Lost Jacksonville: McCoys Creek

November 27, 2012 16 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Today, McCoys Creek is a contaminated afterthought waterway known more for flooding North Riverside residents and businesses. 82 years ago, along with Hogans Creek, it was Jacksonville's answer to the City Beautiful Movement of the early 20th century. Join Metro Jacksonville, as we share the story of Joseph E. Craig's McCoys Creek Improvement project.

The E.O. Fertilizer Company was one of many industries located near the present day Acosta Bridge and McCoys Creek culvert. The fertilzer company was owned by Edward Okle Painter, a New York born agriculturalist.  E.O. Painter also operated The Florida Agriculturalist printing company which started in Jacksonville but is now in Deleon Springs, FL and still in operaton. Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/53025

By the time the McCoys Creek Improvement Project was completed on September 11, 1930, $610,000 had been spent by the City of Jacksonville to bulkhead the creek, construct seven bridges, and park. In addition, the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad contributed $50,000 for a new concrete railroad bridge crossing the new channel and McCoys Creek Boulevard.

"The creek whose waters once made myriad lakes and stagnant pools is harnessed into a channel and the channel takes its cargo of water to the St. Johns River.

Cleared away now are the swamps where once mosquitoes were hatched to swarm out at night in search of human blood.  Now there is a beautiful lake and many acres of wonderful park land available for the city."
Source: Wild M'Coys Creek Is Put Into Channel, Jacksonville Journal, 9/11/30

This image taken shortly after the improvement project shows a McCoys Creek bordered by little vegetation in Brooklyn.

McCoys Creek through Brooklyn in 1946. Courtesy of State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/33832

A wide McCoys Creek can be seen separating the Dennis Street warehouse district from North Riverside in 1950.

The Impact of Neglect

Like Klutho's Hogans Creek project, this grand greenway was not meant to last.  Time would quickly prove that the great dreams and deeds of Jacksonville's political and cultural leaders of yesteryear were not reciprocated by future generations. With no continuing maintenance, McCoys Creek quickly fell victim to the industrial environment it stimulated and was meant to support. While the creek is approximately 3.48 miles long, its 5.34 square mile drainage area was arguably home to the highest concentration of heavy industrial facilities within Duval County. Stretching as far south as Murray Hill and north to Grand Crossings, run off from large factories and railyards such as Tropical Glass & Box Company, the Jacksonville Terminal Company, and West Jax yards drained into the channelized creek years before the creation of United States Environmental Protection Agency (1970) and the Clean Water Act (1972).

This Sanborn map highlights the location of Draper's chicken processing plant in relation to the McCoys Creek Improvement Project.  Also illustrated is the location of the original mendering McCoys Creek.

If that wasn't bad enough, major pollution occurred from industries lining the creek in North Riverside, where neighbor children used to swim in the once untamed creek. For years, North Riverside residents complained about animal blood running off into the creek from the adjacent Draper's Egg & Poultry Company's chicken processing plant on McCoys Creek Boulevard. This now defunct company gained a lot of attention when in 1978, as a part of his workdays program, Governor Bob Graham spent a full day cutting the hearts and livers out of chickens at Drapers. A few blocks east, stood the Jones-Chambliss meat packing plant, whose waste flowed into the creek.  To top it off, the City of Jacksonville operated a municipal solid waste incinerator on the banks of the creek from the 1940s until the 1960s. Being fouled by an incinerator, meat packers, poultry processors, and other industrial polluters have turned this public amenity into one of the dirtiest waterways in Duval County. Furthermore, 82 years of poor maintenance, bulkhead failures, downed trees, trash, and heavy silting have made the channel difficult to navigate, according to its original design.  

Westbrook Creek, feeding McCoys Creek at Hollybrook Park.  Hollybrook Park separates North Riverside from Lackawanna. The City acquired the park’s north three-quarters from the developer in 1922, and the south quarter from four different parties between 1922-52. The Hollybrook neighborhood, developed in 1921 and 1926, surrounds much of the park. It remained a large passive park until the period 1975-79, when a softball field, tennis courts, barbecue grills, and benches were added. The park winds in a north-south direction, following Westbrook Creek in the upper part before it joins McCoys Creek in the lower portion.

