“To Plan a Future for Our Past”

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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 2word 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 3not 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 lastappropriately 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.”

 

 

History of the Heritage Garden

This article was written by Master Gardener Lee McDonald in honor of the 10th Anniversary of the Beaches Museum Heritage Garden.

April 1, 2018 marks the 10th Anniversary of the Heritage Garden inHeritage Garden - Photo Jacksonville Beach. Located on Beach Blvd at the Beaches Museum & History Park, the garden, a Duval County Extension Demonstration Garden, is maintained by Master Gardener volunteers with the purpose of community education in gardening practices.

On its first anniversary, Jacksonville’s mayor designated the garden as one of the city’s top greenspace revitalization projects. Soil is critical to successful plantings because, as in much of Florida, our soils are very sandy. In by-gone days, soils here were naturally composted by horses, cows, chickens, and more roaming fauna than we see today. Fallen leaves were returned to landscapes and ash from heating and cooking were turned into the sand and soil. These historical practices made soils more suitable for gardening due to rich natural and scheduled amendments.

Composting remains essential to sustainable gardening. Thus, it is not surprising that the first order of business on April Fool’s day in 2008 was to collect composted horse manure from a local farm and plow it into the soil. These soil restoration practices from that initial day have made continued maintenance and development productive at the Heritage Garden.

Heritage Garden - Photo 2Mid-20th century, folks discovered that much chemical fertilization could boost turf and gardens around homes. The last seventy years, however, have taught us that practices, including excessive applications and misuse of certain chemicals in herbicides, fertilizers, and pesticides, damage the water table, successful human habitation, and the environment, creating a less sustainable community. As a learning center, the garden’s goal is sharing best garden practices. Volunteers show Extension recommended practices, observing how plant choices and gardening methods work to support quality of life in our specific environment.

The 2008 Heritage Garden, envisioned to complement the turn-of-the-twentieth-century Foreman’s House, was confined to a space measuring thirty percent less than the 13′ x 18′ space is occupied within two years. Numbering fewer than ten in 2008, MG volunteers now number thirty. Over the past four years, the garden has expanded rapidly; specialized garden areas include the kitchen (vegetable and herb), rose, perennial, butterfly, shade or ginger, and bromeliad gardens as well as specialized plantings of historical native and non-native plants throughout the park. At present, the garden hosts over 240 varieties of plants with new additions every season. It is accessible with paved pathways and ramps meeting ADA standards. Visitors may wander through and observe the garden during museum hours. Tours are available by reservation. School and civic groups regularly schedule visits to tour the garden and museum exhibits.

Heritage Garden - Photo 3In 2012, the Heritage Garden was recognized by UF/IFAS Florida Master Gardener Program as one of Florida’s most outstanding demonstration gardens.  Over the decade, we have faced typical challenges of Florida living, actively engaging in renewal and sustainable practices for both edible and ornamental plant growth.  The garden has weathered development and redevelopment with the addition of two newly moved and restored historic buildings which altered the footprint of the garden as well as storms and hurricanes which served as reminders of the history of our community.  The French first recorded a hurricane here in 1564; but human habitation here at the mouth of the St. John’s spans thousands of years.  The Beaches Museum and Heritage Gardens presents the simple, amazing history of the region we call home. The Heritage Garden is a demonstration of practices which will yield a successful home garden on our island today.

Orpah Jackson: Community Builder

This article was written for the February and March 2018 Spotlight Exhibit on Orpah Jackson created by Spring 2018 Beaches Museum interns, Dylan Franke and Nick Iorio.

Orpah JacksonOrpah Jackson was, and continues to be, an important member of the Beaches community; working as a teacher for 55 years and actively participating in community projects. Born on June 15th, 1920 in Lumpkin, Georgia, her family later moved to a small neighborhood in East Mayport, Florida when she was 6 years old. This move was influenced by her mother’s desire to provide a better education for Orpah and her brother.

Attending school as an African American was difficult. After sixth grade, Orpah had to find methods of travelling into Jacksonville to attend Junior High School. In 1940, Orpah graduated from Stanton High School and five years later from Cornell University. She then moved to Melbourne, Florida where she began her first teaching job.

