The Sports District: Life Before Everbank Field

December 8, 2015 7 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

While the Jacksonville City Council is poised to pass a bill this week to add an amphitheater and indoor football facility at Everbank Field, Metro Jacksonville takes a look at what was in the Sports District before football.


A. Bentley & Sons built and launched concrete ships for WWI from this section of the St. Johns River 95 years ago.

Merrill-Stevens wasn't the only shipyard in what became the Sports District to play a leading role during the World Wars of the early 20th century. Just north of Commodore Point, A. Bentley & Sons Company shipyard was established in 1918 as a part of the US Government's Emergency Fleet Corporation's (EFC) attempt to develop concrete ships for World War I.

A. Bentley & Sons Shipyard and Fairfield, before the construction of the Ford Motor Company assembly plant and the Mathews Bridge.State Archives of Florida.

A major EFC initial requirement was to locate warm-water ports where speedy 12-month construction schedules could be followed. Parcels in the range of 1200'x 2500' were another EFC site selection factor. With this in mind, Toledo-based engineering and contracting firm A. (Anderton) Bentley & Sons created a Jacksonville office and their site was one of five selected with the expectation of building at least eight vessels, which could be outfitted on site in at least four ways. Other sites selected by the EFC were in Mobile, San Diego, Oakland, and Wilmington, NC.

S.S. Moffit being launched in 1920 at A. Bentley & Sons Shipyards. State Archives of Florida

Managed by James Bentley, the shipyard's contracts involved the construction of 7,500-ton concrete tankers for the war effort. By the time the concrete ship program was canceled in 1921, to ships had been launched from the shipyard. A few years later, the City of Jacksonville acquired the site, successfully selling the northern portion of it to Henry Ford for the 1924 development of the Ford Motor Company Assembly plant.

Inside the Ford Motor Company plant in 1948.State Archives of Florida

In recent years, the site's original use has returned with the relocation of the Southern Drydock Company from Green Cove Springs.

The Ford Motor Company assembly plant today.

The entrance to the Southern Drydock Company.


This building was built to serve as the offices of the St. Johns River Shipbuilding Company during WWII.

Shortly after the opening of Ford's plant, Jacksonville's economic prosperity ended with the burst of Florida's real estate bubble during the mid-1920s. Shipbuilding in this area of the downtown riverfront would once again bring economic growth back to the region.

With the country involved in World War II and taking advantage of a $17 million United States Maritime Commission investment, East Bay Street's Merrill-Stevens established the St. Johns River Shipbuilding Company in 1942 with an initial workforce of 258. This shipyard was located east of Hogans Creek and south of East Adams Street. Between 1942 and 1945, 82 liberty ships were produced at this site to transport troops and supplies across the globe. In 1944, it employed over 20,000 workers. When the war was over, so was production at St. Johns River Shipbuilding Company.

St Johns River Shipbuilding Company shipyard. State Archives of Florida.

Bond rally for Saint Johns River Shipbuilding Company in the Gator Bowl during World War II. State Archives of Florida.

After the war, the property was taken over by the Duval Terminal Company and utilized for a variety of industrial uses.  Businesses once operating at this site, which went north to Adams Street, included Sinclair Refining Company, Southern Industries Company, W.F.G.A. TV Studio, Merrill-Stevens St. Johns Division and the Mid-States Steel & Wire Company. This heavy industry resulted in the Hart Bridge Expressway's Northbank path being constructed as a viaduct between Commodore Point and Liberty Street. The expansion of the Gator Bowl for the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 1990s converted most of this property into parking lots and Gator Bowl Boulevard, south of what is now EverBank Field.

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