The Mother of Beaches History: Celebrating the Life of Jean Haden McCormick

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.

The Hadens in front of the Oceanic Hotel (ca. 1929)

The Hadens in front of the Oceanic Hotel (ca. 1929)

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.

Jean McCormick on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post

Jean McCormick on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post

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.

Phyllis Webb (left) and Jean McCormick (right) on the beach, photo by Virgil Deane (1948)

Phyllis Webb (left) and Jean McCormick (right) on the beach, photo by Virgil Deane (1948)

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.

Author James A. Michener, Jean Haden McCormick, J.T. McCormick (1981)

Author James A. Michener, Jean Haden McCormick, J.T. McCormick (1981)

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.

J. T. & Mrs. McCormick Attending "Saturday in the Park" during Centennial Celebration, museum in background (1984)

J. T. & Mrs. McCormick Attending “Saturday in the Park” during Centennial Celebration, museum in background (1984)

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. 



Field Trips

The Beaches Museum offers educational field trips for schools and summer camps year round!  The combination of our Permanent Exhibit, rotating temporary exhibits, 5 historic buildings, a 1911 steam locomotive, and our Heritage Demonstration Garden, creates a unique learning experience for people of all ages.

Schools, summer camps, and home school groups interested in scheduling a field trip please complete the field trip registration form at the bottom of this website.

If you have questions, please contact Jasmine Turner, Education & Marketing Manager, by calling 904-241-5657 ext. 114 or emailing

Preschool  Programs

Do your children love trains? Let them experience the time when the railroad ran through town. They will get to ring the bell on a real steam locomotive and learn about what life during the turn of the century as they tour Pablo Historical Park. Your little engineers will want to make tracks to visit again and again! Our youngest visitors will enjoy this fun learning experience as they participate in an interactive storytelling activity and search for objects on their VPK Scavenger Hunt while a docent tells them all about each item as they find it.

Program fee: $4.00 per student, chaperons and teachers free

Length of Program: 1 to 1.5 hours

Lower Elementary Programs (suitable for grades 1st and 2nd)

Beach History Explorers (suitable for grades 3rd-5th)

This program was designed to support Florida State Standards.  Educators are free to access the Beaches Lower Elementary Curriculum Guide  that contains pre- and post-visit activities and lessons for the classroom.

Program fee: $4.00 per student, chaperons and teachers free

Length of Program: 1 to 1.5 hours

Upper Elementary Programs

Beach Pioneers (suitable for grades 3rd-5th)

Visit the Beaches Museum and explore the history of pioneers at the Beaches, discover who Henry Flagler was, and experience the innovation of the railroads!  Students are guided on a tour of the Museum and History Park with an experienced docent.  The field trip begins with a scavenger hunt in our Permanent Exhibit featuring the six beach communities of Mayport, Atlantic Beach, Neptune Beach, Jacksonville Beach, Ponte Vedra, and Palm Valley.  Students will then move through the 1911 Steam Locomotive, the 1900 Florida East Coast Mayport Depot, and the 1900 Florida East Coast Foreman’s House completing different activities and having the stories of each building brought to life by the docent.  Finally, students will discover our Heritage Demonstration Garden, maintained by the Master gardeners through the University of Florida IFAS program.  In the garden they will have the opportunity to learn about seasonal vegetables, sugar cane, and composting.  Students will gain a richer understanding of local history and gain a valuable experience in this fantastic beaches culture.

This program has been designed to support 4th grade Florida State Standards.  Educators can access the Beaches Museum Upper Elementary Curriculum Guide which contains pre- and post-visit activities and lessons for the classroom.

Program fee: $4.00 per child, chaperones and teachers free

Length of Program: 2 hours

Home School Program (ages 3 – 17 years)

The Beaches Museum welcomes all home school groups looking for educational field trip opportunities!  Students will learn local Florida history when they visit the Museum and have the opportunity to experience that history through our historic buildings.  Home school groups may customize their field trips to best match the age range and grade levels of your students.  Options include: completing a scavenger hunt in the Permanent Exhibit, covering the beach communities of Mayport, Atlantic Beach, Neptune Beach, Jacksonville Beach, Ponte Vedra, and Palm Valley, touring our 1903 Post Office, 1911 Steam Locomotive, 1900 Florida East Coast Mayport Depot, 1900 Florida East Coast Foreman’s House, and 1887 Beach Chapel, and interacting with the Master Gardeners in the Heritage Demonstration Garden.

Program Fee: $4.00 per student, chaperons and teachers free

Length of Program: 1.5-2 hours

Summer Camps Welcome

The Beaches Museum welcomes all summer camp groups looking for field trip opportunities!  Field trips are customized to best fit the age range, grade levels, and focus of each summer camp program.  Options include learning about the railroads in Florida, particularly the Florida East Coast Railway and Henry Flagler, discovering Florida Friendly and sustainable gardening in the Heritage Demonstration Garden, beach history of Mayport, Atlantic Beach, Neptune Beach, Jacksonville Beach, Ponte Vedra, and Palm Valley, and much more!

