This article was adapted by Archives & Collections Manager, Sarah Jackson, from the permanent exhibit “Waiting for the Train” and the 2017 exhibit “Atlantic Beach: From the Continental to a Coastal Community.”
Henry Flagler (1830-1913) lived “The American Dream.” He was born in Hopewell, New York and later moved to Bellevue, Ohio where he found work at the L. G. Harkness & Company store.
During his time in Ohio, Flagler organized several companies in the grain and salt industries before joining John D. Rockefeller, a fellow grain trader, and Samuel Andrews to found Standard Oil, a petroleum refinery. Soon, Standard Oil was doing one-tenth of all petroleum business in the United States and went on to become the largest and most profitable corporation in the world at its peak. Flagler’s involvement with Standard Oil steadily diminished after 1882, but he remained vice president until 1908.
In 1853, Flagler married Mary Harkness, the daughter of Lamon Harkness – owner of the general store where he was formerly employed. Mary’s health was poor throughout her life, although she and Henry had three children: Jenny Louise, Carrie, and Harry Harkness.
Flagler first came to Florida in 1878 when he and Mary came to spend the winter in Jacksonville, Florida in the hopes that Mary’s health would improve. Although she never regained her health and died in 1881, Flagler recognized potential for growth and tourism in Florida and went on to devote most of his remaining years to developing the area. Flagler was especially taken with St. Augustine after an 1883 trip to the area with his second wife, Ida Alice. He returned to St. Augustine within two years to commence construction on the Ponce de Leon and purchase the Jacksonville, St. Augustine, & Halifax Railroad. From these projects, Flagler established the Florida East Coast Railway.
Over the next several years, Flagler continued to purchase smaller, local railroads along the east coast of Florida and connect them to create a railway system unlike any Florida had yet seen, which would span from Jacksonville down into Key West. Other hotels were constructed along the line after the Ponce de Leon, creating a string of hotels that became the Florida East Coast Hotel Company. Around 1899, Flagler set his sights back toward the Jacksonville area and implemented this same pattern at the Beaches.
The main objective with this new branch was to reach the docks at Mayport along the St. Johns River, which soon also became home to the company’s coal wharf. The coal was needed to fuel Flagler’s growing railway and hotels. The Jacksonville and Atlantic Railway ran from downtown Jacksonville toward Pablo Beach (now Jacksonville Beach). The Jacksonville, Mayport & Pablo Railway operated from the Mayport Village docks over to Burnside Beach on the oceanfront. Burnside Beach was a short-lived luxury resort complex that was built in conjunction with the JM&P Railway, but is now known as part of the land where Naval Station Mayport resides. These two railways were purchased by the FEC and connected along the oceanfront by 1900 to create the Mayport Branch of the FEC Railway. Another FEC Hotel was opened along this line in Atlantic Beach – the Continental Hotel.
The Continental opened in June of 1901. While it still featured luxury accommodations like Flagler’s other Florida resorts, it was simpler in design than hotels like the Ponce de Leon. The hotel featured its own golf course, a detached veranda that wrapped around the hotel for lounging, an 800 foot ocean pier – the Atlantic Beach Pier – for fishing, picturesque drives around the area, and automobiling and racing along the shore.
Stretching along the oceanfront at 447 feet long and 47 feet wide, the wooden hotel provided a grand and palatial figure at the Atlantic Beach seashore. The building was yellow – a specific shade used by the FEC – with green shutters, accommodations for over 200 people, and a dining room that could seat 350 people.
In advertisements for the hotel, the building was described as having an architectural design which was “perfectly balanced and pleasing to the eye” with its symmetry. It was also constructed close to the railway and boasted its own train station along the Mayport Branch.
Despite all of its advantages, the Continental – opened for both summer and winter seasons – was sold by the FEC in 1913 to the Atlantic Beach Corporation. It was then renamed to the Atlantic Beach Hotel until the building burned down in 1919.
