Walkable Commercial Districts: Edgewood Village

May 25, 2012 28 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

While much of the focus in our city is on downtown revitalization, Jacksonville's urban core and inner-ring suburbs are home to a number of long-overlooked, historic, walkable commercial districts. In our effort to promote better use of existing assets in our communities - which will facilitate sustainable growth and subsequently increase the city's tax base - Metro Jacksonville highlight's Edgewood Village (Murray Hill's First Block).

About Murray Hill & Edgewood Village

Murray Hill Heights development signage. Image courtesy of Murray Hill Preservation Association.

Named after a neighborhood in Manhattan, Murray Hill (Heights) is a 1907 replat of the northern section of the Edgewood subdivision, which was platted in the 1880's.  Many of the streets in the area, such as Cassat Avenue and Challen Avenue, are named after investors in the Edgewood Company that platted Edgewood in the 1880’s.

Edgewood Subdivision Trustees

William M. Nelson

Charles C. Mclean (Ingleside)

William J. Harkisheimer (Hamilton)

Elizabeth J. French

Edmund Day

Massillon Cassett

William B. Owen

Then known as Murray Hill Avenue, Edgewood Avenue was designed to be a boulevard with a wide landscaped median, similar to Springfield's Main Street, which featured a streetcar line in the median.  

Florida Military Academy. Image courtesy of Murray Hill Preservation Association.

In 1913, the Florida Military Academy was constructed two blocks north of where Edgewood Village would rise.  In 1914, streetcar service was extended to Edgewood Avenue, connecting the Florida Military Academy with the City of Jacksonville.  A year later the first commercial building in the First Block would rise.  

The First Block. Image courtesy of Murray Hill Preservation Association.

In 1916, Murray Hill was incorporated as its own town with Hugh Lauder serving as its first mayor. Many early residents in the area were railroad workers who built homes in Murray Hill due of its close proximity to the Seaboard Shops in Lackawanna.  Like the communities surrounding it, Edgewood Village would rapidly develop over the next decade, serving as a commercial district for both Murray Hill and Telfair Stockton's deed restricted 4.5 block wide Avondale subdivision which abutted the district to the south. Edgewood Village's commercial counterpart, Shoppes of Avondale, would develop during the same time period, simultaneously with the growing residential districts surrounding it.

In this early photo, a semi-convertable streetcar with 'Union Depot' on the destination curtain is bound for the Myrtle Avenue loop, a portion of the Murray Hill Heights car line. Semi Convertible cars were introduced by the J. G.  Brill Car Company in 1903 and were popular in the southeast for their removable windshields that easily converted the ends of the car into open platforms for balmy summer operations. Image courtesy of Florida State Archives.

The August 3, 1923, Sunday edition of the Florida Times-Union (pp 20) devoted 3/4 of the page under the headline, "Electric Car Line Building to Big Academy," 'Myrtle Avenue Extension is Being Pushed Out Banana and Myra Streets," "Track Laying is Lively," and "Grading Gangs Pushing Work to Complete Job By October 1 - A Big Developer for Section."

The work was pushed south from the south end of Myrtle Avenue turning west on (Date Street) Forest to (Banana Street) Dellwood (largely under the Big I Interchange today) to Margaret Street where it jogged to Myra, to (Barrs Street) Stockton Street to College. On College the line crossed the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad tracks then ran along the west side of the railroad to Edgewood Avenue.

The first photo that accompanied the article in the Times-Union track gangs on Dellwood between Gilmore and Margaret. There are a couple of stately homes visible at the corner, a corner that is today exactly under the middle of the I-95 ramps. There was a short delay at the corner owing to City Engineering and the Jacksonville Traction Company trying to resolve a utility relocation conflict. As a result the track gangs were sent further south and they continued to push the railhead another 1/2 mile out. Just as every streetcar suburb before it, the newspaper boldly and correctly surmised that,"It is anticipated that the entire community will settle up rapidly."

With yet another reason given for the rapid sales and settlement, the newspaper reported that, "Murray Hill Heights is rapidly becoming a residential suburb. The Jacksonville Development Company Officials state that they have sold nearly $200,000 worth of building lots in this subdivision since last March., when the work of development began. There are now several miles of paved streets lined with shade trees and the company has a splendid artesian well from which it proposes to lay water mains to supply the homes of all who purchase lots from the company. The plans for development also include a modern sewer system. An immense septic tank will be used, similar to the one in New Springfield, which takes care of all the sewage of that suburb. New houses have been built and others are in course of construction, and the company announces that it will build twenty bungalows of attractive design during the next few months."

While the commercial district's residential neighbor, Avondale was being marketed by Stockton, the Town of Murray Hill was officially annexed to the City of Jacksonville in 1925.  Nevertheless, rapid growth in the area would continue with houses being built at a rate of one every two days in Murray Hill in 1928.

Rapid growth spurred by the electric railway dictated changes to the Traction Company's scheduling in this section of the city. The newspaper reported that, "Riverside and Murray Hill service will be increased. All Riverside cars will run to Talbot Avenue in Avondale, maintaining a six minute headway. Murray Hill cars will observe a seven and a half minute schedule to the railroad crossing on College street. A fifteen minute headway will be run to the end of the line." And of course the end of this line was in what we call 'Edgewood Village' in 'Murray Hill' today. More specifically the line ended with a double track platform station in the median of Edgewood between Mayflower and Colby Street.

Edgewood Theater image courtesy of Florida State Archives.

By the 1930's, Edgewood Avenue was known as the "Avenue of Progress", featuring a large number of specialty shops and four grocery stores.  One of the last structures built in Edgewood Village, now referred to as the First Block, was the Edgewood movie theater, which opened in 1947.  This structure is now the campus of Jones College.  Edgewood's peak years were between the late 1950's and mid 1970's.  In 1975, the academy building was demolished to make way for the Florida Christian Home development.

The First Block Today

Today, the First Block remains as a vestige to an era when it bloomed as a transit oriented development at the terminus of the Murray Hill Heights streetcar line.  If commuter rail returns to the CSX A-Line, one of Jacksonville's original commercial transit oriented developments will again be linked with fixed mass transit and the economic vitality it brings.

Former Murray Hill streetcar line ran parallel to Plymouth Street.

Sleiman Enterprises' Edgewood Avenue Square dates back to 1917.  Leverett's Ice Cream, Brinson's Cycle Shop, and Murray Hill Shoe Repair were tenants in 1940.

Completed in 1926, 1170 Edgewood was originally the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, now better known as A&P.

The two-story structure in the center of the image was completed in 1919.  Tillman Dry Cleaners occupied the ground level in 1940.

Residences along Mayflower Street behind 1171 Edgewood Avenue.

1171 Edgewood Avenue was completed in 1933.

This building was the location of Wood's Edgewood Pharmacy and Ruth Sapp's Luncheonette for many years.  Completed in 1915, it was the location of Piggly Wiggly during the Great Depression.

Edgewood Village (The First Block) is located on Jacksonville's Westside along Edgewood Avenue, just west of the Roosevelt Boulevard interchange.

Article by Ennis Davis
and Robert Mann

Sources: http://murrayhillneighbors.com/wp/?page_id=43