Exposing Hogans Creek

October 5, 2010 217 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville paddles up another underutilized and forgotten urban core waterway: Hogans Creek.

Hogans Creek

This historic aerial highlights the location of Hogans Creek between downtown (top of image) and East Jacksonville, now known as the Sports District (bottom of image) in 1941.

Hogans Creek forms downtown's north and east borders as it stretches from the St. Johns River to the Shands Jacksonville medical center.  Once known as Jacksonville's "Grand canale," the creek is named after John and David Hogans.  In 1823, the Spanish government validated John Hogan's claim to the Springfield area, which was then known as "Hogans' Donation."  The 225-acre Spanish land grant to Daniel Hogans makes up the neighborhoods of Fairfield and East Jacksonville.

The creek also served as the eastern border of the ancient Timucua city, Ossachite.  Ossachite thrived about 1,000 years ago, but survived until about 300 years ago.

Image at http://www.floridastateparks.org/history/img/park/FAD-rc05354.jpg

The Timucua's grand city was bordered by two clear streams.  These rivulets are certainly not clear today, and they're now known as Hogans Creek and McCoy's Creek.  Hogan's Creek splits downtown Jax from Springfield & the Eastside, while McCoy's Creek flows west to east at the southern edge of LaVilla, next to the Prime Osborn Convention Center.  Hundreds of years ago, high-ranking Timucua built their homes along the south bank of Hogans Creek and the north bank of McCoy's Creek.

Ossachite must have been as busy as a beehive.  Living in the city were many craftsmen.  These included potters, painters, wood carvers, shell workers, and copper artisans.  They traded with other Indians who lived as far away as the Great Lakes.  

Ossachite also contained numerous storehouses, as well as dwellings for religious workers and a large burial mound.  Topped with buildings, the mound was accessed by an earthen ramp 200 yards long.  The city's most prominent structure was the council house, used for community meetings.  So large that it was constructed with whole tree trunks, the oval-shaped structure could seat hundreds.
Source: http://www.jaxhistory.com/Jacksonville Story/Timucua, Ossachite.htm

Great Fire of 1901

109 years ago, this long forgotten creek played an important role during the city's greatest disaster.

Jacksonville's Great Fire of 1901 was the largest metropolitan fire in the American South. The fire began on May 3, 1901 with a spark from a cook stove at lunchtime which ignited piles of Spanish moss drying for a mattress factory. Located at Davis and Beaver streets, the factory fire spread to most of the downtown area. By 8:30 when the fire was brought under control, 2,368 buildings were destroyed, 10,000 people were homeless and seven residents were dead. The city spent the next decade rebuilding its downtown.

Residents heading towards Hogans Creek as the City of Jacksonville burns in 1901.

In the aftermath of this tragedy, there were a few points of consolation.  Miraculously, only seven people died.  The fire was slowed on the north and east by the marshy area along Hogans Creek, thus sparing the surrounding suburbs of East Jacksonville, Fairfield, Oakland, and Springfield.
Source: Jacksonville's Architectural Heritage, page 27-28.

Jacksonville Shipyards

Before the Jacksonville Shipyards expanded along the waterfront, the mouth of Hogans Creek was the location of the Merchants & Miners Transportation Company's terminal and steamship line.

Known as the "Queen of Sea", the Merchants and Miners Transportation Company Steamship Line operated one of the finest fleets of passenger steamers on the Atlantic Coast and ranked foremost as one of America's top tourist routes. It was said to be the only line plying between Baltimore, Savannah and Jacksonville.

This historic aerial illustrates the former working waterfront at the mouth of Hogans Creek.  The Merchants and Miners Transportation Company's terminal (warehouses with dark roofs) is directly west (left) of the mouth.  The Merrill-Stevens Drydock & Repair Company's shipyards were located immediately west of the Merchants and Miners Transportation Company.  The St. Johns River Shipbuilding Company sat on the east side of the mouth of Hogans Creek. This short lived shipyard employed 20,000 Jacksonville citizens in 1944, who produced Liberty ships bound for Europe and the Pacific.

St. John's River Shipbuilding was an emergency yard, with 6 ways in the fifth wave of shipbuilding expansion, with $17mm invested by the USMC.   It was built by an established small shipbuilder and repairer, Merrill-Stevens, which had been in operation in Jacksonville since 1866 and is still in operation today, although now it is located in Miami.  After the war, the shipyard became a repair yard: it closed in the 1980s and the site has been redeveloped.

This old viaduct, just south of Bay Street, once carried the Seaboard Coastline Railroad to the company's lumber docks and the Milldale Ice Company's ice plant, both of which eventually became the eastern half of the Shipyards property.


The new Bay Street bridge over Hogans Creek was completed in 2008.  The $3 million project had two purposes: to widen the bridge to five lanes and widen Hogans Creek to help alleviate flooding in downtown.

Maxwell House Coffee Plant

Roasting one million pounds of coffee a day, the Maxwell House Coffee plant anchors the mouth of Hogans Creek and is one of the last remaining industrial facilities in what was once a working waterfront.

In 1910, the Cheek-Neal Coffee Company opened at this site because it was adjacent to where coffee used to be loaded onto ships on Bay Street.  Including payroll, taxes, utilities, and purchases of goods and services, the plant is estimated to have an annual economic impact of $30 million on the city.

Now a part of Maxwell House's property, this trailer storage area was once the site of the M. Corse Wood & Lumberyard.  This company took advantage of Hogans Creek by bringing barges up the waterway to ship their products (see historic Adams Street viaduct postcard below).

