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A red glow slowly started framing the palm trees on the
east side of the marsh until, finally, a great red ball of a moon
showed bright and clear and beautiful. As the moon rose higher and higher, objects in the marsh became more easily distinguishable. First, Cabbage Creek became a silvery ribbon with
its overflow of flood tide water, and then San Pablo Creek took
on the appearance of a great silver snake. When the light of the
moon reached the western shore of the marsh, it brought into
bold relief a group of men sitting around a campfire and enjoying every minute of watching the Lord's handiwork.
The marshes are a thing of beauty in the daytime with dead
cypress trees still standing after more than a half century of
torture by salt water intrusion. They have long since given up
their hold on life but they still stand stark and bare against the
sky. Two beautiful creeks run through the marsh which must
be more than a mile across, and bird life teems everywhere. To
the south of this is another creek that has played a big part in
the history of this country. Altogether, it is a most beautiful
and delightful spot. Hope it stays this way for the coming
The "Old Goats" were in session on this particular night.
Their meeting place is on the banks of the marsh in the front
yard of Fred and Mable Weaver's home. The camp ground consists of a hole in the ground approximately twenty-four inches
wide and thirty-six inches long and twelve inches deep, all bricked up. There
is a table, on which food is prepared and one
luxury; plenty of webbed lawn chairs. The "Old Goats Club"
could hardly be called a club since it has no president, no dues,
and no membership roster. It has two rules: be on time, and no
alcoholic beverages. This so-called club has been in existence
for over thirty-five years and to my knowledge there has never
been a harsh word spoken or even an argument. This, to me is
wonderful since the members are not hand picked and anyone
is welcome if he will abide by the two rules and enter into the
spirit of everything.
The club meets in a designated place at 3:00 PM and all of
the members go to the country store together where they buy
their food for the occasion. Every man is told to get anything
he might want to eat and put it on the counter. Sometimes
they do come up with a conglomeration that only an old goat
could digest. Chocolate coated ants, fried grasshoppers, rabbi's
delights, souse meat, extra sharp cheese, sweet onion, rye
bread, butter, Ritz crackers, fig newtons, smoked oysters, jelly
rolls, anchovies, (no caviar because it was not available), sardines; and then we buy the food!
Usually, our main meal is prime aged rib eye steaks, and in
the winter time, quite often we have hot chocolate topped off
with jellyrolls or sweet crackers of some kind. It is a rarity indeed when
anyone leaves there hungry. The bill is added up and
everyone pays his equal share, usually about $3.00.
Henry Dixson is our cook and sometimes a new member
might question the highly seasoned food. The fact that Henry
is color blind and can't tell red pepper from black pepper might
have something to do with the seasoning. We like to tell the
new members about the cook's job. It was in a sawmill camp
and no one would cook until one poor soul was forced into the
job with the stipulation that the first man to complain would
have to take over the job. The food was terribly salty and one
man started to complain, only to catch himself in time. "The
food sure is salty, but that is the way I like it."
The men eat, drink hot chocolate and talk all afternoon
until the grill is thrown over a hot bed of coals just before
dark and then the steaks are broiled. You can have your steak
cooked anyway you like it, if you are lucky, but there is no
guarantee on this. The safest way is to learn to like it as you
get it, or cook it yourself by continually sampling it. There is
something about that fresh air and wood smoke that makes
food taste better. Then, too, it is difficult to tell how rare a
piece of meat is in the dark, anyway.
Most of the Old Goats have been hunters, and many of them
bring their rifles and pistols for some target practice. Some excellent shots
are in the crowd, but after supper, when the
dishes are washed and the guns put away, comes the finest
part of the day.
The night is chilly and more wood is heaped on the fire until
there is a good blaze going. Everyone relaxes in comfort as a
great horned owl tells his troubles to the world at large. As the
tide rises higher, the marsh hens begin to grumble as they have
to move to a new spot; coons come out and play around the
trees hoping someone will pitch them a handout. Armadillos
come into the light but stay there only briefly.
Some three hundred yards to the rear of our campsite is the
old trail where Menéndez travelled up to Fort Caroline to pay
an unfriendly visit to the Huguenots. To the south, is the old
humpbacked bridge where you can see lights of cars crossing
over from time to time. Yachts and barges are passing up and
down the Intracoastal canal to the east of us. Altogether, it is
really an inspiring place to be. The light from the fire lights up
the faces of the men and there you can see what made this
country great; strong faces with each man a rugged individualist and adventurer in his own right.
