Jacksonville's Next Historic District: Brooklyn?

September 4, 2013 42 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

One of Jacksonville's oldest African-American urban neighborhoods, Brooklyn was platted shortly after the Civil War by Miles Price, a Confederate veteran, in 1868. Unfortunately, with its buildings coming down one by one, it's slowly disappearing from existence. Now, if the Jacksonville Historic Commission has their way, a few blocks of the neighborhood will become Jacksonville's next historic district.

Connectivity to Brooklyn throughout the opening of the Myrtle Avenue underpass in 1909 and the Lee Street Viaduct in 1921 led to a change in character of Brooklyn's built environment. Designed to help relieve congestion on the Riverside Viaduct, the underpass and viaduct stimulated commercial and industrial development along Myrtle Avenue and Park Street.

Newly completed McCoys Creek bulkhead and Riverside Avenue culvert in 1930.

Brooklyn began to decline in the years following World War II. This decline was exacerbated with the construction of I-95 and the decline of the Jacksonville Terminal as a multimodal economic engine.

However, the last 30 years have taken a toll on this historic neighborhood.  What was once a very dense neighborhood has evolved into Jacksonville's version of Detroit's Eastside as several urban renewal strategies have led to hundreds of demolitions.  For example, 550 residents were displaced and 183 houses were demolished in a HUD funded redevelopment plan during the early 1980s.  Significant chunks of the neighborhood's commercial fabric were lost due to demolitions resulting from Florida Department of Transportation's widening of Riverside Avenue and Forest Street.  Additional blocks of residential and religious structures between Riverside Avenue and Park Street were then demolished to make way for a failed redevelopment project called Brooklyn Park.

Spruce Street after failed urban renewal efforts.

Today, not much remains of this historic African-American neighborhood. Outside of Park Street, there are more vacant overgrown lots and abandoned building foundations than occupied structures. Furthermore, Brooklyn's 2013 population is less than its 1870 population.  With this in mind, the Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission has identified a 6-acre, 2.5 block section of the neighborhood as meeting the criteria to become the city's next historic district.

This section of Brooklyn captures the only remaining cluster of historic residences and churches still standing in the storied neighborhood.  

Here is a look at what makes up the Brooklyn Historic District.

The Evolution of Brooklyn

The proposed 2.5 block historic district contains 18 buildings, 16 of which are considered historical contributing stuctures.  At one time, this section of Brooklyn was a high density community.  A series of Sanborn Maps helps us illustrate the change in the neighborhood's character over the last century. Historic buildings still surviving today are highlighted in green. The historic district's borders are shown in red.

1913 Aerial

A decade after the Great Fire of 1901, the majority of Brooklyn consisted of small frame residential structures.

1951 Aerial

30 years after the opening of the Lee Street viaduct, Park Street has transformed into commerical and industrial corridor.  Additional frame residences have also been built throughout the neighborhood.

2013 Aerial

Time and failed urban renewal projects have taken a toll on the neighborhood.  The majority of the neighborhood no longer exists except for a few clusters of historic development.

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