Jacksonville's Next Historic District: Brooklyn?

One of Jacksonville's oldest African-American urban neighborhoods, Brooklyn was platted shortly after the Civil War by Miles Price, a Confederate veteran, in 1868. Unfortunately, with its buildings coming down one by one, it's slowly disappearing from existence. Now, if the Jacksonville Historic Commission has their way, a few blocks of the neighborhood will become Jacksonville's next historic district.

Published September 4, 2013 in Neighborhoods - MetroJacksonville.com

The land that would become Brooklyn was acquired by Miles Price in October of 1858 for $1,528. In 1868, Price sold 500 acres the property to Edward Cheney for $10,000 in gold. A newspaper publisher, Cheney was acting in trust for railroad magnate John Murray Forbes. This property was platted and named Riverside.

That same year, Price platted the remaining portion of the property as Brooklyn. Taking advantage of the area's rapid population growth after the Civil War, Brooklyn had 356 residents by 1870. During this era, the area west of Commercial Street (Riverside Avenue) became a popular location for African-Americans looking to take advantage of employment, housing opportunities, and the protection of the Freedmen's Bureau.

The addition of a streetcar in 1879 triggered more growth in Brooklyn. By the time it was annexed into Jacksonville in 1887, its population had grown to 1,000.

Connectivity to Brooklyn throughout the opening of the Myrtle Avenue underpass in 1909 and the Lee Street Viaduct in 1921 led to a change in character of Brooklyn's built environment. Designed to help relieve congestion on the Riverside Viaduct, the underpass and viaduct stimulated commercial and industrial development along Myrtle Avenue and Park Street.

Newly completed McCoys Creek bulkhead and Riverside Avenue culvert in 1930.

Brooklyn began to decline in the years following World War II. This decline was exacerbated with the construction of I-95 and the decline of the Jacksonville Terminal as a multimodal economic engine.

However, the last 30 years have taken a toll on this historic neighborhood.  What was once a very dense neighborhood has evolved into Jacksonville's version of Detroit's Eastside as several urban renewal strategies have led to hundreds of demolitions.  For example, 550 residents were displaced and 183 houses were demolished in a HUD funded redevelopment plan during the early 1980s.  Significant chunks of the neighborhood's commercial fabric were lost due to demolitions resulting from Florida Department of Transportation's widening of Riverside Avenue and Forest Street.  Additional blocks of residential and religious structures between Riverside Avenue and Park Street were then demolished to make way for a failed redevelopment project called Brooklyn Park.

Spruce Street after failed urban renewal efforts.

Today, not much remains of this historic African-American neighborhood. Outside of Park Street, there are more vacant overgrown lots and abandoned building foundations than occupied structures. Furthermore, Brooklyn's 2013 population is less than its 1870 population.  With this in mind, the Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission has identified a 6-acre, 2.5 block section of the neighborhood as meeting the criteria to become the city's next historic district.

This section of Brooklyn captures the only remaining cluster of historic residences and churches still standing in the storied neighborhood.  

Here is a look at what makes up the Brooklyn Historic District.

The Evolution of Brooklyn

The proposed 2.5 block historic district contains 18 buildings, 16 of which are considered historical contributing stuctures.  At one time, this section of Brooklyn was a high density community.  A series of Sanborn Maps helps us illustrate the change in the neighborhood's character over the last century. Historic buildings still surviving today are highlighted in green. The historic district's borders are shown in red.

1913 Aerial

A decade after the Great Fire of 1901, the majority of Brooklyn consisted of small frame residential structures.

1951 Aerial

30 years after the opening of the Lee Street viaduct, Park Street has transformed into commerical and industrial corridor.  Additional frame residences have also been built throughout the neighborhood.

2013 Aerial

Time and failed urban renewal projects have taken a toll on the neighborhood.  The majority of the neighborhood no longer exists except for a few clusters of historic development.

During Jacksonville's fourth occupation of the Civil War, a large contingent of Union soldiers were stationed in Brooklyn. 328 Chelsea Street is believed to be one of the last post-Civil War cottages remaining in the urban core, providing a direct link with Jacksonville's Reconstruction.

