Historic Jacksonville Driving Tour
This short drive through Jacksonville includes a variety of historic buildings on both sides of the river and also incorporates many of the city's museums, heritage centers, and parks.
The Woman's Club of Jacksonville is a historical woman's club that is located next to the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens in Jacksonville, Florida. It was added to the U.S. National Register of Historical Places on November 3, 1992. It was involved in the promoting of women's suffrage as well as other issues.
The Cummer Museum opened in 1961 and presently houses over 5,000 works of art spanning 8,000 years including significant European and American paintings and a renowned Meissen porcelain collection. Visitors can also tour the beautiful formal gardens overlooking the St. Johns River. The gardens were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2010 thanks to their association with five important landscape artists and firms of the 20th century as well as to the person for whom the museum is named after, Ninah Cummer (1875-1958). Cummer was an avid horticulturalist and towards the end of her life began to collect art that would become the first part of the museum's collection.
Known for many years simple as the "Giant Oak," this beloved Jacksonville tree later became known as "Treaty Oak" after locals who hoped to save the tree from a developer's bulldozer in the 1930s fabricated a story about the tree's role in history. The 250-year-old tree is older than the city of Jacksonville, so when developers threatened to cut it down, a journalist claimed a famous Native American treaty took place at this location. Such a story was difficult to disprove and the story spread rapidly, so the massive tree soon became a landmark. To this day, many people casually share the story of the tree's location as the place of a major treaty with Native tribes, even though the event was fabricated. The story of this tree and its preservation demonstrates the willingness of many Americans to readily believe any story about Native American history regardless of sources. It also shows the lengths to which normally honest people were willing to go to save their beloved tree. The tree was later threatened again by development plans, leading once again to more efforts to connect it to the history of the city as well as photographs of dozens of local children within the 70-foot oak. Although it is now known that the tree’s life was spared due to misinformation about a treaty that never took place, the story of the lie offers a useful reminder about the subjective nature of many cherished myths and the way that they can take a life of their own. The tree is healthy, and locals estimate that it should remain a Jacksonville landmark for another 400 years as long as conservation efforts are successful.
Visitors to the Museum of Science & History will be able to learn about northeast Florida's cultural and natural history, as well as about the history of space exploration. It features numerous exhibits that look at human health, Florida's marine life, renewable energy, and Florida's cultural history from 12,000 years ago to the 1960s. It also features the largest single-lens planetarium in the world and a small animal exhibit where visitors can get a close-up look at turtles, baby alligators, snakes, owls, and other small animals.
This Jacksonville landmark was the largest and tallest fountain in the world when it was completed in 1965. The jets of the fountain are capable of sending water ten stories high, and so many people came to enjoy the fountain and the park that the area's retail and restaurants flourished and the overall size of the park was reduced to support commercial development. Originally named the “Fountain of Friendship at Dallas Thomas Park,” the name was shortened after the city commissioner became involved in a financial scandal. After several multi-million dollar repairs, the city’s mayor favored a plan to replace the fountain to make room for a kid’s interactive park. The plan was met with opposition from city residents who saw the fountain as a landmark. Despite its need for costly repairs, the fountain was preserved and a multi-million dollar repair project is scheduled to be completed in 2021.
The Jacksonville Maritime Heritage Center is located at the Jacksonville Landing next to the Toy Factory. It preserves and shares the city's maritime history through exhibits, artifacts, a library, educational programs, public lectures, and publications.
In the late 19th century, El Modelo Cigar Factory was located here and was the leader in Jacksonville's cigar manufacturing industry which represented one of the largest industries in the city. The largest of the fifteen cigar-producing factories in the city that collectively produced six million hand-made cigars annually, The building was completed in 1887 and was used to produce cigars from 1890 until 1898. The building was also one of the few structures that survived the Great Fire of 1901 and was later home to several hotels. The cigar-making industry employed a large Cuban population, but it was short-lived in Florida as a result of several factors. After the building was sold in 1898, it was home to a variety of tenants, most notably the Plaza Hotel. To this day, the building is still referred to as the “El Modelo Block” and the structure is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1983, a law firm purchased the property.
The Jacksonville Terminal was opened in 1919 and operated as the largest rail station in the Southeast until the time of its closing nearly 55 years later. It was organized by Henry Flagler to accommodate the five major railroad companies that served Jacksonville, Florida in 1893, but because of a high traffic volume, it had to be rebuilt into a larger facility soon after. During its prime, around World War II, the station saw about 100,000 people per day. Unfortunately, decreased rail travel and increased maintenance costs caused the terminal to close in 1974, but the building remained in good condition. From 1982-1985 it was renovated and converted into the Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center, the only one of its kind in the nation, which it still stands as today. In 1976, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places for its time as the Jacksonville Terminal.
