Peterbrooke Chocolatier and the Story of Mixon Town
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.
Published January 20, 2015 in Neighborhoods - MetroJacksonville.com
I-95's new Forest Street interchange is the gateway into Mixon Town and the dividing line between the neighborhood and Brooklyn.
Jacksonville-based Peterbrooke Chocolatier is in the process of leaving ritzy San Marco for new digs. The popular chocolatier is currently transforming a 28,000 square foot abandoned bacon slicing factory, the last remainder of Jones-Chambliss Meat Packers, into their headquarters, production plant, and tourism center. In a few months, tourist will be able to learn about the history of the company and see how candy is made in person. Plans also include opening a retail store and community meeting space at the site.
While certainly exciting, the best part of this story is the company's decision to invest in Mixon Town, an economically challenged neighborhood not known and outright avoided by most.
In fact, when local media first caught wind of Peterbrooke's decision, it was assumed that they were headed to rapidly redeveloping and gentrifying Brooklyn. Not quite. Yes, they are on the move, but to the neighborhood just west of Brooklyn and physically separated from Brooklyn and Riverside by Interstates 95 and 10.
In a recent Jax Daily Record article, Andy Stenson, vice president of marketing and business development for Hickory Foods Inc., the management company for Peterbrooke, mentioned their desire to make an investment in Mixon Town to assist in the neighborhood's revitalization.
Many already know about Brooklyn and nearby trendy neighborhoods like Riverside and San Marco. So one not familiar with exploring Jacksonville's lesser known historic neighborhoods may wonder what is the story behind Mixon Town.
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
Industrial Mixon Town
The industrial section of Mixon Town straddles the CSX "A" Line railroad tracks in the West Lewisville section of Mixon Town. Historically, poultry processors, meat packers, ice houses, and lumberyards co-existed with working class African-Americans in the area of the neighborhood. One of the earliest industrial operations in Mixon Town was the Renfroe & Williams Planing Mill along Stockton Street, near the railroad.
This rail corridor was originally developed by the Jacksonville, Tampa & Key West Railway during the 1880s. In the 1990s, it became a part of Henry Plant's railroad system before being acquired by the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad in 1902. In 1967, the ACL merged into the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad, eventually becoming a part of CSX.
This collection of industrial buildings were constructed along Chambliss Street between 1921 and 1949. Today, they are occupied by Majestic Machine & Engineering, Inc. and W.W. Gay Mechanical Contractor, Inc. W.W. Gay was founded by William W. "Bill" Gay in 1962. Providing commercial, industrial contracting and engineering services, W.W. Gay is one of Mixon Town's largest landowners.
Peterbrooke Chocolatier's new digs at 239 Copeland Street were once a part of the Jones-Chambliss Meat Packers slaughterhouse complex. The Jones-Chambliss Company was officially first incorporated in January 1911 with $30,000 in capital. The company's name was a combination of its founders, Charles A. Jones and John O. Chambliss. In 1966, the company expanded its complex with the construction and opening of Henry's Hickory House, a meat and bacon slicing plant, on the other side of the railroad. The while the company continued to operate Henry's Hickory House, the slaughterhouse was closed in 1980. In 1988, Henry's Hickory House was sold to William "Billy" Morris for $500,000. In 2001, the Hickory House plant produced 600,000 pounds of bacon a week or more than 31 million pounds annually, buying pork bellies and performing the rest of the process at their plant. As late as the mid-2000s, Henry's Hickory House was Florida's largest bacon producer, employing 140 people and supplying bacon brands, such as Tom & Ted's, to grocery stores throughout the Southeast. In addition to Henry's Hickory House, Morris acquired Georgia-based Bubba Burgers in 2000 and Peterbrooke Chocolatier in 2012.
As a part of Peterbrooke's move, the old Henry's Hickory House bacon plant is being renovated. Recently, new doors have been added in this truck loading dock along Copeland Street.
Residential Mixon Town
Mixon Town was once considered a diverse inner city neighborhood. The North Riverside section of Mixon Town (East of Nixon Street) originally began as a working class district dominated with a white population. Its residences are similar in scale and architecture of bungalows in Riverside.
West Lewisville, the east side of Mixon Town, was and still remains a dominant African-American district. Despite being developed in the same period of Jacksonville's history as adjacent North Riverside, West Lewisville's residences are more utilitarian in nature. This row of frame cottages dates back to 1924. It is similar to Springfield's Dancy Court in design and scale.
