The Sports District: Life Before Everbank Field

While the Jacksonville City Council is poised to pass a bill this week to add an amphitheater and indoor football facility at Everbank Field, Metro Jacksonville takes a look at what was in the Sports District before football.

Published December 8, 2015 in History -

Gone are the days of the Trenary Fish Company and the passenger ship docks of Clyde Line, Merchants & Miners and P&O. There's no more pine lumber and gum rosin to smell at Commodore's Point. Assembly lines sprouting out Model Ts and Model As have long been dismantled. In their place stands a hodge podge of parking garages, parking lots, and a few sporting venues sprinkled in between them.

Since Jacksonville's formative years, the link between the river and industry has served as the economic foundation of the city's growth and development. Not many know that the land around Everbank Field and many of its tailgate lots was once one of the East Coast's largest working waterfronts. Employing thousands, this area was home to many enterprises that played important roles in the development of the world we live in today.

Inside the abandoned remains of Matrix Machine & Repair Inc.

Over time, changes in technology, the city's infrastructure network, aging buildings, and a push for global peace have all indirectly led to a decline in industrial activity along East Bay Street. Despite the altering of downtown's economic scene, there are quite a few sites and altered features of the urban landscape, offering us a historical slice of what old Jacksonville used to be like.



Aerial view of Merrill-Stevens Dry Dock and Repair. State Archives of Florida

Jacob Brock opened the first shipbuilding operation during the 1850s on the site most know as the former Jacksonville Shipyards. After Brock's death in 1877, the shipyards were sold to Alonzo Stevens. The Merrill-Stevens Engineering Company was formed in 1887, when James Eugene and Alexander Merrill joined Stevens as business partners. By the early 20th century, the shipyard employed 1,500 and included the largest dry dock on the east coast, between Newport News and New Orleans. During this era, the barges used in the construction of the Panama Canal were constructed on-site.

During the 1950s, Merrill-Stevens sold the shipyard and relocated to Miami, where the company still buildings yachts today. In 1963, new owner W.R. Lovett renamed the company the Jacksonville Shipyards, Inc. (JSI). By the time JSI was sold to Fruehauf Corporation, it had become Jacksonville's largest civilian employer, with a workforce of 2,500.

JSI's decline began in the 1980s, shutting down briefly in 1990, laying off 800 workers. It would reopen briefly, only to close permanently  in 1992 after selling its drydocks to a shipyard in Bahrain. 23 years later, Jacksonville is still struggling to find a new use for the industrial brownfield site.

The Merchants and Miners Transportation Company (foreground) and Merrill-Stevens Engineering Company (left) during their heyday.

Only a collection of piers remain from the Jacksonville Shipyards operation. The rest of the site was demolished over a decade ago, in anticipation of redevelopment.


This Maxwell House plant consists of three primary structures. The 4-story Laney & Delcher Storage Company Building built in 1926 (left), the 5-story Maxwell House roasting plant built in 1924 (right), and the 101' tall processing tower built in 1954 (center).

One company standing the test of time is Maxwell House. In 1910, Maxwell House opened as the Cheek-Neal Coffee Company along Hogans Creek because it was adjacent to where coffee was once loaded onto ships. The coffee roasting complex that exists today includes buildings that were built by other businesses in the maritime district.

Maxwell House around 1950. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,

The four-story warehouse at the corner of Bay and Marsh Streets was built for the Laney & Delcher Storage Company in 1926. Before being taken over by Maxwell House, the Fulton Distributing Company utilized it as a whiskey and wine warehouse. Two-story brick warehouses adjacent to Hogans Creek were the home of Rosser & Fitch Merchandise Brokers in 1926.

The lowrise structure in the foreground housed the Rosser & Fitch Merchandise Brokers in 1926. The taller building replaced the original coffee plant, which was adjacent to Hogans Creek on the south side of East Bay Street.

Just east of Maxwell House's property, established in 1919, the George Doro Fixtures Company continues to make architectual millwork in a block of buildings dating back to 1904.

Destined to be new home of Intuition Ale Works, the Noland Building at 929 East Bay Street was originally built for the Hajoca Corporation in 1948. Hajoca was a plumbing supply business.


