Lost Jacksonville: Gibbs Corporation Shipyards

March 12, 2013 10 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Formerly referred to as the epicenter of the "Billion Dollar Mile", the shipyards has become known as a place of dead urban development dreams. Before it was a vacant waterfont parcel, the site was the home of one of Jacksonville's largest companies for more than a century.

Ships under construction at Gibbs Gas Engine Company shipyard in 1918. Courtesy of State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/142069

The story of Gibbs dates back to 1908 when the company was founded by a 20s something Georgia Tech graduate named George Williams Gibbs. A pioneer Jacksonville shipbuilder, Gibbs created an engine that used half the fuel of other engines of the day and began building ship hulls on reclaimed swamp he acquired along the Southbank riverfront at the present day site of the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

By World War I, the shipyard had grown to become a major employer building 16 Sub Chasers for the U.S. Navy.

In 1924, Gibbs took over the struggling Florida Ferry Company and made it a profitable business operating between the Northbank's Main Street and the Southbank. During the 1930s, he championed for the construction of a second river bridge, leading to the construction of the Main Street Bridge in 1941 and ceasing of his ferry operation. By this time, the shipyard had increased in size, virtually occupying the riverfront from the Main Street Bridge to the former Florida East Coast terminal yards and freight houses (present day Wyndham Hotel).

Cargo ship "F.C. Randall" being christened at Gibbs Shipyard on October 1, 1946. Courtesy of State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/66725

Aerial view overlooking the Gibbs Corporation shipyard on September 3, 1947. Courtesy of State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/166955

During World War II, the Gibbs shipyard built Minesweepers, Covered Lighters, Sub Chasers and tugs for the US Navy and barges and Sea Skiffs for the US Army. In 1942, sultry Paramount actress Veronica Lake visited the shipyard to christen the USS Lone Wolf, calling it the thrill of her lifetime. The 1950s saw the construction of the Jacksonville Expressway system. Railyards leading to the Gibbs shipyard would leave a lasting impression on this highway network in the form of Interstate 95's Overland Bridge.

Several of Suzanna Saunders' models in a speedboat at Gibbs Shipyard in 1946. Courtesy of State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/65844

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