Thousands are thought to lurk in our midst, red eyes glowing in the dark.

Old Joe hardly lurked. Half a century or more Old Joe wallowed in benign sovereignty in the heart of the city. No visit to Jacksonville was complete without seeing Old Joe, the town alligator, and hearing Big Jim, the town whistle.

Once, for reasons never made entirely clear, Old Joe hauled tail from his proscribed haunts in Waterworks Park and rambled amok through the town, causing mild concern but certainly no panic once the citizens realized the 10-foot gator loose on the city streets was merely Old Joe out for a romp.

Four men from the city light plant took a wagon, a rope and a dog and caught up with Old Joe in Hogans Creek near the Union Street bridge.

"The capture of Old Joe was accomplished only after shrewd tactics with the dog as bait," The Florida Times-Union reported May 22, 1903. "Despite the fact that Old Joe has become somewhat tame as the result of his long captivity and kind treatment in Waterworks Park, he was inclined to resent the unfair methods used to entice him out of his place of refuge."

The newspaper reported that Old Joe was delighted once restored to the park, near what is now First and Hogan Street. He swam around the pond created for him and devoured a copious meal, of what the newspaper did not say.

Source: Jacksonville Public Library online archives

1907 - Waterworks facility expanded to house an 8,000,000-gallon pump.

1915 - The current Waterworks Pumphouse and Electrical Substation is completed.

1929 - Hogans Creek Improvement Project completed.

1967 - JEA is established as the result of city/county consolidation.

1999 - JEA announces plans to convert the Waterworks Building into a museum.

Construction to begin on JEA facility
The Florida Times-Union - Wednesday, November 14, 2001
Author: Karen Brune Mathis, Times-Union senior business writer

Construction should start next month on much of the almost $13 million JEA Waterworks laboratory, museum and visitors center in Springfield for completion by fall 2003.

JEA plans to renovate the century-old waterworks plant at 1002 N. Main St. into the JEA Waterworks Museum and Visitors Center and the JEA Springfield Lab. Part of the plant opened in 1880, and another structure, which will be renovated, was built in 1896.

JEA spokesman Bruce Dugan said yesterday that the project comprises four elements:

-- Interior construction, equipment and furnishings for a $4.7 million laboratory to test the water quality of power, water and sewer plants in the JEA system. The lab will consolidate five existing water labs around the city.

-- A $2.6 million project to restore the 1896-built structure into the water lab and a museum and to make some site improvements, including a new roof.

-- A $3 million package of improvements that includes restoration of an antique steam-powered water pump with a wheel about 14 feet in diameter, demolition of the unstable 1880-built structure and construction of the visitors center.

-- And $2.5 million in site and facility improvements, including exhibit design and construction and a water sculpture plaza.

source: Jacksonville Public Library online archives - The Florida Times-Union

Waterworks Park Today

Photos by Ennis Davis