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.
The Spring 2019 Newsletter is now available to read online!
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.
The Beaches Museum 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 firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule donations.
The Holidays 2018 newsletter is now available!