Built in 1925, Chelsea Street's Church of God in Christ Temple is one of the only buildings in the proposed district that contains a full basement. 328 Chelsea Street can be seen in the background next door.

These duplexes are the only two-story residences remaining withing the proposed historic district boundary. Located at 1210-1212 and 1206-1208 Price Street, both were constructed by Walter E. Boyles in 1927.

The vacant sanctuary of Mount Calvary Baptist Church is located at the intersection of Dora and Spruce Streets. Completed in 1948, the chuch was designed and built by noted African American contractor, James Edward Hutchins.  Hutchins designed and constructed many African American churches in the city and residences in the Durkee Gardens and College Park areas northwest of downtown Jacksonville.

The architecture of Brooklyn's residences reflect variations of the Folk Vernacular Style. According to the City of Jacksonville Historic Preservation Office, these buildings represent vanishing examples of how rural and lay builders utilized simple and time tested construction principles, as well as local building materials of the 19th and early 20th century.

Five residences within the proposed historic district boundary reflect a building type known as "shotgun houses."  They are characterized as being narrow, front facing gable houses that were common in the urban South between 1880 and 1930.

364 Spruce Street is a hall-and-parlor residence that date backs to the 19th century. A hall-and-parlor is a side gabled house that is usually two rooms wide and one room deep. It is the most common design for folk houses in the rural South.

Outside of the Historic District

Several historic properties still remain in use just outside of the proposed Brooklyn historic district.  The City of Jacksonville Historic Preservation Office strongly recommends that a larger area of the neighborhood be protectedd under some form of a neighborhood conservation district to ensure redevelopment respects the traditional design and building placement within the community.

Here are a few properties that lie just outside of the proposed Brooklyn Historic District boundary.

There aren't many commercial storefronts still standing on Brooklyn's secondary streets. This building, which dates back to 1930, is located across the street from the proposed historic district at 1023 Dora Street.  It originally housed a neighborhood market owned by Assof and Mary Naaseef.  The Naaseefs resided at 437 Dellwood Avenue in neighboring Riverside.

Park Street's largest industrial property was constructed as the Jacksonville Linen in 1944. Eventually, it was taken over by National Linen Service. Today, the Brooklyn laundry plant operates as a branch of Salt Lake City-based American Linen Supply Company (ALSCO).

Now a part of ALSCO's operation, 300 Park Street (above) does not look like much today. However, it was built in 1928 as the Riverside Atlantic Bank (below) and is one of the early commercial buildings to open on Park Street after the completion of the Lee Street viaduct.

The Pennock Company was founded in 1882 in Philadelphia by Charles E. Pennock. Originally called the C.E. Pennock Company, the name was changed to the C.E. and S.S. Pennock Company in 1886 when C.E. Pennock's half-brother, Samuel S. Pennock, joined the business. In 1947, the floral wholesaling business expanded with a Jacksonville location, opening at 260 Park Street in Brooklyn where it still operates today.

Gone But Not Forgotten

Metro Jacksonville has featured numerous articles about Brooklyn since coming online in 2006. One by one, buildings pictured in previous articles have disappeared from the urban landscape for various reasons.  The establishment of a small historic district is an attempt to save a slice of the neighborhood's history before it's gone for good. Here are a few Brooklyn buildings photographed in previous Metro Jacksonville articles that no longer exist today.

Only two residences remain on the block of Spruce Street where this home stood in 2006.

This row of Elm Street shotgun houses is now down to one.

The Mount Moriah church (right) was demolished in anticipation for Miles Development's Brooklyn Park in 2007. Brooklyn Park never got off the ground, leaving a vacant overgrown lot in its place. Encore Tampa, a similar redevelopment project on the edge of downtown Tampa took another route. Instead of complete site demolition, a similar sized church (left) was preserved, becoming a new African American history museum anchoring the development's central park.

Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at edavis@moderncities.com

This article can be found at: https://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2013-sep-jacksonvilles-next-historic-district-brooklyn

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