The Mayport Branch continued to operate under the FEC well after the company had sold the hotel. Carrying passengers and cargo to and from the beaches, it remained a staple in local transportation for several years. However, by 1930, the FEC’s interest in the Mayport Branch had and local need for the railway decreased as other methods of transportation improved. Cars were already a regular sight at the beachfront, and in 1931, renovations and an electric drawbridge were completed for Atlantic Boulevard, allowing for greatly increased flow of traffic to the Beaches. The branch ceased operations in October 1932 and marked the end of an ear for the Beaches communities.
Flagler never lived to see the end of the FEC in the Beaches area. In 1913, he fell at his home in Palm Beach and died on May 20. His legacy in Florida continues today both through the company and the communities that developed and expanded around the railway.
This article was written by Beaches Museum Archives & Collections Manager, Sarah Jackson.
Though Pablo Beach only became an incorporated city in 1907, the community was already well on its way to becoming a popular beach destination on the Floridian coast of the Atlantic Ocean. Before 1912, however, residents and visitors to Pablo Beach, now known as Jacksonville Beach, swam in the ocean waters at their own risk. Over the years accidents occurred with inexperienced bathers, and even experienced bathers, caught in rip currents and other dangerous situations in or near the water. There were no trained officials at the beach to help bathers in distress and the closest medical facilities were miles away in Jacksonville.
The United States Volunteer Life Saving Corps of Pablo Beach was founded in 1912 by Clarence H. McDonald and Dr. Lyman G. Haskell. McDonald was appointed supervisor of public recreation for Jacksonville by the city government that year. Shortly after he took up his new position, a young nurse drowned in Pablo Beach, which brought the lack of beach lifeguards and first aid to McDonald’s attention and set him on the path creating the Corps. As he began efforts to start a life saving organization, he met Dr. Haskell, the Physical Director of the Y. M. C. A. in Jacksonville at the time who had also recognized the great need for such a group and joined McDonald’s efforts. Haskell created swimming and gymnastics classes in 1912 which became the basis for future Corps training, and many of his students from these classes became the first members of the U. S. Volunteer Life Saving Corps.
The Corps officially opened its first station, funded by the city, on April 6, 1913. This first station was a wooden structure just large enough to house one or two boats, some equipment, and a handful of men. The small building quickly became insufficient to fulfill the needs of the volunteer lifeguards, but continued to serve as their station for several years.
Less than two years after its inception, the Corps experienced a significant change. Due to the efforts of Commodore Wilbert E. Longfellow, the American Red Cross began its water safety program in 1914, and the U. S. Volunteer Life Saving Corps was chartered on April 17 of that year to become the American Red Cross Volunteer Life Saving Corps, Coast Guard Division #1. The small Pablo Beach station became known as Station #1.
The first building, however, was prone to storm damage, even blowing over a couple of times during significant storms in its earliest years before being fixed to a concrete foundation around 1915. While the Corps made frequent repairs over the years, it was ultimately replaced in 1920. Made of concrete block, the second Station #1 housed first-aid rooms, a guard room, locker room, captain’s room, club room, and a dormitory. A few years later, a boat room and a second dormitory were added. This station weathered several hurricanes and served the Corps for almost 25 years.
In its early years, the American Red Cross Volunteer Life Saving Corps had a contingent of women guards. Formed in the late 1920s, they served the beach community for about a decade. Since the mid-1990s, women have been actively recruited to serve alongside their male colleagues as one unified corps.
Talks began as early as the late 1930s to either remodel the station or replace the structure entirely. The second station was eventually torn down in December of 1945 and construction began on today’s Station #1 in 1946. Initially, the new station was expected to be built and operational in 1946, but due to problems with financing and materials needed for construction which were in short supply as WWII had only recently ended, construction was delayed for several months. Lifeguards and new recruits operated out of an old army hut on the beachfront throughout construction.
Full operations in the third Station #1 building began in 1948 with several improvements including a new observation tower known as the Peg. The older version of the Peg, similar to the mast and crow’s nest of an old ship, was replaced by a five-story tower connected to the main building. Constructed with the Art Deco style of architecture, the layout of this station is similar in many ways to the one it replaced.
