Remembering The East Bay Street District

June 13, 2011 15 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

In the first half of the 20th century, the area that is known as East Bay Street today, was almost wholly industrial- and maritime- related. With the railroad and wharves paralleling a block south, along the riverfront, many firms took advantage of Bay Street's easy access to the St. Johns River. The most important industry during this era was shipbuilding and repair. With the rise of free trade, deindustrialization, and a movement to clean up the downtown waterfront, many industries began to leave the area in the mid-20th century. Although a number of historic warehouses, factories and wharves were left and available for other uses, the majority have been demolished in the later half of the 20th century. With the push to cluster entertainment uses in this section of downtown and the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission's (JEDC) desire to brand the corridor "The E-Town zone," Metro Jacksonville takes a look into the district's past.

East Bay Street During The 1920s

During the Summer of 1969, the following editorial by Malcolm Johnson was printed in the Tallahassee Democrat. Mr. Johnson grew up in Jacksonville before moving to Tallahassee in 1937. Forty-two years later, it offers us an incredible glimpse into the character of our downtown entertainment district's past.

The ferry slip at the foot of Main Street was an entryway to a clean breathe of fresh air on the Southside, but first you had to clear the fetid stench of fish and floating oil from the shoreline flushed with the sewage of a thriving city.

That odor was stronger as you went eastward on the waterfront past the Red Star market where, for a nickel, you could get a couple of cold wieners to munch out behind where Negroes caught catfish from a rickety dock.

Nearby was Martin's seed and feed store, with puppies always in the window, and a stock of merchandise that put a country boy in mind of the prairie far away.  Seeds smell the same everywhere.

There was the National Lunch, all white and clean, and through the open door drifted the savory fragrance of the specialty - a big bowl of beef stew, 20 cents.

More fish and oil fumes arose through the shanty warehouse (Trenary Fish Company) at the foot of Newnan Street where we used to pick up our quotas of Saturday Evening Post to peddle, and farther along at the dock where the polished fireboat - the John C. Calhoun - was berthed near the venerable Three Friends on which Napoleon B. Broward rode to the governorship with intrepid running of guns for the Cuban revolution.

To the big, cleaner docks of the Clyde Line, merchants, miners and P&O passenger ships then, where few cargoes overpowered the rank emanation from stevedores slapping cards down incessantly in a mystifying game of "skin" played atop a stack of cross-ties.

There, if the wind blew from the land, though, the air would be filled with the aroma of roasting coffee at the Maxwell House plant a few blocks north (and it's still there).

Full "Sniffing Along The Jacksonville Waterfront" article:

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