Exploring Downtown's Commodore Point

July 28, 2011 18 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Commodore Point is the last remaining section of downtown Jacksonville where the maritime industry that built this city still flourishes.

About Commodore Point

Sawmill workers in 1897.


1. (Military) Brit a naval rank junior to rear admiral and senior to captain
2. (Transport / Nautical Terms) the senior captain of a shipping line
3. (Transport / Nautical Terms) the officer in command of a convoy of merchant ships
4. (Transport / Nautical Terms) the senior flag office of a yacht or boat club

[probably from Dutch commandeur, from French, from Old French commander to command]

A house on the Kalem Company's studio complex.

Commodore Point was a part of a 225-acre Spanish land grant to Daniel Hogans that was sold several times prior to 1850, when it was subdivided by John Brantley and Mrs. George Houston.  Sawmills were soon built along the riverfront, the first by Alexander & Hardie, followed by T.V. Cashen, Eppinger & Russell. John O'Neil, Dexter Hunter, and Henry Clark.  In 1882, the area became a part of the City of Fairfield.  The City would only be in existance for five years with it being annexed into Jacksonville in 1887.  Fairfield's name came from it being the site of Florida's first state fair in 1876.  The fairgrounds were the site of the only world's championship prize fight ever held in Jacksonville.  On January 25, 1894, heavyweight champion James J. Corbett knocked out Charles Mitchell in the third round to retain his title.

In 1908, the Kalem Company opened in a former boardinghouse at the foot of Clarkson Street, becoming the city's first motion-picture studio.  Today, this site is occupied by the former Ford Motor Company Assembly Plant.  The assembly plant was constructed in 1924 and designed by famed Detroit Architect Albert Kahn.  At its height of operations, it employed 800 people and produced 200 Model-Ts a day.

Over time, Commodore Point's riverfront would increasingly become dominanted by maritime related industries as the original sawmills faded into history.
Source: Jacksonville's Architectural Heritage

A motion picture advertisement by the Kalem Company in 1910.

A sawmill on the St. Johns River in 1915.

Steamboats docked at Commodore Point in 1939.

Steamboats docked at Commodore Point in 1939.

A Commodore Point warehouse filled with diesel engines in 1942.

Inside a new Commodore Point warehouse in 1943.  Today, this structure is occupied by North Florida Shipyards.

Looking over Commodore Point with downtown in the background in 1948. Union Carbon dioxide's plant can be seen in the center of the image (small buildings with smoke stacks).

Inside the Ford Motor Company assembly plant in 1948.

An aerial of Commodore Point in 1951.

An aerial of Commodore Point in 1953.

Overlooking Commodore Point in 1953.

An aerial view of the Gator Bowl Stadium over Adams Street (looking east) during the 1954 game between Auburn University and Baylor University.

Aerial view of the John E. Mathews bridge in 1953.

Commodore Point Today

The Mathews Bridge spans the St. Johns River, forming Commodore Point's north border. Constructed in 1953, the bridge brings traffic along the Arlington Expressway between downtown Jacksonville and the Arlington neighborhood. It was named after John E. Mathews, a Florida state legislator and Chief Justice of the 1955 Florida Supreme Court, who helped gather funding for the bridge's construction.

The old Ford Motor Company assembly plant sits just north of the Mathews Bridge.

Water Recovery, LLC (WRI) is a centralized waste water treatment facility and used oil processor located on Albert Street.

East Church Street's Russ-Doe's Sandwich Shop is the home of the Russ Doe's Special, seasoned ground beef served in a fresh pita with a variety of condiments and toppings.

Looking east down East Church Street.

The Tidewater Transit Company.
Our company moves dry and liquid materials in bulk. We service many industries by providing safe, dependable, and efficient transportation for a variety of products. Our tanker fleet of over 800 trailers moves everything from sulfuric acid to plastic pellets. Most of the materials (hazardous and non-hazardous) we haul go directly to manufacturing facilities that make everything from lipstick to 2 liter plastic bottles. The products we transport are contained in tanks that are specially designed to handle these materials safely. TWT also operates and owns rail sites located on both the Norfolk Southern and the CSX railways (including the Aberdeen and Rockfish short line). We are constantly looking to expand and furnish our customers with the transportation support they need to stay competitive. Our terminals are located close to the customer plant sites and in many cases we operate as their "private fleet" offering dedicated service.

Established in 1917, Brennan Rental Equipment markets themselves as Jacksonville's premier source of construction and industrial maintenance rental equipment.

Sims, Waters & Associates, Inc. is a freight traffic management company that was established in 1986.

Ann's Sandwich Shop on Talleyrand Avenue.

Founded in 1897 in Allentown, PA, the Lehigh Cement Company operates this 1963-era cement import terminal where East Beaver Street meets the river.  Four 10-inch pipelines extend from the Commodores Point Terminal wharf to six concrete, bulk- cement storage tanks with a total capacity of 31,950 tons.

This building housing Commodore Point Properties was built in 1915.

Adams Street Station.

Everbank Field tailgate lots.

Petroleum Fuel & Terminal Company's East Adams Street facilities date back to 1934. Apex Oil Company, PF&T's parent company, specializes in asphalt, kerosene, fuel oil, diesel fuel, heavy oil, gasoline and marine bunker sales.