A. Bentley & Sons built and launched concrete ships for WWI from this section of the St. Johns River 95 years ago.

Merrill-Stevens wasn't the only shipyard in what became the Sports District to play a leading role during the World Wars of the early 20th century. Just north of Commodore Point, A. Bentley & Sons Company shipyard was established in 1918 as a part of the US Government's Emergency Fleet Corporation's (EFC) attempt to develop concrete ships for World War I.

A. Bentley & Sons Shipyard and Fairfield, before the construction of the Ford Motor Company assembly plant and the Mathews Bridge.State Archives of Florida.

A major EFC initial requirement was to locate warm-water ports where speedy 12-month construction schedules could be followed. Parcels in the range of 1200'x 2500' were another EFC site selection factor. With this in mind, Toledo-based engineering and contracting firm A. (Anderton) Bentley & Sons created a Jacksonville office and their site was one of five selected with the expectation of building at least eight vessels, which could be outfitted on site in at least four ways. Other sites selected by the EFC were in Mobile, San Diego, Oakland, and Wilmington, NC.

S.S. Moffit being launched in 1920 at A. Bentley & Sons Shipyards. State Archives of Florida

Managed by James Bentley, the shipyard's contracts involved the construction of 7,500-ton concrete tankers for the war effort. By the time the concrete ship program was canceled in 1921, to ships had been launched from the shipyard. A few years later, the City of Jacksonville acquired the site, successfully selling the northern portion of it to Henry Ford for the 1924 development of the Ford Motor Company Assembly plant.

Inside the Ford Motor Company plant in 1948.State Archives of Florida

In recent years, the site's original use has returned with the relocation of the Southern Drydock Company from Green Cove Springs.

The Ford Motor Company assembly plant today.

The entrance to the Southern Drydock Company.


This building was built to serve as the offices of the St. Johns River Shipbuilding Company during WWII.

Shortly after the opening of Ford's plant, Jacksonville's economic prosperity ended with the burst of Florida's real estate bubble during the mid-1920s. Shipbuilding in this area of the downtown riverfront would once again bring economic growth back to the region.

With the country involved in World War II and taking advantage of a $17 million United States Maritime Commission investment, East Bay Street's Merrill-Stevens established the St. Johns River Shipbuilding Company in 1942 with an initial workforce of 258. This shipyard was located east of Hogans Creek and south of East Adams Street. Between 1942 and 1945, 82 liberty ships were produced at this site to transport troops and supplies across the globe. In 1944, it employed over 20,000 workers. When the war was over, so was production at St. Johns River Shipbuilding Company.

St Johns River Shipbuilding Company shipyard. State Archives of Florida.

Bond rally for Saint Johns River Shipbuilding Company in the Gator Bowl during World War II. State Archives of Florida.

After the war, the property was taken over by the Duval Terminal Company and utilized for a variety of industrial uses.  Businesses once operating at this site, which went north to Adams Street, included Sinclair Refining Company, Southern Industries Company, W.F.G.A. TV Studio, Merrill-Stevens St. Johns Division and the Mid-States Steel & Wire Company. This heavy industry resulted in the Hart Bridge Expressway's Northbank path being constructed as a viaduct between Commodore Point and Liberty Street. The expansion of the Gator Bowl for the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 1990s converted most of this property into parking lots and Gator Bowl Boulevard, south of what is now EverBank Field.


General view of Jacksonville Naval Stores Yards at Commodores Point Terminals, showing turpentine warehouse, turpentine tanks and rosin yard. Courtesy of Naval Stores: History, Production, Distribution and Consumption, 1921.

The Commodores Point Terminal Company was incorporated in 1915. Its officers were A.G. Cummer, George H. Baldwin, J.M. Baker, and S.W. Marshall. Warehousing and terminal operations started in 1917. Its construction included the creation of a one mile bulkhead and reclaimation of 135 acres of land. Then, sitting between the terminal tracks of the Atlantic Coast Line and Seaboard Air Line Railway companies, its tracks formed a connection between the two.

During its early years, Jacksonville was a major turpentine production center. One particular kind that was prevalent in North Florida in particular was Oleoresin, better known to turpentiners as “pine resin.” This was a natural byproduct of certain types of pine trees and was handled frequently in Jacksonville. This pine resin would be extracted from the trees by laborers and then distilled to give us what was known as “spirit turpentine.”  This turpentine was originally used for sealing wooden ships to protect against leaks, which is why it eventually was given the nickname “naval stores.”

