Lost Jacksonville: The Jacksonville Shipyards

November 3, 2009 42 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Formerly referred to as the epicenter of the "Billion Dollar Mile", the shipyards has become known as a place of dead urban development dreams. Before it was a vacant waterfont parcel, the site was the home of one of Jacksonville's largest companies for more than a century.

Merrill-Stevens/Jacksonville Shipyards Site Timeline:

1850s - Jacob Brock opens Jacksonville's first shipyard off Bay Street.

1877 - Shipyard sold to Alonzo Stevens after Brock's death.

1887 - Stevens joins James Eugene and Alexander Merrill to form Merrill-Stevens Engineering Company.

1901 - The Great Fire of 1901 destroys the shipyard.

1902 - 1914 - Site used to build barges used in the construction of the Panama Canal.

Jacob Brock's shipyard off Bay Street

From left to right: A. Stevens, James Eugene and Alexander Merrill

Inside the machine shop of Brock's shipyard in the 1800s.

Merrill-Stevens Engineering Company in 1895.

Shortly before the Great Fire of 1901.

An image taken in 1903.

1906 - Shipyard is rebuilt and includes the largest dry dock between Newport News and New Orleans.  The company is renamed Merrill-Stevens Co.

1918 - Merrill-Stevens employs 1,500.  A description of the Bay Street shipyard from the United States shipping board emergency fleet corporation hearings in 1918.

The Merrill-Stevens Company now have two yards.  The old yard is in Jacksonville proper, right on Bay Street, that is where they repair ships.  They have a floating dock that lifts 4,500 tons; they have a marine railway; and they have three very ingenious electric hoists, the biggest of which could lift 270 tons.

In that yard they were also building a number of small ships, the biggest one being for the Gulf & Southern Co., a very complete ship, all steel.  They build barges and ferryboats.
United States shipping board emergency fleet corporation: Hearings

1916 - Shipyards renamed Merrill-Stevens Dry Dock & Repair Company after WWI.

1950s - Shipyards sold to Aerojet and Merrill-Stevens relocates to Miami, where they still are in operation today.

1960 - W.R. Lovett purchases the shipyard and it becomes known as Rawls Brothers Shipyard.

1960 - At the time of Lovett's purchase, the shipyards employs 700.

1963 - W.R. Lovett renames the company the Jacksonville Shipyards, Inc. (JSI).

James Eugene and Alexander Merrill and wives.

1968 - The 23,000 ton SS Constitution is overhauled at JSI becoming the largest passenger ship, at the time, to ever visit Jacksonville. 26 feet had to be removed from the ship's mast to fit it under the Matthews and Hart Bridges at low tide.

1969 - Fruehauf Corporation purchases JSI.

1973 - JSI employees 2,500 workers.

1977 - JSI is Jacksonville's largest civilian employer.

1980s - The shipyards begin to lose money for a string of consecutive years.

1989 - Winsconsin based Terex Corporation acquires Fruehauf.  Terex, a road construction equipment manufacturer, announces that it will attempt to sell JSI.  If there are no buyers, the shipyards will be closed.

1990 - Terex closes the shipyards, laying off 800 workers.

1990 - Terex reopens the shipyards after secret negotiations with the worker's union.

1991 - The Jacksonville Shipyards (JSI) employs 525 people.

1991 - Terex sells JSI's large dry docks for $28.8 million to Bahrain's Arab Shipbuilding & Repair Yard Company. Used to lift large ships out of water, the dry docks were the shipyard's primary revenue earners.

1992 - Without the dry docks, JSI closes for good putting 200 employees out of work.

A waterside view of one of the dry docks Terex let go.

1994 - The Satulah Group submits a proposal to turn the shipyards into a marine park and marketplace.

1995 - Jacksonville Riverfront Development Inc. purchases the shipyards.  The corporation is a partnership between the Satulah Group and San Francisco developer John Hanan.

Late 1990s - Shipyards buildings converted into the River City Music Sheds, a place for concerts and special events.

1999 - Trilegacy Group, LLC. purchases shipyards site with the intention to build warehousing facilities.

2001 - After being convinced by Mayor John Delaney, Trilegacy plan changes to a major mixed-used development that will include 662 residential units, 100,000 square feet of retail, 1 million square feet of office space, a 350-unit hotel, a 150-slip marina and a 16.8 acre park at buildout.  The remaining shipyards industrial buildings, known as the River City Music Sheds, are demolished in anticipation for this development.

2005 - After Trilegacy fiasco, LandMar takes over shipyards with plans for a massive mixed-use development.

2009 - Ripped to shreads by the economy, LandMar files for bankruptcy and the city proceeds to foreclose on the site.

LandMar Shipyards project renderings

Looking towards the shipyards site today.

The Shipyards site in July 2008.

2009 - Mayor John Peyton announces his intention to decide on a plan for the site's future before he leaves office in 2011.

Source: Jacksonville Public Library Special Collections Department vertical files

Images by the State of Florida Archives

Article by Ennis Davis