The American Red Cross Volunteer Life Saving Corps remains an iconic and crucial component of Jacksonville Beach and the surrounding area. Station #1 was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1914 and remains a focal point of Jacksonville Beach to the present day. The distinctive suits and red chairs that pepper the beaches throughout the summer months have remained unchanged for years. The organization continues to provide valuable services to the community including first aid and water safety education.
This article was written by Spring 2019 Beaches Museum intern, Savannah Brychta
Without Jean H. McCormick’s decades of hard work and determination, much of the history of the Beaches’ area was in danger of being lost forever. Destined to fill a void many did not yet realize, Jean began her life as a proud and deeply involved member of the Beaches community.
Jean Haden was born on May 1, 1921, in Atlanta, Georgia. Her father, a credit manager by trade, was advised by his doctor to seek out the coastal Florida air as treatment for his perennial health issues. At only six-years-old, Jean moved with her family to Jacksonville Beach, Florida. After settling in, her father purchased an old Catholic orphanage on the beachfront and converted it into the Oceanic Hotel.
Growing up within the walls of the Oceanic, Jean had the formative experience of watching her parents work hard to build and maintain a community institution. Her father managed hotel operations until his death, when Jean was sixteen. After that, her mother took over, eventually passing the hotel over to Jean herself. It was there that she interacted with the many characters that passed through the Oceanic’s doors, and it was there that she met J.T. McCormick.
In her early teens, the hotel was threatened by a violent tropical storm. Jean’s father called upon B.B. McCormick & Sons to construct an emergency bulkhead to shield his establishment from the expected storm surge. J.T. was one of those sons. The hotel survived and a romance was born. A few years later, J.T. and Jean began dating. Just before his death, Jean’s father told her that as long as she finished high school first, he would happily give his blessing for the two to marry. In 1939, Jean graduated from Duncan U. Fletcher high school and became Mrs. J.T. McCormick. The couple moved to the undeveloped Penman Road and started their family.
While J.T. followed in his father’s footsteps, expanding the community’s infrastructure, Jean became a significant member of the Beaches’ social structure. Her involvement in the community’s affairs grew to the point that she was able to identify societal needs and worked to fill them. Her passion and tenacity resulted in the establishment of a Dental Clinic for underprivileged children, the foundation of the Azalea Garden Circle, and the creation of a study group for local women to meet and discuss current events and other intellectual topics.
Jean also served as a president of the Junior Women’s Club of Jacksonville Beach. She served six years on the Jacksonville Episcopal High School Council and was vice president for two. She was president of the Women of Christ Church in Ponte Vedra Beach and president of the Friends of the Library at Jacksonville University. She served two three-year terms on the Jacksonville Historic Landmarks commission. She may not have realized it at the time, but working as a community leader in these organizations, Jean was building the skills and connections she later used to found a historical society. But it was that study group that planted the seed.
In 1976, in light of the nation’s bicentennial, Jean and the rest of the country began reflecting more on their collective pasts. Jean used it as an opportunity to research and talk about the history of the Beaches area with her study group. The local library offered only a single book on Beaches history. She was instructed to go downtown to find more.
Frustrated and motivated, Jean began to wonder why the Beaches were not the keepers of their own history. The Intracoastal Waterway (affectionately known as “the Ditch”) has long been a border between the Beaches area and Greater Jacksonville. As a result of this geographical divide, the communities on either side have evolved with some degree of separation, one that has birthed a distinct local identity at the Beaches. Jean began to wonder how one might go about preserving the story of that identity’s evolution.
By 1978, she was in contact with her old friend J.B. Dobkins who worked for the Florida Historical Society in Tampa. Under his advice, and with the support of her close friend Virgil Deane, Jean began taking the temperature of local interest in the idea of forming a Beaches Historical Society. The response was overwhelming. McCormick later recalled that the project’s momentum took on almost divine proportions. “The Lord meant this to be,” Jean told the Sun-Times in 1981 when talking about how “doors had been opened” to her in the early stages of her efforts. By 1979, the Beaches Area Historical Society had embarked on their mission to “Plan a Future for Our Past.” In 1981, they opened the Beaches Museum.
