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?

5. A Haunted Homestead: Alpha Paynter, Ghost of TacoLu
Jacksonville Beach

TacoLu, former home of The Homestead Restaurant. Katie Delaney

Jacksonville Beaches lore claims that Alpha Paynter has had trouble letting go of her old Homestead Restaurant, even five decades after she died. Perennial ghost sightings have made this building – now home to Tex-Mex joint TacoLu – one of the First Coast’s most famous haunted places.

The Homestead boarding house c. 1934-1947. Beaches Museum

Alpha Paynter was a prominent businesswoman for decades, owning the Homestead and the Copper Kettle Inn. While she’s somewhat mysterious – no photo of her has been found – historian Don Mabry has pieced together her life story.  She was born Alpha Pullen in 1887, and came to Jacksonville with her husband, John Clifford Paynter, in the 1920s. The Paynters divorced in 1930 and Alpha moved to Jacksonville Beach, opening the Copper Kettle.  Finding unusual business success for a divorced woman, Paynter constructed the log cabin that would become the Homestead in 1934. Originally a boarding house, Paynter converted it to a restaurant serving family-style Southern cooking in 1947. She sold the business in 1961 and died in 1962.  Under a succession of owners, the Homestead remained a Beaches institution for fifty years.  It hit hard times in the 21st century and closed in 2011. TacoLu moved in in 2012, bringing life back to the old cabin.

TacoLu’s side deck. Katie Delaney

Locals report hearing stories that the Homestead was haunted as far back as the 1960s.  At some point, Paynter herself became the legend’s preeminent ghost.  The restaurant’s old-timey architecture and its enduring significance to several generations of locals made a fertile field for ghost stories, which have been carefully cultivated by restaurant staff. As such, the Homestead has appeared in many books on Florida ghost lore.  Typically, Paynter is reported as a benign spirit near the fireplace, stairs, or ladies’ room. Some variants state – falsely – that Paynter died by hanging, or was buried on the property.  In others, she’s just one of several ghosts on premises, with the hanging story transferred to a mysterious mother-daughter pair.

The legends live on at TacoLu.  One way or another, Alpha Paynter’s presence definitely remains strong at the “Old Homestead.”

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