Peterbrooke Chocolatier and the Story of Mixon Town

January 20, 2015 6 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Peterbrooke Chocolatier recently announced plans to transform an abandoned bacon slicing plant into a new state-of-the-art chocolate factory. While this is big news, the most interesting part of the story is their decision to invest in the revitalization of Mixon Town. Here's the background story on this long overlooked neighborhood on the outskirts of downtown Brooklyn and Riverside.

The Our Lady of the Angels Parish was established in 1917 in Mixon Town (North Riverside) to serve Jacksonville's growing Catholic population.

Here, you won't see large Prairie School mansions designed by the likes of Henry J. Klutho. Don't look for riverfront mansions built by Who's Who of Jacksonville's past, because there's no river. There is McCoys Creek, the waterway that editors of the Jacksonville Journal claimed was the "biggest swamp in any city the size of Jacksonville in the world." It gained fame by being instrumental in the Yellow Fever Outbreak of 1857. Mixon Town has and still is a working class Jacksonville neighborhood. It's residents have lived side-by-side with industry for longer than a century. However, this does not mean that this neighborhood is not special. Many of its businesses have had a significant impact on the development of the city we live in and known today.

Boxed in by McCoys Creek, Interstate 95 and Interstate 10, the area now known as Mixon Town originally came to life during the greatest period of growth in Jacksonville's history. After the Great Fire of 1901, rebuilding efforts led to rapid residential construction beginning to spread out in all directions from downtown. In 1903, Seaboard Airline Railroad (SAL) acquired the Florida Central and Peninsular and expanded the company's nearby Lackawanna maintenance shops.Soon the shops became one of the city's largest employers with over 1,000 workers. The need for additional housing resulted in Brinkley H. Gandy platting the first subdivision in the neighborhood off Highway Avenue (now Edison) in 1905. A streetcar route, this corridor provided connectivity between Mixon Town, Lackwanna and downtown Jacksonville. Other subdivisions by William Fehranback and real estate investors, O. Pierre Havens and Frank E. Wood soon followed in 1905 and 1908. More subdivisions would be platted by H.B. Frazee between 1912 and 1917.

A result of several small subdivision plats, the neighborhood developed a traditional straight grid street pattern but not much land dedicated for parks and other amenities.

Mixon Town's King Street Bridge over McCoys Creek.

This changed with the completion of the McCoys Creek Improvement Project in 1930. Designed by Joseph E. Craig, this project, along with the channelization of Springfield's Hogans Creek, was Jacksonville's answer to the City Beautiful Movement.

With its streetcar, Edison Avenue grew to become Mixon Town's answer to Riverside's Five Points, Lackawanna's McDuff Avenue and Springfield's 8th & Main commercial districts. Businesses on the strip included the Great A&P Tea Company, Sam Crews Blacksmith, Louis Fleet's shoe repair, George Sumner's dry goods, Lackawanna Hardware Company, and Michael Schneider Grocery.

Mixon Town was considered to be diverse for the first 30 years of its existence. Before white flight, the neighborhood west of Broward Street was majority white. The section of Mixon Town east of Broward was African-American mixed with heavy industry.

Also, straddling the Atlantic Coast Line (ACL) Railroad (now the CSX "A" Line), Mixon Town became a popular turn-of-the-century location for industry. Companies such as Gress Manufacturing Company, Orange Crush Bottling Works, Dekle Lumber Company, Jones Chambliss, Consumers Ice Company and Draper's Egg & Poultry had operations in the district. As much as 20% of the neighborhood's residents were employed in the manufacturing sector through the 1980s.

The abandoned industrial ruins of the former Draper's Egg & Poultry plant.

Home to industry during a period in time when very few environmental standards existed, Mixon Town became home to early pollution issues. For years, residents complained about animal blood running off into McCoys Creek from the Draper's Egg & Poultry Company's chicken processing plant on McCoys Creek Boulevard. This now defunct company gained attention in 1978, when, as a part of his workdays program, Governor Bob Graham spent a full day cutting the hearts and livers out of chickens. A few blocks east, stood the Jones-Chambliss meat packing plant, whose waste flowed into the neighborhood's creek.  To top it off, the City of Jacksonville operated a municipal solid waste incinerator in the West Lewisville section of the neighborhood until the 1960s.

Already fighting industrial pollution, Mixon Town's fortunes took a turn for the worse with the construction of the Jacksonville expressway system, which severed it from Riverside and Brooklyn. The reconfiguration of traffic also resulted in the decline of Mixon Town's commercial district along Edison Street. In the later half of the 20th century, many of its aging industries ceased operations within the neighborhood. By the 2010 census, the neighborhood's population had fallen to 3,795, from a high of 10,535 in 1950.

Despite its economic challenges, Mixon Town still retains an amenity that continues to disappear in downtown. Its building stock. What it has long needed is a project or investment to jump start its turnaround. Peterbrooke Chocolatier's move to Mixon Town could be just that.

Next Page: Photo Tour of Mixton Town

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