It takes a certain kind of person to pull together such a great achievement through sheer force of will. But looking over her life, it is easy to see how well-suited Jean McCormick was to the task. Jean loved Beaches history because she had lived Beaches history. She managed the Oceanic Hotel where she later discovered German spies likely stayed there, disguised as vacationing artists who were only walking the coastline in search of information. The FBI later visited, investigating their suspicion that those long ocean-side walks were taken with the purpose of mapping the coast for a landing and attempted infiltration by Nazi saboteurs in Ponte Vedra during World War II. Jean later oversaw the preservation of the wild invasion story with a historical marker in Ponte Vedra Beach.
Jean was also part of the foundation of many local institutions. Jean was in the second graduating class at Fletcher High School. She was the first bride to walk down the aisle at Beach United Methodist Church. These experiences instilled in her the sense of community that inspired the formation of the Historical Society. She has described her passion as “sentimental,” but it is precisely that ability to find meaning in things of the past that has saved Beaches history from being lost to the currents of time.
It would seem that she always had her keen sense for preservation and resourcefulness. When Jean and her husband moved from Jacksonville Beach to build a home in Ponte Vedra Beach, she salvaged timbers from her family’s Oceanic Hotel to use for construction. When the Beaches Museum opened in 1981, everything was donated. When the locomotive was acquired, the transport and construction was all fundraised.
She had long possessed the qualities of a leader. As a hobby, Mrs. McCormick was fond of constructing miniatures of homes and buildings. She would build them to scale and curate them with a meticulous attention to detail and loyalty to authenticity. Those same attributes were apparent in her leadership over the foundation and administration of the Beaches Area Historical Society.
In 2006, when the expanded Beaches Museum was completed, Jacksonville Beach Mayor Fland O. Sharp recognized Jean McCormick’s contributions by proclaiming March 7, 2006 to be Jean Haden McCormick Day. Following her recent passing and with that date only weeks away, we ask you to join us in remembering the life and accomplishments of Jean McCormick for Women’s History Month. The Mother of Beaches History—without her, our past would have been washed away by the waves.
In lieu of flowers, the McCormick family has requested that gifts may be made to the Jean McCormick Founders’ Fund at the Beaches Museum. This fund will help to ensure the lasting legacy of Jean McCormick. To donate online, please click here. Thank you.
This article was written and contributed by Karen Thomas
In 1984, the Beaches Area Historical Society hosted a series of events recognizing the centennial of Jacksonville Beach. Founded in 1884 by the Scull family, Jacksonville Beach was first known as Ruby Beach. William E. and Eleanor Scull were the first family to settle the area, working a post office and general store while living in tents on the beach with their two children, Ruby and Bessie. What began as a small, nearly unpopulated, nineteenth-century outpost on the route between Mayport and St. Augustine eventually grew into the thriving and lively Jacksonville Beach that Jean McCormick and the Beaches Area Historical Society wanted to commemorate with a centennial celebration in 1984.
The celebration kicked off in 1983 when Florida Governor Bob Graham signed a proclamation designating 1984 as “Jacksonville Beaches Area Centennial Year.” From there, the Historical Society – led by Jean McCormick – spearheaded plans to ensure that the centennial celebration of Jacksonville Beach would be a year full of activity and events.
In April of 1984, the Society hosted a “Saturday in the Park” event to commemorate several significant milestones in Beaches area history.
First, there was the unveiling and dedication of the 1932 Lindbergh Baby Monument at its new permanent home in Pablo Park. This was followed by a ribbon cutting ceremony of the newly renovated and restored Mayport Depot. “Saturday in the Park” proved to be a huge hit, even drawing attendance from the grandchildren of the Scull family.
