Understanding Jacksonville's Brooklyn. Article from From EU Jacksonville and written by Erin Thursby.
Wedged between Downtown and Riverside, Brooklyn is a neighborhood often unknown to transplants. Locals know it, but recent development is starting to bring it back into the general public’s eye. The Brooklyn of Jacksonville was presumably named for the Brooklyn of New York, probably by ex-Confederate soldier Miles Price. Why he named it after what was a very pro-abolitionist city in the North has been something of a mystery. At the time in 1868, the Brooklyn of New York State had not yet been consolidated as a borough of New York City, and the Civil War had ended just three years before. Perhaps the reason for the name was the demographics of the area in the late 1860s. Brooklyn may have been seen as a neighborhood only made possible through the efforts of the North and the Union, so it makes a strange sort of sense that it would be named for a Northern city with staunch abolitionist leanings.
In the late 1860s, a community of black freedmen formed there, some coming in after service as Union soldiers, some moving in earlier as laborers, while the Union occupied Jacksonville during the war. By 1870 a census of Brooklyn counted 356 residents. The neighborhood was racially diverse, with 59% black and 41% white. They came from everywhere: among their birthplaces were counted 11 different states in the United States. Eight percent of them were foreign-born, hailing from as far as Prussia and the West Indies. They worked in domestic service, as carpenters, barbers, butchers, night watchmen, policemen, sawmill workers, fishermen, clerks, grocers, and at least one gunsmith.
From the late 1860s through 1901, Brooklyn had a boom in residential development. Middle and upper class families began building large homes along what is now known as Riverside Avenue. But the Great Fire of 1901 reshaped our city, and Brooklyn started to dwindle, with industrial and commercial businesses replacing many homes.
The only home to survive after the mini-mansion boom on Riverside Avenue was the Rochester House or the River House. You can see it today, but it isn’t in Brooklyn. In 1911 they loaded the house onto a barge and floated it down the St. Johns River, relocating it to 2107 River Boulevard, where it sits today.
By 1916, Riverside Avenue (aka Commercial Avenue) was beginning to take its shape as “automobile row.” For older Jaxsons who have lived here all their lives, Brooklyn was where all the car dealerships were. In the 1950s and early 60s, highways isolated parts of Brooklyn and the surrounding areas, both with the Fuller Warren Bridge and I-95, and the mix began to change. Today some large Jacksonville employers line Brooklyn’s section of Riverside Avenue. The YMCA, Haskell, Fidelity, Everbank, and the Florida-Times Union are some of the notable buildings you’ll find there.
In the 1980s, the city focused on cleaning house in Brooklyn. In 1981, a city survey counted 364 residences, with 298 of those classified as dilapidated. The Downtown Development Authority’s action plan included, according to a COJ report for the Proposed Designation of The Brooklyn Historic District, “new high-rise apartments, townhouses and single-family homes, which would require the acquisition and demolition of 183 houses and the displacement of 550 people.” Although none these homes were built, a large number of parcels were bought by the city and cleared for redevelopment, mainly because the Department of Transportation was expanding Riverside Avenue and Forest Street. Further expansion of Riverside Avenue and Forest Street for a more direct connection to I-95 in early 2000s also resulted in more demolition.