Lafarge North America's cement terminal was constructed in 1962.
In the United States and Canada, Lafarge is the largest supplier of quality cement products. With more than 20 types of cement and engineered blends, Lafarge provides innovative solutions for customers who include ready-mix producers, concrete product manufacturers, contractors, masons, builders, and municipal authorities.

To access the 37,000 ton capacity cement storage silos, four 12-inch pipelines extend from the facility to the Commodores Point Terminal wharf.

This former Liquid Carbonic Carbon Dioxide Corporation chemical plant dates back to 1926.  Liquid Carbonic was the world leader in carbon dioxide when it was acquired by Praxair in 1996.  This facility ceased operations in 2005.

East Adams Street's Michael J. Lanahan Lumber Co., Inc. is one of the oldest operating lumber yards in the country, distributing lumber and building materials since 1946.
It was post war 1946 when D.J. Lanahan founded Lanahan Lumber Company.  The construction industry was at an all time high in Jacksonville, Florida and Lanahan wanted to contribute to the city he loved.  Lanahan had a simple philosophy.  Offer the best! It was and is today the Lanahan way: employ the best-trained people, offer the best product, guarantee the best service, and deliver the best quality at the best price.

The company continues its family-ownership, with CEO Michael J. Lanahan. Michael started his work at his father’s lumber yard at the age of 14.  Pulling lumber orders, driving the delivery truck and building doors in the millshop.  In 1985 he took over the operations as CEO / President of Lanahan Lumber Company.

North Florida Shipyards

North Florida Shipyards is the largest remaining maritime-related industry located in the downtown area.
North Florida Shipyards, Inc. is a privately owned, small business company that operates ship repair and conversion facilities in Mayport and Jacksonville, Florida.

North Florida Shipyards, Inc. was incorporated in the state of Florida in 1975.  It is an outgrowth of Thermal Engineering Company, incorporated in 1967 and Ind-Mar Diesel, incorporated in 1970.  Thermal Engineering and Ind-Mar Machine remain subsidiary divisions of North Florida Shipyards, Inc.

The main office and facility is located at Commodore Point. It has approximately 3600’ of bulkheaded wharf, 210,000 sq. ft. of warehouse and shops, and resides on approximately 25 acres of property. North Florida Shipyards Commodore Point facility has been in the ship repair, conversion and modernization business since inception in 1975.

Employee parking at NSF along East Adams Street.

NSF's new mobile vessel hoist under the Hart Bridge.

In 2010, NSF purchased a mobile vessel hoist, which lifts vessels out of the river and dry docks them on land for repair, with federal stimulus dollars.  This $7.6 million investment is anticipated to nearly double the shipyard's employee base over the next four years.

If you’ve driven over the Mathews or Hart bridges, you’ve likely spotted ships anchored at the company’s 3600 feet of bulkhead wharf where they are undergoing repairs. Now, with the addition of a mobile vessel hoist, the company plans to expand, lifting vessels out of the river and dry-docking them in the shadows of the bridge’s ramps.

The $7.6 million project will upgrade North Florida Shipyards’ downtown facilities, nearly doubling the company’s employee base over the next four years, adding 246 employees to its current 320. The average annual salary of the company's employees is about $40,000.
August 2010 is the target date for the installation of the hoist, as well as a new basin that will allow for the lifting and launching of ships weighing up to 600 metric tons on the St. Johns River.

The Isaiah David Hart Bridge is a truss bridge that spans the St. Johns River in Jacksonville, Florida. It is named after Isaiah Hart, the founder of Jacksonville. It was designed by Sverdrup & Parcel.
The bridge has traditionally been painted green and is often referred to as "The Green Monster" by locals. The westbound end of the bridge delivers drivers to downtown Jacksonville or Martin Luther King Expressway, while the eastbound end sends motorists to Beach Boulevard. Daily traffic is 47,000 vehicles. The stretch of highway between downtown and Beach Blvd. is known as the Commodore Point Expressway, but more commonly referred to by locals as the Hart Bridge Expressway.

The truss is either a cantilever or a continuous truss bridge, as it has been reported by different sources as each kind. Jackson Durkee listed the bridge as a cantilever truss in his 1999 report on longest spans. Alexander Svirsky publishes a copy of the National Bridge Inventory Database at NationalBridges.com, where the Florida Department of Transportation data lists the bridge as a continuous truss.

Now known as the Hart Bridge, this structure was originally called the Commodore Point Bridge and Expressway.  According to Jacksonville Journal's Jimmy Walker in 1964, "The dramatic face-lifting East Jacksonville will undergo via the new expressway system is just days away."  Mr. Walker was right.  The $40.4 million project, which was intended to connect the 20th Street Expressway, north of Everbank Field, with Beach Boulevard on the other side of the river, resulted in 21 blocks of primarily residential property would be cleared so motorist could get downtown without having to travel through the neighborhood at street level.

Manson Construction Company's Jacksonville yard on the banks of the St. Johns River.  Mason is a Seattle-based marine construction and dredging company that was established in 1905.

Commodore Point is located along the St. Johns River between the Mathews and Hart Bridges.

Historic photos courtesy of the Florida State Archives.

Article and images by Ennis Davis.