Jacksonville Beach’s centennial celebrations concluded in December of 1984 when the Beaches Area Historical Society placed a historic marker in Pablo Historical Park to commemorate the establishment of Ruby Beach. The grandchildren of William E. and Eleanor Scull initiated this idea and worked closely with the Historical Society in order to preserve this important piece of Beaches history.
This article was written and contributed by Johnny Woodhouse.
Wonderwood by the Sea, her 375-acre estat in East Mayport, eventually grew to more than 20 buildings, including the Ribault Inn, a lodge and dining facility. Her two-story, white stucco manor that overlooked Ribault Bay was known as “Miramar,” which means sea view in Spanish.
Wonderwood By the Sea featured a 1,000-foot fishing pier, riding stables, a swimming pool, ball fields and an artificial lake. It was once the setting for a 1916 silent film. That same year, Stark was credited with organizing the first Girl Scout Troop in the Jacksonville area, Cherokee Rose Troop 1, made up mostly of girls from Mayport. During World War I, the Girl Scout troop played an active role in civil defense by patrolling local beaches on horseback.
In the ensuing years, Stark hosted numerous dignitaries at Wonderwood by the Sea, including Franklin D. Roosevelt, U.S. Senator Duncan Fletcher, Baron and Baroness DeWitt of Denmark, Colonel William Gaspard of France, and Jacksonville Mayor John Alsop.
Many of these prominent guests came to Wonderwood By the Sea as a result of her brother, Herman Hoffman Philip, an American diplomat and a former Rough Rider with Teddy Roosevelt.
But in 1940, life at Wonderwood by the Sea – and for Mayport as a whole – changed forever when the U.S. government waged an eminent domain battle for Stark’s land.
In 1926, Stark’s properties were worth an estimated $2 million. In 1940, the U.S. government offered her less than $40,000.
When Stark refused to leave, U.S. Marines forcibly occupied the Ribault Inn and later carried her out of her home tied to a chair. With her government settlement, Stark purchased 30 acres of undeveloped property south of the base, off what is now Pioneer Drive. She dubbed her new home Wonderwood Estates.
Stark spent her remaining years there until her death in 1967 at age 91. Once the belle of many official balls, she died alone and penniless and was buried in an unmarked grave in the Pablo Cemetery. Her husband, Jacob, a former prizefighter, preceded her in 1956.
In 1975, the Beaches Neighborhood of Girl Scouts, spearheaded by Brownie Troop 446, raised funds to mark her final resting place with a pink granite headstone etched with the Girl Scouts emblem. In 2010, the Mayport Civic Association recognized Stark’s memorable contributions to the historic fishing village with an additional marker at the foot of her modest grave.
This article was written by Fall 2018 Beaches Museum intern Nick Iorio.
Years before the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp (which had been known as the Jacksonville Suns) took to the baseball diamond in early 1960s, there was a different baseball team called the Jacksonville Beach Sea Birds. The Jacksonville Beach Sea Birds entertained hundreds of fans from all over Duval County and surrounding areas. Founded in 1952, the Jacksonville Beach Sea Birds played in the South Atlantic League, a minor league circuit commonly referred to as the “Sally” for short. The Sea Birds often played better than most of the other teams in their league, winning the majority of their games overall and even coming close to winning their league’s championship during their very first season in 1952. Even though the Sea Birds played well, the team never gained a substantial fan base and lasted only three seasons until their disbandment in 1954 because of the lack of revenue from fan attendance. Many other teams in the Sally also faced problems keeping fans in their seats, which caused such harsh financial burdens on the league that many teams considered disbanding to relief themselves of the financial hardship.