Recently installed playground equipment in Hollybrook Park just north of the Leland Street Bridge.

McCoys Creek Boulevard originally connected Hollybrook Park with Myrtle Avenue.  The boulevard was a part of McCoys Park, which was a result of 29 acres of original creek bed and wetlands being filled.  Similar to a century ago, this area is notoriously known for severe flooding.

In 2007, this 1,330' long multiuse path was constructed within the McCoys Creek Greenway (originially McCoys Park) as a part of the McCoys Creek pond project.  If the mobility plan and fee structure is allowed to operate, the fee will generate funds necessary to make the McCoys Creek Greenway a part of a trail network that would connect downtown Jacksonville with the Baldwin Trail.  As apart of the pond project, two large ponds in the vicinity of King Street were constructed to help alleviate flooding in the area.  A third pond is proposed on former Linde Company property on Stockton Street. Linde manufactured Liquid oxygen and acetylene acid gas dating back to the 1930s.

The King Street Bridge.

The now closed Smith Street Bridge once connected McCoys Creek Boulevard with Heywood Dowling Drive, at the steps of what was the old Technical High School.  Smith Street, north of McCoys Creek was removed and replaced with this pond (below) in 2007.

The former Technical High School.  For many years, this area was home to a "lover's lane."

Looking at Corbett Street from Stockton Street in 1954.  The bulkhead of naviagable McCoys Creek is clearly visible to the right.  Liberty Marine Services now occupies the buildings in the image.
Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/167539

The Stockton Street Bridge.

The remains of what was once a large reservoir for flood waters and basin for barges and boats just east of Stockton Street.

Over the last decade, a failed bulkhead and continuous flooding has resulted in the stretch of the greenway between Osceola and Copeland Streets reverting back into wetlands.

After eight decades of neglect and silting, Joseph E. Craig's vision of an inland waterway for barges and sport boating can still be seen from the Cash Building Materials bridge.

Cash Building Materials is one of the largest companies still operating in the Dennis Street Warehouse District.

Jones-Chambliss Meat Packing Company on Forest Street in 1949.  This slaughterhouse opened one block south of McCoys Creek in 1937. In 1966, the company expanded its complex with the construction and opening of Henry's Hickory House, a meat and bacon slicing plant, on the opposite side of railroad.  In 1988, the Goedert family sold the entire meat processing complex to William "Billy" Morris. Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/52878

In 2001, the business produced 600,000 pounds of bacon week or more than 31 million pounds annually. Today, Henry's Hickory House is Florida's largest bacon producer. However, the original slaugtherhouse and cattle pens that drained into McCoys Creek are gone.  Instead, Henry's buys the pork bellies, then does the rest of the process at the North Riverside facility.

The company also has a plant in Georgia that produces Bubba Burgers, the official hamburger of the Jacksonville Jaguars.  In early 2012, William "Billy" Morris purchased another Jacksonville landmark company, Peterbrooke Chocolatier.

The site of the former Forest Street Incinerator.
The former Forest Street incinerator site occupies approximately 10.5 acres in an area of mixed residential and industrial land use, approximately one mile west of Jacksonville's central business district. The City of Jacksonville operated the Forest Street municipal incinerator from the 1940s until the 1960s. Although some of the ash waste was taken to other dump sites for disposal, a considerable amount was apparently deposited at and near the incinerator location. The former incinerator area is now enclosed by a chain link fence to prevent access. The site also includes adjoining land used or potentially affected by waste handling or ash disposal activities, including the present location of the Forest Park Head Start School on the west portion of the site and a city park facility in the south portion of the site.

The Atlantic Coast Line Railroad spent $50,000 in 1930 to construct this concrete bridge over McCoys Creek and McCoys Creek Boulevard.  Today, the structure is still used by CSX.

The Myrtle Avenue Bridge.

Lee Street Viaduct with Prime Osborn Convention Center in background.

Failing bulkhead in the vicinity of Riverside Avenue.

Inside the 800' long Riverside Avenue culvert.

Despite the cleanup challenges ahead, a visit to the creek enables one to visualize the vision of Jacksonville residents eight decades ago and hope for the future.

Source: Wild M'Coys Creek Is Put Into Channel, Jacksonville Journal, 9/11/30

Article by Ennis Davis

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