Orpah Jackson teaching at Rhoda MartinIn 1946 she moved back to Duval County and began a job as teacher and principal of 19 African American students in Mayport Village. When that school was closed in 1948, she began teaching 2nd grade at School #144 in Jacksonville Beach. Here, Orpah taught a wide range of subjects to her 2nd graders including reading, math, music, and physical education for 20 years.

Upon integration, Orpah transferred to Seabreeze Elementary, where she taught for 10 years. Including her years working as a substitute teacher at Neptune Beach Elementary and Atlantic Beach Elementary, Orpah taught until 2000.

Orpah Jackson in her old classroom 2009Orpah was involved with many projects including the coordination of the integrated Vacation Bible School for the local churches, working with Meals on Wheels as a member of Church Women United, providing assistance to the neighborhood through the Donner Community Development Corporation, and serving as the first African American woman in Atlantic Beach to work on the voting Precinct. She currently serves as a member and Treasurer on the Board of the Rhoda L. Martin Cultural Heritage Center, which works to preserve the history of School #144 where her old classroom is on display.

A special exhibit spotlighting Orpah and her many accomplishments can be found in the lobby of the Beaches Museum through March, 2018.

Shrimping and Fishing in Mayport

Shrimping and Fishing in Mayport

 

This article is an excerpt from the 2016 exhibit, Mayport Village: On the River of Change.

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Commercial fishing and shrimping operations have played an integral role in shaping life in Mayport Village for over one hundred and fifty years. Home to some of the oldest shad fisheries in Florida, the industry has experienced several transformations as technology and infrastructure has evolved.

In the 1850s, New England fishermen discovered the mouth of the St. Johns River was teeming with shad, mullet, alewives, and other marine species that relied on fresh water for feeding and spawning. By the 1870s, several Connecticut-based boat captains, including Captain David Kemps, Sr. relocated to the Mayport Village area to make a living. Deploying shad-nets, mullet-nets, haul-seines and gill-nets, they fished alongside expert African-American fishermen who were chiefly responsible for the fisheries’ daily operations. More than three-fourths of the catch was sold to dealers in Savannah.

By the early 1900s, mullet and shad populations dropped dramatically. Mayport captains attributed this to the unrestricted use of gill-nets and the increasing presence of steamboats in the river.

New opportunities arose in shrimping, however, by the 1920s. The advent of motorized fishing vessels made offshore shrimping a feasible and lucrative venture. The arrival of experienced Portuguese fishing families, the Rowlands and the Perrys, that same decade breathed life into a nascent industry.

By the 1950s, shrimp docks dominated the horizon of Mayport. Local men like Johnny Vona, Booty Singleton, Mathias “Matt ” Roland, Mr. Parnell, Manuel Jesus, Jesse Perry, and A.J. Ruffin were the backbone of the industry. Two decades later, more than 150 shrimping vessels were unloading their catch at Mayport Village docks.  Nearly everyone in the village had a shrimper in their family. A popular local pastime was to greet the boats as they entered the village to see the day’s catch.

The late 1990s and early 2000s, however were unkind to the once-bustling shrimping fleet. Local shrimpers credit rising gas-prices and foreign imports of Ecuadorian and Asian shrimp for the industry’s decline. Today, Safe Harbor Seafood is the last remaining dock open for commercial offload.

A New Mission, Vision, and Values

Committee PhotoThe Beaches Museum & History Park’s Board of Directors started its 2017-2018 year strong with the presentation of its new Strategic Plan.  The 10-month process was supported by the Community Foundation and was facilitated by Jana Ertrachter, the Ertrachter Group, who brought years of experience guiding organizations through the Strategic Planning Process.

A 12-member team comprised of board members, staff, volunteers and community members met monthly to gather and share information, derive key strategic issues and to assemble the roadmap for the Museum’s next three years.

Among other things, the group proposed new mission, vision and values statements that were unanimously adopted by the board at their October 10 meeting.  The new mission statement of the Museum is “To preserve and share the distinct history and culture of the Beaches area”.

In addition to presenting the Strategic Plan, the new officers and two new members were announced.  2017-2018 officers will be:  President-Jack Schmidt, Vice President-Linda Lanier, Treasurer-Randy Hayes and Secretary-Bill Carter.  The board welcomed Chris Pilinko and Claudia Estes.

“We have a busy year of interesting programming, engaging special events and even more initiatives to share the fascinating history of our community” says Jack Schmidt, Board President.  “Having the right board, volunteers and staff in place are key to making all of our endeavors a success and we look forward to a great year”.

