Neighborhoods: Empire Point

May 1, 2013 13 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

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.

Empire Point Subdivision

The Diven/Durkee residence at Empire Point. Image courtesy of at

The 90-acre Empire Point subdivision was developed in 1952 by brothers, Joseph H. and Brewster J. Durkee.  Their father, Dr. Jay Harvey Durkee, acquired Union Army General Alexander S. Diven's estate at Empire Point in 1909. General Diven was the Army officer who conveyed the news of Lincoln's death to the War Department. Before his death in 1936, Dr. Durkee had become one of the best-known citizens and largest landowners in Duval County.

The Marabanong

The Durkee's Empire Point subdivision was constructed around their estate and the older Marabanong mansion shown above. Built in 1876 by Thomas Basnett, the name is a New Zealand Maori Indian word for "Paradise."  Basnett's wife, Eliza Wilbur, was an internationally known scientist from New York. She was the first woman to lecture science students at Harvard University. While living at the Marabanong, she invented a large astronomical telescope, which was occasionally used by neighborhood boys to spy on houses across the river in Fairfield. In 1914, the house was sold to Eliza's cousin, Grace Wilbur Trout. Trout was a nationally prominent figure in the Women's Suffrage Movement.

n008389 - An owner of the Marabanong, Grace Wilbur Trout, strong-armed the Governor of Illinois into granting universal suffrage for women in that state and paved the way for the passage of the 19th amendment.

Born and educated in Iowa, the dynamic Grace Trout proved a successful activist, orator, and politician.  She even found time to publish a novel in 1896.  Mrs. Trout led the fight to force Illinois to grant its female citizens the right to vote in national elections.  And in 1913, it became the first state east of the Mississippi River to do so.  This victory took place seven years before the Nineteenth Amendment gave suffrage (voting rights) to all American women.  All in all, Mrs. Trout won national prominence for her efforts.  Dating from about 1916, the photo above shows her as she marched in a Washington, D.C., suffrage parade.

One political tactic that Mrs. Trout oversaw consisted of speaking tours by automobile.  After jolting over highways that were usually no more than dirt roads, Mrs. Trout and other female activists would drive into an Illinois community, park in the town square or on a prominent street corner, and then give speeches from their cars.  Local residents would be expecting them since these events were arranged in advance.  Sometimes, a mayor would even introduce the visitors. (The other picture on this webpage also comes from about 1916, and it depicts Mrs. Trout arriving at her Chicago-area home after a feast held in her honor.)

The inexhaustible Grace Trout proved instrumental in yet another Illinois campaign: The triumphant endeavor to make the state guarantee equal rights for its women.  In 1921, however, she and her husband, George, moved to Florida, where she continued her activism.  Among many other achievements, she served as the first

president of the Jacksonville Planning and Advisory Board and as the president of the Jacksonville Garden Club.  The American Legion even honored her as "the most public-spirited citizen."

The Trouts lived in the wonderful old River City mansion, Marabanong.  This Queen Anne-style masterpiece is located on the waterfront near the south end of the Hart Bridge.  It delights the eye with its cupola, octagonal turret, fancy wooden shingles, arched windows, third-story balcony, and two-story veranda with gingerbread trimmings.  A large swimming pool was built in 1922 and decorated with Venetian lanterns.  The couple also maintained a zoo there, entertaining their numerous Northern visitors with such animals as deer, pheasant, peacocks, and South American crocodiles.

In 1955, Mrs. Trout passed away at the age of 91.  As summed up by the website “Oak Park Tourist,” she had earned the praise as being "The Woman Who Never Fails."  Her Jax home, by the way, remained in the Trout family until 1983, after over a century of ownership by members of the same clan.  Marabanong still stands today.  Appropriately, its name comes from a New Zealand Maori Indian word for "Paradise." Story/Picture of Evergreen Cemetery, Grace Wilbur Trout.htm

The most intriguing feature of the Marabanong estate is the wine cellar built into the bluff.  It is believe that this structure dates back to 1840.  At that time, it was envisioned that the land would be used to produce wine and the celler was constructed for storage.

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