However, the league found a solution to their financial issues in 1953 when the Sally finally integrated and allowed African Americans players to play in the league, being one of the last baseball circuits in the nation to integrate. With the integration of the league, many African American players in the south left their segregated teams to play in the Sally. This was a beneficial decision for everyone involved because it provided African American players the opportunity to one day play in the major leagues and solved the league’s attendance problems by bringing in all the African American fans wanting to watch their favorite players play in the newly integrated league. The majority of the league integrated relatively smoothly with only a few teams refusing to allow African Americans to play. The Jacksonville Beach Sea Birds was one of those few teams. Through the efforts and support from city officials, citizens, and the American Legion, the Sea Birds never integrated even with the provision of the league. The team denied a number of African Americans to play including Rutledge Pearson. This decision ultimately led to the disbandment of the team.
Born on September 9, 1929 in Jacksonville, Florida, Rutledge Pearson is best known for his civil rights activism because of his many years advocating for civil and social equality here in Northeast Florida until his tragic death in 1967. Mr. Pearson even held the office of President for both the local Jacksonville branch and the Florida state level of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) because of his lifetime dedication to civil rights activism. However, Rutledge Pearson was not always a civil rights leader. Before his leadership role in the NAACP, Pearson was a local history teacher and an African American baseball player that played in segregated teams such as the Birmingham Black Barons. Rutledge Pearson was an excellent baseball player that strove to play in the major leagues and saw the integration of the Sally as his opportunity to not only increase his chances of one day making it to the majors but also as an opportunity to play on a team close to his family and home in Jacksonville, the Jacksonville Beach Sea Birds. Looking to further his baseball career, Pearson asked the Sea Birds to play on their team but the citizens, team manager, and city officials all stood by the decision to keep the team segregated and denied his request to transfer to the team even though Pearson would have brought lots of revenue to keep the team and stadium running for a while longer. This decision ultimately led to the disbandment of the team as park officials closed down the park instead of allowing Pearson to play, a decision that devastated Pearson and led him to dedicate his life to civil rights activism.
The Jacksonville Beach Sea Birds were a talented minor league team in the early 1950s but the support from citizens and the local government to keep the team segregated resulted in the team’s disbandment after only three seasons. The Sea Birds’ time in the South Atlantic League was short and Rutledge Pearson never reached his goal to play in the majors, yet Rutledge Pearson’s experience with the Sea Birds inspired him to dedicate the rest of his life to advocate for social and civil equality, a truly remarkable and influential result
This article was written by Fall 2018 Beaches Museum intern, Alex Morales.
After planes were used during the Great War for air-to-air combat, surveillance, and mail carriers, many U.S. pilots began using their skills to push the limits of aviation technology. Some modified their aircrafts to perform in stunt shows. Others, like Charles Lindberg seized the opportunity to create distance and time records. However, he was neither the only pilot nor the first to make a mark in the aeronautical history books. Jacksonville Beach played host to one famous record breaking pilot, Lt. James H. Doolittle, who set a new transcontinental flight record in 1922.
Before breaking flight records, Doolittle was a flying instructor with the Army Air Service in Eagle Pass, Texas where he performed border patrol duties. After years of planning, Doolittle prepared his military issued DeHaviland plane to withstand the long distance flight across the U.S. He stripped it of excess weight so it could support a 285 gallon fuel tank and still remain light. On August 6, 1922, at Pablo Beach (present-day Jacksonville Beach), a large crowd of well-wishers and spectators gathered to see him take off. As his plane taxied across the beach, it got caught in soft sand making it veer into the ocean.
Although embarrassed by the faux pas, Doolittle made the necessary repairs to his plane to try again. On September 4, 1922 at 10 pm, with just kerosene lanterns to illuminate the beach, Doolittle soared into the skies and into history. Twenty-one hours and nineteen minutes later, he touched down in San Diego and broke the transcontinental flight record. Making only one stop in San Antonio, he averaged a speed of 105 miles per hour and stayed at an altitude of 3,500 feet.
Pablo Beach figured greatly in aviation history due to its location. The distance between San Diego and Pablo Beach is the shortest transcontinental route—a distance of 2,270 miles. The southern route contained fewer mountain ranges and provided relatively better weather conditions for flying. With more military bases along the route, it also ensured that pilots had more opportunities to land safely, refuel, or to seek assistance and shelter in emergency situations. Additionally, beaches served as a prime location for airplanes as the long stretches of sandy shoreline provided an area for pilots to land and take off.