Dan Hood from Albertsville, Alabama (on top of Sand
Mountain), tells of back-breaking work in the fields and how
he finally made it to the University of Alabama on a football
scholarship. "One of the upper classmen, with a beautiful head
of hair, continually harassed and paddled us until we had
enough. We formed a committee to wait on the gentleman and
on a dark night we caught him with no one else around. His
head was stuffed in a pillow to keep anyone from hearing him
and he got a thorough haircut with a pair of scissors. The irony
of it was, that the gentleman never knew whom to thank for
his haircut, but he did have suspicion enough to let us alone
Fred Weaver from St. Joseph, Missouri, tells of watching as
Frank James, brother of Jesse, and his gang rode by on horseback. Frank had
been pardoned after Jesse was killed and had
become a more or less peaceful citizen. "My father moved us
to California where we operated a farm, and then to Texas
where we lived on a ranch. I can remember my mother baking
the weekly supply of bread when a group of Indians came in
and asked for the bread, only to be told that she did not have
any bread for them. They took the bread but did not burn the
house down." Fred worked in the oil fields and finally became
a steam locomotive engineer out of New Orleans.
Bob Perriott told us years before the Viet Nam confrontation that we did
not have any friends in Indochina. He sat
around the campfire and told us of this travels through that
country as he saw it first hand. Such a pity that our politicians
can't get down on the grass roots level with the people and
know what is going on, and why.
Henry Dixson was born in High Springs, Florida:
My father was killed in a train accident when I was nine and I never
finished high school, but my mother was a school teacher and saw
to it that I had some training. When I was twenty-two I went to
Texas and became a Texas Ranger where I learned many things
the hard way. The salary of a Ranger was $90.00 per month with
a horse furnished and you furnished your own guns and food. For
weeks at a time, you would be on the trail with nothing to talk
to but your horse and that can get lonesome. If you wanted fresh
meat, shoot a rabbit and cook it over a mesquite fire. We stopped
rustlers and acted as a border patrol over the Rio Grande River.
The rustlers seemed to like dark nights and we tried to be always
prepared for them. It really was not a healthy occupation to rustle
cattle when the Rangers were around. I was trailing an outlaw and
had been trailing him for miles when he ambushed me and shot
through my knee, killing my horse under me. The outlaw had every
reason to believe that I was dead and was slow getting away from
the place. Just one more mistake for the outlaw, they never could
win for long.
Captain W. B. Kimball, Port Captain of the Standard Oil
Company tells of his experiences:
My ship put into Galveston after the flood and for several days we
ran our evaporators all out to supply the people with drinking water.
They would come on board and drink the water while it was
still hot. That was a terrible sight. The mosquitoes became so bad
that one man fell from the gang plank and the next morning when
he was found it was too late; the mosquitoes had killed him. The
sailors from an English destroyer boarded our tanker one night and
asked for hot water to make tea. The boilers had just been cleaned
with caustic soda and I'll bet that was some strong tea.
"Cap" saw the world and not always through a porthole.
Colonel H. G. Sydenham, went around the world with the
regular army. Mayo Buckley spent some miserable time in
France during World War I. All of them had tales to tell and
never a story that was not interesting. Elvin Watkins from
Quanah, Texas tells this:
My father brought his goods into this little settlement in a covered
wagon and started a store here immediately after the Civil War. The
little town was named after Quanah Parker, the last of the famous,
(or infamous), Indian chiefs. Quanah was doing all right with his
burning and killing until he made the mistake of leading his band
against a group of buffalo hunters armed with fifty calibre Sharps
rifles. That was a bad mistake and one that he never overcame.
After Quanah was conquered he was summoned to Washington for
an interview with some government officials. In the interview, it
came out that the Chief had eight wives and he was told to dispose
of all but one. The Chief scratched his head for a minute and came
up with a good answer—"You tell 'em!"
Over the years, we have had almost any profession or occupation you would
care to name and every one of them has contributed to our entertainment and knowledge. Guess you
would call it a college degree on hard knocks. Sorry I was too
stupid to take all of it in. Someone looked at his watch and
said it is 8:30, and that broke up the party. Everyone headed
for home smelling of wood smoke, garlic and onions, and to
find out from his wife why he had stayed out so late. One
thing for sure, the little lady would not have to worry about
any of that group raiding the refrigerator that night.