Much of the turpentine and rosin in the area was stored and exported at Commodores Point's Jacksonville Naval Stores Yard. The shipping terminal was also designed for the handling of lumber and other forest products and home to many warehouses.

Loading rosin for foreign shipment at the Jacksonville Naval Stores Yard in 1921.. Courtesy of Naval Stores: History, Production, Distribution and Consumption, 1921.

Steamboats docked at Commodore Point on July 1, 1939. State Archives of Florida.

Dating back to 1915, this building was the original office of Commodore Point Terminal Company.

Liquid Carbonic Carbon Dioxide Corporation

It wasn’t until Jacob Baur began to manufacture carbon dioxide in tanks that the real soda fountain was born. Baur was a pharmacist who started the Liquid Carbonic Co. in 1888 and eventually began to manufacture and market the Liquid Carbonic soda fountains in the early 1900’s. A potential soda jerk could purchase a Liquid Carbonic soda fountain, complete with operations and recipe manual, from Baur and set up shop. He could go into the soda fountain business.  This former Liquid Carbonic Carbon Dioxide Corporation chemical plant dates back to 1926.  Liquid Carbonic was the world leader in carbon dioxide when it was acquired by Praxair in 1996.  This facility ceased operations in 2005.

Lanahan Lumber Company, Inc.

East Adams Street's Michael J. Lanahan Lumber Co., Inc. is one of the oldest operating lumber yards in the country, distributing lumber and building materials since 1946.

Petroleum Fuel & Terminal Company

Petroleum Fuel & Terminal Company's East Adams Street facilities date back to 1934. Apex Oil Company, PF&T's parent company, specializes in asphalt, kerosene, fuel oil, diesel fuel, heavy oil, gasoline and marine bunker sales. For many years, this Jacksonville fossil fuel terminal was owned and operated by the Colonial Oil Company.

Lafarge North America

Lafarge North America's cement terminal was constructed in 1962. Lafarge is the largest supplier of quality cement products in the United States and Canada. With more than 20 types of cement and engineered blends, Lafarge provides innovative solutions for customers who include ready-mix producers, concrete product manufacturers, contractors, masons, builders, and municipal authorities. To access the 37,000 ton capacity cement storage silos, four 12-inch pipelines extend from the facility to the Commodores Point Terminal wharf. The site occupied by Lafarge North America was originally developed by Commodore Point for the Naval Stores Warehouse Company.

North Florida Shipyards

North Florida Shipyards, Inc. is a privately owned, small business company that operates ship repair and conversion facilities in Mayport and Jacksonville, Florida.

North Florida Shipyards, Inc. was incorporated in 1975.  It is an outgrowth of Thermal Engineering Company, incorporated in 1967 and Ind-Mar Diesel, incorporated in 1970. The main office and facility is located at Commodore Point. It has approximately 3600’ of bulkheaded wharf, 210,000 sq. ft. of warehouse and shops, and resides on approximately 25 acres of property. This facility has been in the ship repair, conversion and modernization business since inception 40 years ago.

Manson Construction Company

Manson Construction Company's Jacksonville yard on the banks of the St. Johns River.  Mason is a Seattle-based marine construction and dredging company that was established in 1905.

Lehigh Jacksonville Terminal

Founded in 1897 in Allentown, PA, the Lehigh Cement Company operates this 1963-era cement import terminal where East Beaver Street meets the river.  Four 10-inch pipelines extend from the Commodores Point Terminal wharf to six concrete, bulk- cement storage tanks with a total capacity of 31,950 tons. Like its neighbor Lafarge, it sits on land originally developed in 1915 for the Naval Stores Warehouse Company.

Duval Engineering & Contracting Company

This abandoned property was the home of George H. Hodges' Duval Engineering & Contracting Company. Duval Engineering was engaged in the marine dredging, road construction and engineering business. Of interesting note, the Duval Engineering & Contracting Company built the Gilmore Street Bridge as a part of the Jacksonville Expressway project during the 1950s. The Gilmore Street Bridge is now known as the Fuller Warren Bridge and the Jacksonville Expressway is now a part of I-95.

Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at

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