Program Fee:  $4.00 per student, chaperons and teachers free

Length of Program: 2 hours



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Brittany Cohill Named Associate Director of the Beaches Museum

The Beaches Museum announced that Brittany Cohill has been promoted to Associate Director, effective immediately. In her new role, Cohill will oversee general educational programming, exhibits, archive and collections management, and the college/university internship program. Cohill will continue to report to Beaches Museum Executive Director Christine Hoffman.
Cohill joined the Beaches Museum as Operations Manager in December 2016. In this role, she supervised the Museum’s daily operations, a volunteer staff of approximately 75 volunteers, headed the Education and Accessibility Committees, and was a member of the Museum’s 2016-2017 Strategic Planning Committee. Cohill will maintain her management role in Museum operations and the volunteer program.
Cohill earned a Bachelor of Arts in History and Psychology and a Master of Arts in History from the University of North Florida. In addition to her work at the Beaches Museum, she is an Adjunct Instructor of History at Jacksonville University. 
 Photo Credit: Cheryl Joy Miner Photography

Jacksonville Beaches Area Centennial

This article was written and contributed by Karen Thomas

042-Centennial LogoIn 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. 

centennial P-1384 -watermarkedThe 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. Centennial article, Sun-Times, Sept. 5 1984 -watermarked


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. 

1984 centennial lindbergh baby monument P-1716B -watermarked









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.

1984 Centennial Unveiling of Marker with Scull decendents P-1494 -watermarked




Music Memories at the Beaches

The Beaches MuJacksonville Beach Danceseum​ needs your memories! Where did you go to hear the latest music with your friends on a Friday night back in the day? Music has long been an important part of life and a way to fall in love with the Beaches area. The Museum hopes to preserve local music history and culture through your stories. You can tell your stories by recording oral history interviews, lending concert programs, posters, t-shirt. Whether you attended the first Jazz Festival in Mayport or were a part of the weekend scene at pier dances or Einstein-A-Go-Go concerts, your memories and experiences are priceless. The Museum will showcase your memories at our upcoming exhibit opening in March 2019. Please contact Sarah Jackson , the Archives & Collections Manager at to schedule donations.

Elizabeth Stark: The Wonderwood Belle

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.


Beaches Museum Unveils New Logo

The Beaches Museum will be wrBeaches Museum Logoapping up its 40th year by rolling out a new name and logo. Started in 1978 as the Beaches Area Historical Society, the organization has been a staple in the community with the mission “to preserve and share the distinct history and culture of the Beaches area”.
Over the years, the name of the organization has caused some confusion.”We have been called every combination you can think of-Beaches Historical Museum, Jacksonville Beach Historical Society, Beaches Museum & Historical Society..the list goes on!” says Chris Hoffman, Executive Director of the Beaches Museum. “Technically, we are the Beaches Museum & History Park, operated by the Beaches Area Historical Society, so it’s no surprise that no one can keep it straight!”
After a year-long strategic planning process, the identity of the organization rose to the top as a major strategic issue. From there, the Board of Directors engaged Wingard, a Jacksonville-based marketing and advertising firm, for the re-branding project. Interviews with key stake holders and focus group meetings guided the process that resulted in the new name and logo.
Going forward, the organization will be known as the Beaches Museum with a new logo and tag line that were selected by the Board.”The logo is modern, fun, and really captured what we were going for” says Hoffman. “The shell as the ‘a’ works on so many levels-it’s a shell, it’s an @, some people see a wave, and the fact that it is yellow ties so nicely back to the Flagler yellow as seen all across our campus”.
It will take several months to roll-out the new branding but the community can expect to see new signage, website, letterhead, etc. Future plans include merchandise in the Museum’s gift shop.

Rutledge Pearson and the Jacksonville Beach Sea Birds

This article was written by Fall 2018 Beaches Museum intern Nick Iorio.

Team photo of the Jacksonville Beach Sea Birds. Dated April 8, 1952.

Team photo of the Jacksonville Beach Sea Birds. Dated April 8, 1952.

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.

“Sea Birds, May 1, 1952, Beach News and Advertiser”

Sea Birds, May 1, 1952, Beach News and Advertiser

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.

Mr. Lloyd Pearson and Beaches Museum Director Chris Hoffman admire a plaque honoring Rutledge Pearson at post office renaming ceremony on July 20, 2018.

Mr. Lloyd Pearson and Beaches Museum Executive Director Chris Hoffman admire a plaque honoring Rutledge Pearson at post office renaming ceremony on July 20, 2018.

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.

Sea Bird Player and Two Beauty Pageant Contestants

Sea Bird Player and Two Beauty Pageant Contestants

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


Beaches Museum & History Park
381 Beach Boulevard
Jacksonville Beach, Florida 32250