Constructed in 1885, this building was home to the first hospital in Jacksonville, Florida that was operated by and open to members of the Black community in 1901. This was also one of only a few hospitals that offered training for African American physicians and nurses at the time it opened, although there would be several dozen Black-owned and operated hospitals in the decades that followed. The hospital closed in 1966 following the admission of Black patients at other hospitals and the passage of the federal Civil Rights Act. In its six decades of operation, the hospital served thousands of Black residents of Jacksonville and was practically the only place to receive emergency medical care until the mid-1960s. Brewster Hospital grew quickly and moved to a larger facility several times. This structure was one of the few in the area that withstood the Great Fire of 1901, and the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2019, the structure was restored at a cost of over $500,000 and now houses the North Florida Land Trust.
The Ritz Theater is in a traditionally black commercial district in the La Villa neighborhood. This Art Deco style building built in 1929 housed a cinema, shops and offices. The black community made the Ritz and the surrounding buildings into an arts, entertainment, and shopping area. The original Ritz Theater structure was demolished but, the decorative corner and sign were incorporated into the new Ritz Theatre and La Villa Museum. Inside the La Villa Museum, the African American history exhibit tells the story of everyday life in northeast Florida. The theater presents African American shows and educational performances.
Home to Jacksonville’s Seminole Club for many years, this building was designed in Prairie School Style and completed in 1902, one year before the club purchased the property to be used as their headquarters. The building was originally meant to be a two-story structure with a rooftop garden, but in 1907, a third floor was added as rooms for club members who were unmarried. Before the club’s closing in 1989, it was Jacksonville’s oldest social club for men and seventh oldest in the country. The restriction against female members joining the club ended just eleven years prior to the sale of the building when the club’s former president’s daughter joined. The club faced declining membership that reflected changes in society that were reflected in the decline of other men's clubs, and the organization closed and sold the budling around 1990. In 2006, the building was designated as a historic structure by the city, and in 2014, the space was renovated to become the location of Sweet Pete’s, which remains there today.
Jacksonville City Hall is currently located in the St. James building at 117 W. Duval Street, which was originally the site of the city’s largest hotel, largest building at the time, and home to the city’s first park across the street. However, the Great Fire of 1901 that burned most of the city also destroyed the hotel. It was rebuilt by Henry J. Klutho in 1912 and turned into a store, before ultimately becoming the location of City Hall operations in 2012, when City Hall was moved from its former location. Prior to the site of the St. James, City Hall was located on E. Bay Street in a 15-story building designed in 1960. After standing for 59 years, city officials made the decision to move government buildings elsewhere to open the riverfront for private developments. On January 20, 2019, explosives were used to demolish the structure.
With more than 1,000 pieces in its permanent collection, MOCA Jacksonville encompasses one of the largest collections of modern and contemporary art in the Southeast. Its collection includes paintings, installations, prints, sculpture, and photography. Artists represented include Hans Hofmann, Alexander Calder, Alex Katz, Robert Longo, and Helen Frankenthaler. The museum is located in the former Western Union Telegraph Building.
The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception was dedicated as such by Pope Francis in 2013, making it one of only 77 minor basilicas in the United States. The church began as a Catholic community in 1829, when priests traveled from Georgia via horse to lead prayers in people’s private homes. In 1854, the church was constructed, making it the first Catholic church in Jacksonville, Florida. However, the wooden building was soon burned down by Union soldiers during the Civil War, and later rebuilt. The second building was again lost to fire in the Great Jacksonville Fire of 1901, which burned down a majority of the city. Finally, a third, magnificent church was constructed, which still stands today, serving 800 registered families.
St. John’s Cathedral is the site of the first Episcopal parish in Florida, with outdoor meetings held in the location eight years before the first church was officially built. It was several hundred years before that when the first inklings of the Anglican community began nearby on the St. Johns River, thus giving the church its name. However, after nearly 10 years of underfunding while the first church was built, the building came under fire several times before its fire construction. Once, it was burned during the Civil War, when Federal and Union troops alike where burning parts of the city, and again, in the Great Fire of 1901 that destroyed most of Jacksonville. Today, however, the church is thriving, with several outreach programs and a limestone cathedral built in its original location on the foundation of the churches that had burned down.
Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church was founded by a group of formerly enslaved men in 1866, and the present church in Jacksonville, Florida was completed in 1905. Originally, the group met as a secret “hush harbor, before building their first church at the present site in 1870. The congregation built a second, larger building in 1890, but it was lost in Jacksonville's Great Fire of 1901, thus leading to the construction of this building. In 1992, the church edifice was listed on both the Florida Black Heritage Trail and the National Register of Historic Places.
Now the archival repository for the Jacksonville Historical Society, the Old St. Luke's Hospital, built in 1878, was the city's first established hospital and functioned as a such until 1914. The archive features rare photographs, diaries, maps, manuscripts, films and other items relating to city history and the history of Northeast Florida. The building itself was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.