In honor of Black History Month, Metro Jacksonville's Ennis Davis shares rare images and the story of Sugar Hill. Prior to being destroyed by desegregation, highway construction, medical center expansion, and urban renewal, Sugar Hill was the epicenter of black prosperity in Northeast Florida.
Sugar Hill Today
The demolition of Brewster Hospital in preparation for the construction of the Jacksonville VA Clinic. Located just outside of the Springfield Historic District's boundary, this unprotected Sugar Hill structure opened as a hospital for black Jacksonville residents in 1931. The 95-bed medical center closed in 1966, two years after the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Along West 5th Street under Interstate 95. Sugar Hill's heyday came to an abrupt end with the construction of the Jacksonville Expressway in the 1950s. The expressway, which later became Interstate 95, was built through the heart of Sugar Hill.
Looking toward Interstate 95 on West 4th Street in Sugar Hill. Interstate 95 severs what's left of Sugar Hill in half.
Now considered to be a part of Durkeeville by many not familiar with the area's history, a cluster of residences dating back to Sugar Hill's heyday still remain standing. The former residence of Bishop Henry Y. Tookes at 1011 8th Street is now a sorority house.
A part of the Hendersonville plat, 1045 Scriven Street was built in 1928.
2048 Moncrief Road was completed in 1922. At the time, Moncrief Road was an important thoroughfare connecting Northwest Jacksonville neighborhoods with downtown Jacksonville. This connectivity was permanently altered with the construction of the Jacksonville Expressway during the 1950s.
2203 Moncrief Road was completed in 1909. The abandoned 2,300 square foot house sits just south of the S-Line Urban Greenway.
Built in 1919, 2217 Moncrief Road is located across the street from 2203 Moncrief. According to the Duval County Property Appraiser, the 1,930 square foot abandoned house has an accessed value of $10,414.
The St. Stephen's African Methodist Episcopal Church is one of a handful of historic buildings that still remain on Davis Street, south of West 8th Street. During Sugar Hill's heyday, Davis Street was considered to be a main commercial corridor, linking the neighborhood with LaVilla.
Located directly across the street from UF Health Jacksonville, 1940 Davis Street was completed in 1922.
This 2,700 square foot residence at 1926 North Davis Street was completed in 1922.
The intersection of Davis and Missouri Streets. Not much is left of Missouri Street today. In fact, the name doesn't even exist anymore. What remains of it is now known as West 3rd Street. Prior to the destruction of Sugar Hill, Missouri Street provided a direct east/west connection to Springfield and Durkeeville for Sugar Hill residents. Wilder Park was located a half block west of this intersection. Wilder Park was the city's largest public space for African-Americans prior to desegregation.
Opened in 1927, the Wilder Park Library was the Jacksonville Public Library's first branch location. Along with the branch library, the park's amenities included a track, a baseball diamond, a diamond ball field and a community center. Unfortunately, the space named for Charles B. Wilder, who's descendants donated the land for the park, was destroyed for the construction of the Jacksonville Expressway (Interstate 95) in 1958.
The Sugar Hill area is highlighted in the image above. The area highlighted in Orange still contains a significant number of residences from the neighborhood's time as African-American district of economic prosperity.
As the images in this article show, much of Sugar Hill no longer exists. However, there is a significant number of historically significant homes still standing north of 8th Street. Given the age of Sugar Hill, it's quite possible that this neighborhood is one of the earliest examples of black prosperity in the form of urban living in Florida. It may be in Jacksonville's best interest to do everything possible to preserve and rehabilitate the remains of a neighborhood that just as historically significant as any in Northeast Florida.
Article by Ennis Davis. Contact Ennis at firstname.lastname@example.org