Jaxlore: Folklore, Urban Legends, and Regionalisms

February 12, 2015 7 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Folklore is the unofficial culture of a community, passed along through word of mouth and other back channels. Folklore is often indelibly tied to place, and is a large part of what makes home feel like home. Here are a few common bits of lore from Jacksonville and the First Coast. How many do you recognize?

1. First Coasts First: The Birth of a Regional Identity

The First Coast

In the realm of local place-name lore, the “First Coast” stands second only to the breezy “Jax” when it comes to repping Greater Jacksonville. The names of everything from businesses to bus systems to a testify to this regional moniker’s pervasiveness in the five counties of the Jacksonville metropolitan area– Baker, Clay, Duval, Nassau, and St. Johns –and beyond.
But where did it come from? Unlike many other entries on this list, this one’s origins can be pinpointed exactly, though they’re not particularly romantic or venerable: “Florida’s First Coast” is the product of a 1980s Chamber of Commerce marketing campaign.
In 1983, the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce hired heavy-hitting ad firm William Cook to devise a new brand covering the whole metro area. While individual communities had their own nicknames, there was little sense of regional coherence, causing the area to miss funding opportunities. Over nine months of rumination, a combination of history and geography percolated into promotional paydirt: the region would be “Florida’s First Coast.” It debuted at that year’s Gator Bowl and hasn’t left the brochures since.

St. Augustine’s Castillo de San Marcos, an iconic landmark of the First Coast. National Park Service

It’s easy to see how the “First Coast” became popular. It fills a niche for a regional identity without favoring any particular community. It also rings true on multiple levels: the region has been the “first coast” for many visitors, past and present. This is the coast of Ponce de Leon (supposedly) and Jean Ribault, of Fort Caroline and the “Ancient City” of St. Augustine. Today, it’s the “First Coast” encountered by swarms of southbound tourists to the Sunshine State.
A 2007 academic paper on Florida’s “vernacular regions” found the First Coast to be one of the best known in the state, in the company of the Space Coast and The Panhandle.  These days, its reach appears to be expanding, with references occurring as far south as Palm Coast, Flagler Beach, and Palatka, and even spreading north to St. Mary’s, Georgia. Perhaps William Cook should have secured some royalties.

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