Located outside of Jacksonville until the city's consolidation with Duval County, this Southside neighborhood is home to many residences dating back to the 19th century.
A Brief History of Empire Point
Spanish land grant map illustrating the location of Reuben Hogans' property. This land eventually became known as Empire Point.
Empire Point was originally a part of 385-acre Spanish land grant to Reuben Hogans in 1808. Hogans' land stretched along the southbank of the St. Johns River between Millers Creek and the Arlington River (called Pottsburg Creek before the Civil War). Across the river, a 605-acre land grant given to his son, John Hogans, eventually became today's downtown Jacksonville.
By the 1820s, Reuben Hogans' property was in the ownership of Francis Richard and after his death, it was acquired by John Sammis. Soon Sammis sold off portions the property for three sawmills known as the Highlands, Clifton and Empire Mills. All were destroyed by fire during the Civil War, with only the Empire being rebuilt.
The Marabanong mansion in 1876. Image courtesy of Bigelowsociety.com at http://bigelowsociety.com/rod2000/marabong.jpg
In 1870, Thomas Basnett, a noted astronomer from England, purchased an antebellum estate originally constructed Thomas Perley. When "Perley Place" burned to the ground, Basnett built his Marabanong mansion in 1876. Florida's first circular steam sawmill, the Empire, stood just east of the Marabanong. Dating back to 1850, the mill was located at the mouth of Pottsburg Creek. By the time Basnett purchased his Empire Point estate, the area had become a popular location for settlers from the Northeast. In 1876, the Empire mill property was sold to Alexander S. Diven, a general in the Union Army and New York Congressman. Diven established an orange grove on the property that remained until 1952. Soon ferry boats were providing transportation between Empire Point and Jacksonville.
Alexander Samuel Diven (February 10, 1809 – June 11, 1896) was an American politician from New York and an officer in the Union Army during the American Civil War. Image courtesy of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Alexander_Samuel_Diven.jpg
To the west of the Marabanong and Empire Mill, the area where the Clifton Mills once stood was acquired by Asa Packer. Packer was the founder of Lehigh Univesity and the Lehigh Valley Railroad (now Conrail). Packer envisioned utilizing the land as a hunting preserve. However, shortly after the purchase he died and the estate was eventually conveyed to his daughter, Mary Packer. Mary named the 30-acre estate "Keystone" after her native Pennsylvania. Mary and her husband, Charles H. Cummings, developed the property a winter getaway and citrus growing operation. When Mrs. Cummings passed in 1912, the property was willed to the St. Johns Episcopal Parish to be used as a children's home. The children's home operated until 1953.
The 1950's ushered in permanent change for Empire Point. By this time, most of the rural properties in Empire Point had been acquired by the grandson of Major Joseph H. Durkee. Like Diven, Durkee was a Union Army officer who settled on the southside of the St. Johns River in the late 19th century. In 1909, his son, Dr. Jay Durkee acquired Diven's Empire Point residence. Involved in real estate, Dr. Durkee developed several subdivisions in the area, including the neighborhood of Durkeeville near downtown. In 1952, Dr. Durkee's sons, Joseph and Brewster, developed most of their acquired property into a subdivision named after the area where the family home was located, "Empire Point." In 1966, in the possession of the St. Johns Episcopal Parish, Mary Cummings' adjacent Keystone property became the new Episcopal High School. One year later, the Hart Bridge opened, providing a direct vehicular connection between Empire Point and downtown Jacksonville.
Pennsylvania industrialist Asa Packer purchased the Keystone estate in 1881. Image courtesy of Wikipedia at http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3b/Asa_Packer.jpg