Erasing the Past. What Sugar Hill Was.


In honor of Black History Month, Metro Jacksonville's Ennis Davis shares rare images and the story of Sugar Hill. Prior to being destroyed by desegregation, highway construction, medical center expansion, and urban renewal, Sugar Hill was the epicenter of black prosperity in Northeast Florida.

Published February 1, 2015 in Neighborhoods - MetroJacksonville.com




From the late 1800s until the 1960s, Sugar Hill was the neighborhood where Jacksonville's most prominent African-Americans lived. During the Jim Crow era, the neighborhood was black Jacksonville's answer to Riverside and Springfield.

A prestigious upscale streetcar suburb, Sugar Hill was located along Hogans Creek and Springfield Park, just west of Springfield. Several elaborate residences lined streets such as 8th Street, Davis Street, Moncrief Road, and Jefferson Street. While there was no access to the St. Johns River, the neighborhood economically benefited by being home to George A. Brewster Hospital and School of Nurse Training and the Duval Medical Center. Also, prior to 1924, it was the home of the Cookman Institute. This higher learning institution was located at the intersection of Davis and 8th Streets. In 1923, it merged with the Daytona Educational and Industrial Training School. Today, with an enrollment of 3,400, this institution lives on as Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach.

Every great urban neighborhood has a great public space and Sugar Hill's Wilder Park was no exception to this rule. Accessible via the Davis Street streetcar line, the 30-acre park included a branch public library for African-Americans, a track, baseball diamond and community center.

Perhaps Sugar Hill was a little too nice for Jim Crow era Jacksonville. In the 1950s, the Northside's most ritzy black neighborhood found itself in the "path of progress". An expressway needed to be built in the city's urban core and city leaders viewed this project as the perfect opportunity to clear up "urban blight". The answer to this was the demolition of Sugar Hill's mansions to make room for the construction of the Jacksonville Expressway. Wilder Park's 30-acres were needed too. Instead of a public library, community center, track and playing fields, officials felt a better use of the property was for it to serve as the northern half of an interchange with Kings Road.

Needless to say, with the completion of the Jacksonville Expressway in 1960, Sugar Hill's sunny days had come to an abrupt end.  The combination of a new expressway and Desegregation ruined its business district along Davis Street. With the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, there was no need for a black hospital, which led to the closing of Brewster Hospital in 1966. More economic damage would come in the City's Department of Housing and Urban Development forcing 75% of the remaining families out in order to revitalize the neighborhood. Once this project failed, the revitalizing community moved on to LaVilla, Brooklyn and Downtown, negatively impacting them in the late 20th century as well.

Furthermore, growth at University and Methodist Hospitals led to the elimination of more Sugar Hill residents. Merging in 1999 to become Shands Jacksonville, this campus is now known as UF Health Jacksonville. The Cookman Institute's campus is now the home of Darnell-Cookman School of the Medical Arts. In recent years, proving preservation of black history has not been a major goal of our community, Brewster Hospital's historic building and several nice residences once occupied by African-American doctors on Jefferson Street were removed to make way for the Jacksonville VA Outpatient Clinic and a large surface parking lot. Once a tree lined street every bit as impressive as Riverside Row, West 8th Street is now 6-lane road lined with parking lots, McDonald's and Walgreen's Pharmacy.



In short, there's not much left of the exclusive neighborhood built on the back of black prosperity in an era of heightened local racial discrimination. If you see dirt being turned on Sugar Hill's vacant lots, it's probably not new construction. Instead, it's more than likely the EPA replacing contaminated soil from a City of Jacksonville municipal solid waste incinerator that sprinkled ash all over the neighborhood from 1901 until the 1960s.

However, if you're willing to search the old neighborhood's lesser traveled side streets, you can find a a fair share of old homes still standing, providing a direct link to the area's historically significant African-American community's past. In honor of Black History Month, Metro Jacksonville presents a rare collection of images illustrating Sugar Hill during its heyday.



Next Page: Sugar Hill of Yesterday Photo Tour



Sugar Hill of Yesterday

1. Abraham Lincoln Lewis Residence at 504 8th Street.



2. The residence of Bishop Henry Y. Tookes at 1011 8th Street. This house still exists today a few hundred feet west of the Interstate 95/8th Street interchange.



3. The residence of Dr. and Mrs. William Redmond at 2028 Davis Street.



4. The Gabunion Littlejohn Residence at 1424 Jefferson Street. Mr. Littlejohn was a carrier with the U.S. postal service. Mrs. Littlejohn was the first nurse to be given the T.B. Fellowship at the University of Michigan. Their son, Francis, is seen standing in front of their Sugar Hill home in 1942.



5. The residence of Mr. and Mrs. Lawton Pratt at 582 West 8th Street.



6. Inside the residence of Dr. and Mrs. Robert Butler at 1544 Jefferson Street. Dr. Butler was a local druggist and his wife was a prominent teacher and club woman.