Please visit Our Mission page to learn more about the Beaches Museum’s Vision, Values, and to review a complete copy of the Strategic Plan.

Admission to the Beaches Museum is free and information about programs and events can be found by calling 904-241-5657.

The Oesterreicher-McCormick Cabin

oesterreicher-mccormick-cabin-beaches-museumBuilt in 1873 on Twenty Mile in Palm Valley, the Oesterreicher-McCormick Cabin is one of the area’s oldest examples of Florida Cracker architecture.  Under threat of destruction to make way for a development, the Cabin was identified by the Beaches Museum not only for its historic significance, but for its potential as a support building within the History Park.

The cabin was donated to the Museum and a very successful capital campaign to provide for restoration ensued.  Great care was taken to preserve as much of the craftsmanship and original features of the Cabin as possible while bring it up to modern-day building codes and requirements.

Opened to visitors in November, 2016, the Cabin has proved to be not only an ADA compliant bathroom and gathering area, but also a fascinating glimpse in to pioneer life in Florida for visitors, school groups and the community.

September 1967 Mid-Air Collision Results in Death of Six Servicemen

Charlie Holbert was having dinner with his wife and two young sons on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 1967, when he first heard the roar of an approaching airplane flying dangerously low over his home in the Ocean Forest section of Jacksonville Beach.

The Southern Bell traffic engineer ran outside just in time to catch a fleeting glimpse of a U.S. Navy plane struggling to stay aloft in the rapidly disappearing daylight. Holbert’s three-bedroom house was within easy walking distance of the Intracoastal Waterway where the crippled plane seemed to be heading. Seconds later, he heard “the sickening sound” of the plane crashing into the nearby mud flats.

Forty-five years later, after reading a retelling of the crash in The Beaches Leader, Holbert came to the realization that he and his family may actually owe their lives to the heroic actions of the pilot of that ill-fated maritime patrol plane, Lt. Michael P. Myers.

Seconds earlier, the aircraft had collided with a Navy jet that had lost radio contact with its Mayport-based aircraft carrier, the USS Shangri-La. The mid-air collision, which occurred around 6:30 p.m., took the lives of six servicemen: five in the patrol plane and one in the F-8 Crusader jet. Many believe the 30-year-old Myers deliberately ditched his aircraft into the river to avoid any collateral damage on the ground.

After clipping the tail section of Myers’ plane, which was headed south to NAS Jacksonville, the Navy jet plunged into the Intracoastal, its lone occupant, Lt. (j.g.) Mark E. Garrett of Light Photographic Squadron 82 of NAS Cecil Field, still strapped into the cockpit. An airman permanently assigned to Myers’ plane gave up his seat on the twin-engine turboprop so 19-year-old Philip R. Huggins could get some flight time. Also killed were radioman Marion E. Young, 25, and Lt. Cmdr. R.H. Ford, 33, a Naval Reserve co-pilot on a two-week active-duty assignment. “It was a sad experience to see so many friends lost that day,” recalled the airman whose life was spared.

Holbert wasn’t the only eyewitness to history. Nancy Broner was at Fletcher High’s football stadium cheering for her junior high classmates when she noticed something alarming in the sky overhead. “Those planes are going to collide,” Broner recalled in 2012. “One of them went nose down.”

B-4 jet crashRush Abry, a well-known Beaches photographer, managed to capture the only image of the crash site after wading through chest-high water to reach a tiny island where the patrol plane crashed and burned upon impact. His stunning black-and-white photo of four first-responders straddling the plane’s crumpled fuselage as a fire blazes behind them won a state press award for on-the-spot photography.

Abry’s waterfront home in Jacksonville Beach overlooks the marsh and the scene of the crash. A few years ago, the widow of Charles M. McLarty, a 26-year-old crewman on the aircraft, traveled to Jacksonville Beach to pay homage to her late husband. She and Abry posed for a picture on the back patio of Abry’s home with the island hauntingly looming in the background. Shortly after the tragic accident, Sheila McLarty (now Moore) and Lt. Myers’ widow, Jeanne Hand, invited Lt. Garrett’s widow, Linda, to dinner. Each had suffered a tremendous loss, but their friendship didn’t suffer because of it. Recalled Hand 45 years later: “I wanted Linda to know that we were not upset with her, and that there were no hard feelings.”

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