Stockton Street connects Mixon Town to Riverside and Beaver Street. It is the main north-south thoroughfare through Mixon Town.
Next Page: Religious Mixon Town
Religious Mixon Town
Mixon Town is home to several historic religious structures. Many of which are still in use today.
The Macedonia Primitive Baptist Church, on Forest Street, was built in 1934.
King Solomon United Baptist Church constructed this large sanctuary in 2004.
The former King Solomon United Baptist Church building is located across the street and dates back to 1900. Peterbrooke Chocolatier's new chocolate factory can be seen in the background.
Now owned by Clara White Mission, the former Our Lady of the Angels Catholic Church was constructed in 1915.
For more history and a 2011 photo tour inside of the then abandoned structure: http://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2011-oct-abandoned-jacksonville-our-lady-of-the-angels-church
Built in 1908, Greater Bethany Baptist Church's sanctuary may be the most impressive in Mixon Town.
Commercial Mixon Town (Edison Avenue)
Every historic Jacksonville neighborhood is home to its very own "town center". Edison Avenue is Mixon Town's commercial district. Once as vibrant as Five Points, San Marco Square and Park & King, Edison Avenue has suffered with the construction of Interstate 10, which parallels the roadway one block south.
The City of Jacksonville's Animal Care & Protective Services shelter opened at the intersection of Forest and Edison Streets in 2009.
This commercial structure at the intersection of Edison Avenue and Broward Street was completed in 1930. For years, a small neighborhood market operated out of this location.
This two story building at 531 Osceola Street was built in 1922. It sits a few hundred feet south of Edison Avenue.
A popular neighborhood restaurant used to occupy this commercial building at the intersection of Edison Avenue and Osceola Street.
Mixon Town Green Space
In general, parks are considered to be an amenity in walkable neighborhoods like Mixon Town. Unfortunately, Mixon Town's green spaces are some of the most contaminated parcels of property in the City of Jacksonville. Any revitalization of this neighborhood must involve the clean-up and transformation of Mixon Town's parks and waterways.
Once a popular active neighborhood park, Forest Park and its community center are closed to all activity. The 4.4-acre green space is an EPA superfund site. From 1910 until the 1960s, the City of Jacksonville operated the Forest Street Incinerator on portions of this property and a now closed elementary school next door. Here, the City of Jacksonville disposed of combustion ash, clinker and ash residues for five decades. After the incinerator ceased operations, this park and a neighborhood elementary school were built in its place.
[ quote ]Cleanup Progress
"The City of Jacksonville installed a fence to restrict access to the most highly contaminated areas of the Forest Street Incinerator in the 1990s and at Lonnie C. Miller, Sr. Park in 2005. The City covered exposed ash with gravel, sod and compost to reduce contact with soil contamination. In 2006, EPA initiated and completed short-term cleanup at the 5th & Cleveland Incinerator portion of the site. Cleanup activities included digging up contaminated soil and placing two feet of clean soil in the location of a planned tennis facility. EPA also initiated and completed a short-term cleanup at the Forest Street Incinerator portion of the site to allow for construction of an animal care and control facility. The City of Jacksonville began cleaning up soil contamination on affected residences in 2010. EPA placed institutional controls on some properties to restrict certain types of digging. The City cleaned up approximately 400 residential yards."
In 2007, this 1,330' long multiuse path was constructed within the McCoys Creek Greenway (originially McCoys Park). It is a reminder of Mixon Town's heyday. This space was an original part of McCoys Park. McCoys Park was 29 acres of linear green space that was created with the 1930 channelization of McCoys Creek. Unfortunately, years of neglect and industrial contamination have resulted in McCoys Creek being one of the most polluted waterways in Duval County.
Over the last decade, a failed bulkhead and continuous flooding has resulted in the stretch of the greenway between Osceola and Copeland Streets reverting back into wetlands.
After eight decades of neglect and silting, Joseph E. Craig's vision of an inland waterway for barges and sport boating can still be seen from the Cash Building Materials bridge in Mixon Town.
Mixon Town is located just north of Interstate 10 and west of Interstate 95.
Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article can be found at: https://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2015-jan-peterbrooke-chocolatier-and-the-story-of-mixon-town