7. Rare scenes of Jacksonville's exclusive Sugar Hill. During the 1950s, the Jacksonville Expressway Authority's first highway was built through the heart of the community, leading to the ritzy African-American neighborhood's decline.



8. Rare scenes of Jacksonville's exclusive Sugar Hill. What Interstate 95 did not remove was later destroyed by the continued campus growth of the neighborhood's multiple medical facilities. Today, much of this area is the campus of UF Health Jacksonville.



9. Rare scenes of Jacksonville's exclusive Sugar Hill. Residences that overcame highway construction and hospital expansion where then left to deal with urban renewal.



10.The Wilder Park Public Library. Mrs. Olga Owens Bradham was the librarian in 1942. Wilder Park was the premier green and recreational space for black Jacksonville residents during segregation. Wilder Park and its library were paved for the construction of Interstate 95's interchange with Kings Road during the 1950s. The neighborhoods have not been the same since then.



11. Brewster Hospital on North Jefferson Street.



12. The A. L. Lewis Branch of the Young Women's Christian Association. The insert shows Mrs. Florence Jones Dixon, the executive secretary of the YWCA.


Source: https://books.google.com/books?id=JVsEAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA6&lpg=PA6&dq=the+crisis+1942+jacksonville&source=bl&ots=YafcehhAKg&sig=oyQBTX_KFvTXR-i03UvcQJzT6HE&hl=en&sa=X&ei=G4XOVP3OMZX-sATHkIGQCw&ved=0CEEQ6AEwBg#v=onepage&q=the crisis 1942 jacksonville&f=false


Next Page: Sugar Hill Today Photo Tour



Sugar Hill Today



The demolition of Brewster Hospital in preparation for the construction of the Jacksonville VA Clinic. Located just outside of the Springfield Historic District's boundary, this unprotected Sugar Hill structure opened as a hospital for black Jacksonville residents in 1931. The 95-bed medical center closed in 1966, two years after the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.



Along West 5th Street under Interstate 95. Sugar Hill's heyday came to an abrupt end with the construction of the Jacksonville Expressway in the 1950s. The expressway, which later became Interstate 95, was built through the heart of Sugar Hill.



Looking toward Interstate 95 on West 4th Street in Sugar Hill. Interstate 95 severs what's left of Sugar Hill in half.



Now considered to be a part of Durkeeville by many not familiar with the area's history, a cluster of residences dating back to Sugar Hill's heyday still remain standing. The former residence of Bishop Henry Y. Tookes at 1011 8th Street is now a sorority house.



A part of the Hendersonville plat, 1045 Scriven Street was built in 1928.



2048 Moncrief Road was completed in 1922. At the time, Moncrief Road was an important thoroughfare connecting Northwest Jacksonville neighborhoods with downtown Jacksonville. This connectivity was permanently altered with the construction of the Jacksonville Expressway during the 1950s.



2203 Moncrief Road was completed in 1909. The abandoned 2,300 square foot house sits just south of the S-Line Urban Greenway.



Built in 1919, 2217 Moncrief Road is located across the street from 2203 Moncrief. According to the Duval County Property Appraiser, the 1,930 square foot abandoned house has an accessed value of $10,414.



The St. Stephen's African Methodist Episcopal Church is one of a handful of historic buildings that still remain on Davis Street, south of West 8th Street. During Sugar Hill's heyday, Davis Street was considered to be a main commercial corridor, linking the neighborhood with LaVilla.



Located directly across the street from UF Health Jacksonville, 1940 Davis Street was completed in 1922.



This 2,700 square foot residence at 1926 North Davis Street was completed in 1922.



The intersection of Davis and Missouri Streets. Not much is left of Missouri Street today.  In fact, the name doesn't even exist anymore. What remains of it is now known as West 3rd Street.  Prior to the destruction of Sugar Hill, Missouri Street provided a direct east/west connection to Springfield and Durkeeville for Sugar Hill residents. Wilder Park was located a half block west of this intersection. Wilder Park was the city's largest public space for African-Americans prior to desegregation.

Opened in 1927, the Wilder Park Library was the Jacksonville Public Library's first branch location. Along with the branch library, the park's amenities included a track, a baseball diamond, a diamond ball field and a community center. Unfortunately, the space named for Charles B. Wilder, who's descendants donated the land for the park, was destroyed for the construction of the Jacksonville Expressway (Interstate 95) in 1958.


The Sugar Hill area is highlighted in the image above. The area highlighted in Orange still contains a significant number of residences from the neighborhood's time as African-American district of economic prosperity.

As the images in this article show, much of Sugar Hill no longer exists. However, there is a significant number of historically significant homes still standing north of 8th Street. Given the age of Sugar Hill, it's quite possible that this neighborhood is one of the earliest examples of black prosperity in the form of urban living in Florida. It may be in Jacksonville's best interest to do everything possible to preserve and rehabilitate the remains of a neighborhood that just as historically significant as any in Northeast Florida.

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


This article can be found at: https://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2015-feb-erasing-the-past-what-sugar-hill-was


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