Before Doolittle, Robert Flowler’s flight on October 20, 1911 was the first southerly coast-to-coast flight to land in Pablo Beach. His endeavor took 115 days. Albert D. Smith and his group took 18 days to land in Pablo Beach in 1918. The following year, Major J. T. McCauley flew from coast to coast in 25 hours and 45 mins. Two years later in 1921, Lt. William DeVoe Coney landed in Pablo Beach from San Diego in 22 hours and 27 minutes.
After making aviation history, Doolittle went on to become a Lieutenant General in the United States Air Force. On April 18, 1942, he and his crew, the Doolittle Raiders, flew 16 bombers leading the first surprise raid on Tokyo. His actions during WWII earned Doolittle military distinctions.
Years later, the Beaches Area Historical Society sought to commemorate the military hero for his role in the history of Jacksonville Beach. On September 4, 1980, the Society invited Lt. Gen. Doolittle back to Jacksonville Beach to unveil and dedicate a marker honoring his historic flight in 1922. The marker continues to stand tall in the Museum’s history park.
By: Alex Morales, Summer Intern
In the late 1970s, the City of Jacksonville Beach moved forward with plans to further urbanize the area. With urbanization efforts in full swing, Jacksonville Beach resident, Mrs. Jean McCormick, became concerned for the lack of historical preservation efforts and available information regarding her hometown’s past. On February 22, 1978, Mrs. McCormick and her Husband, J. T. McCormick invited a group of friends over to their house for cherry pie to celebrate President George Washington’s birthday.
She discussed the need to increase community awareness, preservation efforts to protect significant structures and landmarks and, most of all, to celebrate the rich history of the Beaches. With that, the friends formed the Beaches Area Historical Society. Their mission became “to plan a future for our past.” With that mission in mind the group set out to create a comprehensive history by designating Mayport, Atlantic Beach, Neptune Beach, Jacksonville Beach, Ponte Vedra Beach, and Palm Valley, Florida as the Beaches Area.
Gathering local support and funding became a forefront issue. The Society spread their mission through word of mouth, letters amongst friends, running newspaper articles, as well as networking with other historical preservation groups and city council members. Likewise, the Society became heavily involved in local community activities. The April Opening of the Beaches parade signaled an early turning point for the Society. With a massive community turnout, an unexpected explosion of a nearby buggy during the parade ignited community awareness of the Society. Mr. Charles Cook Howell, Jr. wrote in a small note to Mrs. McCormick stating, “a true Champion has started the society off with a bang! This certainly argues well for the future.”
In the following months, the Society saw a jump in membership and elected their first Officers and Board Members. In July, they created an official logo and drafted their first newsletter to mail members in the community. By October, the Society organized their first historical exhibits. Not having a facility or museum did not stop them from putting one together. They utilized two small spaces in the Ocean State Bank and Beaches Guaranty Bank to display two exhibits “full of Memorabilia” that even included a 100,000 year old mammoth tooth.
It was not until March 1, 1979 that the Society became a registered nonprofit organization. With an official title in hand, they arranged quarterly talks for members and invited the extended Beaches community to listen to lectures on local history. In May, Jacksonville Beach City Council approved the Society’s petition for a flat-ironed shaped property located between Beach Blvd and Pablo Ave to establish a historical park. They appropriately named it Pablo Historical Park after Jacksonville Beach’s previous name. The park eventually became home to five “at risk” structures, items, memorials, and markers representing and celebrating the bygone era of the Beaches Area. However, the addition of the Beaches Museum and History Center in 2006 ushered a new phase of the Society’s role in the community.
After forty years, the Beaches Area Historical Society continues to be a staple of the Beaches Area community. Despite the passing of time and a changing landscape, the spirit of the Society continues to endure with its new mission: “to preserve and share the distinct history and culture of the Beaches area.”