The Commodore Point Expressway connects downtown Jacksonville with the Hart Bridge, completely bypassing the Sports District and the former East Jacksonville community below.

The Adams Street bridge was opened in 2004 to provide another route for moving traffic during Super Bowl XXXIX.  While the portable metal bridge was borrowed from the state Department of Transportation at no cost, it cost $360,000 to build the short two-lane road that extends from the bridge to Adams Street.  The City of Jacksonville plans to keep the portable bridge in place until it can round up money to build a permanent bridge at an estimated cost of $1 million.

It is a far cry from the original Adams Street Viaduct, which once carried a streetcar line over Hogans Creek to connect Jacksonville with the communities of East Jacksonville, Fairfield and Oakland.

St. Luke's Hospital

Dedicated in 1878, the old St. Luke's Hospital was Jacksonville's first hospital and one of the few buildings that survived the Great Fire of 1901.

“The only reasons the hospital wasn’t destroyed is because it was on the other side of Hogans Creek away from the town and there was a brigade of brave citizens who were able to stop the march of the fire,” said Emily Lisska, executive director of the Jacksonville Historical Society.

Today, there are plans to convert the former hospital and the adjacent former Florida Casket Company factory and warehouse (completed in 1882) into a history museum and archive facility for the Jacksonville Historical Society.

The hospital will become a museum and education center while the warehouse will be renovated and then used for storage of the JHS archives and as a research facility in partnership with the Southern Genealogist’s Exchange Society.

“It will be a center for Jacksonville’s history,” said JHS President Jerry Spinks, who is leading the fundraising effort. “We feel it’s important to maintain all of the city’s history in one place and we’ll also be able to educate people about what to preserve and how to preserve it if they don’t want to donate their historical items to us.”

While she admitted it’s “only a guess,” Lisska estimated there are currently more than 1 million items in the JHS collection including documents, photographs and other historically significant collectibles. Much of the collection is at Jacksonville University with the rest in storage at several locations.

The new Duval Street viaduct was constructed during the 1990s.  During this time, land just west of the creek was found to be contaminated with arsenic, lead and petroleum-related laced soil.  This is not suprising considering the area was once the site of a St. Johns River Terminal's railyard with a junkyard, the former Independent Ice & Fuel Company and the Eagle Laundry plant operating nearby.

The old F&J line and railyard can be seen on the left side of this historic aerial.

The History: The Fernandina and Jacksonville Railroad

The original trunk line of Florida the Florida Railway, ran from Fernandina Beach to Cedar Key, by way of Yulee, Baldwin, Gainesville. The second company was the Florida Central and Western, from Jacksonville to Quincy, via Baldwin, Lake City, Madison, and Tallahassee. Baldwin was the sole, and major railroad junction for all Florida freight. The Tallahassee leaders held on to an archaic law that required interstate freight to cross into Florida via ship! The railroads were banned from building over the line. When the Civil War demonstrated the weakness in the system, the Confederate government build a connection to Dupont, Georgia. As Fernandina was in Union hands, the material for the connection came from the Yulee - Baldwin segment of the railroad. After the war, Jacksonville, quickly became the "CITY". Fernandina and Jacksonville residents clamored for a connection and the Fernandina and Jacksonville Railroad was constructed from Yulee to Bay Street in downtown Jax. This route became part of the Seaboard Air Line Railroad when they bought out all of the above properties. The Seaboard Mainline extended from Richmond to Yulee, and the F&J provided the critical link.

The old Atlantic Coast Line Railroad and the Union Terminal Warehouse in 1949.

The second line was the former Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, which came out of Springfield Yard. This was once the 1890's Jacksonville Southwestern Railroad.  It was built by major lumber interests and ran from the port in Springfield to Grand Crossing, Baldwin, Lake Butler, to Newberry.  As they were bought out by the powerful ACL, more branchlines were extended into port areas where many mills and shipping interests were.  Thus we ended up with two railroads running from Springfield to Bay Street. Not too many years ago, the old Coast line still crossed Bay, ran through JSI, across the front of Metropolitan Park and into the terminals under the Hart bridge. This allowed the railroad to switch the industry's from either the Maxwell House or the Talleyrand direction.

The former Union Terminal Company warehouse (in the background), at 648 East Union Street, was built along the former Fernandina & Jacksonville railroad line in 1913.  The Union Terminal Company took advantage of a site that was sandwiched between two competing rail lines and adjacent to Hogans Creek by offering tenants access to all three.  During the building's early years, tenants included the Florida School Book Depository, AM Grocery Company, Loose-Wiles Biscuit Company, Virginia Paper Company, Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company and a restaurant called the Union Terminal Lunch Room.  In 2007, the property was purchased by Union Station East, LLC. for $4.21 million.  Currently home to several small businesses, this historic structure could potentially be demolished for the future Matthews Bridge replacement project, giving its proximity to the expressway.  Directly adjacent to Hogans Creek, this property and surrounding Eastside community would greatly benefit from a long delayed plan to better utilize this forgotten waterway.

Adjacent to the Arlington Expressway

Although the Arlington Expressway is nearby, the section of Hogans Creek between Duval and Washington Streets offers a sense of tranquility.

Although this rarely seen and forgotten navigable section of Hogans Creek ends at Washington Street, the pending reconstruction of the Matthews Bridge brings an opportunity to better connect this area with the well known channelized section of the creek that separates downtown from Springfield.  

To tour and learn more about this area of Hogans Creek: The Ruins of Jacksonville: Hogans Creek

Article and photographs by Ennis Davis