We were given cause to be glad when we took our young
nephew, Hank Brewer, to the Old Goats Club. He enjoyed it
equally as much as anyone. To everyone's surprise, he was as
well-versed on history as any member there. Don't sell our
young people short. They have plenty on the ball and they
love their country. When I hear people criticizing the church
and many other organizations, I have to tell them that they
are right—because if they were any better, I could not get
Most people who live in a rural or semi-rural section have
heard the plaintive call of the whippoorwill, but very few have
ever seen one. In the woods at night your lights will sometimes
shine in his eyes; much like it does in the eyes of a deer. I have
heard them all of my life but have seen very few. I hope that
my home never gets too close to the crowd to keep me from
hearing the whippoorwills. It is already too crowded to hear the
big owls and I miss them. Some years back, when I had to stay
in bed for a while, the owls were lots of comfort to me. Being
born with adventure in my soul, the sound of a Hoot Owl or
the blood-curdling cry of a horned owl still gives me a wild,
exhilarating feeling and transports me to far away places.
Standing on top of St. Johns Bluff and looking toward Mayport and the Naval
Base can give you a sense of pride when
you realize that you are looking into the very cradle of civilization in this
country. There have been many changes since
1562, some of them good, some of them not so good, all
depending on how you look at it, but the Naval Base has been
a very definite asset to the community.
The turning point that would make this section great was
in 1852. Dr. Abel Seymour Baldwin secured an appropriation
to begin jetties to control the shifting of sand in the bar. This
appropriation was kept alive after the war and today some of
the biggest ships come across the bar; thanks to continual
building up of the jetties and doing plenty of dredging.
Several people have been drowned while fishing from the
jetties and Mrs. Joan Hood tells her story:
Dan and I had taken our little girl, Hilda, on a fishing trip across
the rocks of the jetties. While Dan went farther out on the rocks
to fish, Hilda and I stayed on top of a big rock and watched the
waves smash into it. The tide was coming in and a big wave washed
over us pinning Hilda between two rocks. No matter how hard I
pulled, there was no way to budge her and I had almost given up
when another wave came over and freed her. If I did not believe
in miracles before that day I have believed in them since.
It's rather gruesome to look down on Sherman Creek as it
flows out of the Naval Base and under the bridge on Mayport
Road. Had wondered how the creek got its name and now I
believe I know. General Sherman, the man who burned his
way through Georgia, was in charge of having the St. Johns
bar surveyed in 1853 and somehow, his name lingered on. We
have much to be thankful for in the great number of good men
from the north who settled here after the war, and I'm sure
they are thankful for making such a wise choice.
The Mayport Base continues to grow and one would suppose that as long as
there is such an intense enmity in the
world, there is no choice but to be prepared. Hope some maniac or moron does
not step on the wrong buttons some day and
cause an unprecedented traffic jam before the Pearly Gates.
Mayport, with its Naval Base, is now among the bigger cities
of Florida, yet the town is not now incorporated and does not
have too many niceties of the "Bold New City."
The old J & MP Railroad left a trail for a new power line
and there have been talks of building a highway down the
right-of-way, but so far as I know nothing has started yet. This
road would run through some historic country including the
site of St. Johns Town of St. Johns Bluff, where there was a
town of over fifteen hundred people at one time.
Up Seminole Road, they are building condominiums and
apartments on the ocean front and it seems likely that eventually the ocean
front will be very well built up from Burnside
to St. Augustine, I'm not sure who will furnish police and fire
protection to some of this property but I suppose the owners
know. At least, there should not be any friction fires there
now. My first acquaintance with a friction fire was during the
depression with "an overdue mortgage and a premium due insurance policy rubbed
together quite often causing a conflagration," so I've been told.
Things are improving all over now and one of my friends
said that he knew things were getting better. "People are speaking to me now
who have only owed me one year!" Hope we
don't lose our motivation now that things are easier to obtain,
and with much less labor. As the man asked the guide, "Will
a lion hurt you if you carry a torch?" It all depends on how
fast you carry that torch.
The town of Atlantic Beach was incorporated in 1910 and
has had a consistently good government since that time. The
Continental Hotel was built in 1901 and burned to the ground
in 1919. It was located on the ocean front at the end of Plaza
Avenue and was one of the most beautiful hotels in this entire
country. The structure was of wood with wide porches and
rocking chairs all around the porch. There was a big putting
green out front where the northern visitors could sharpen
their game. There were three hundred fifty rooms in this hotel
and even at the low prices of that day; it must have cost a considerable amount to stay there.
The Florida East Coast Railway served this hotel and there
were sidings where the Vanderbilts and Whitneys left their
private cars while visiting the hotel. There really was no satisfactory way of
getting to Atlantic Beach by any means other
than the train. There was a trail cut from Jacksonville to the
beach in 1907, but that is all it was. The first car to attempt
the trail took several hours and almost did not make it at all.
There was a wide brightly lighted promenade from the hotel
down Ocean Boulevard to what is now Atlantic Boulevard
where the tourist could stroll when the tide was too high to
walk on the beach. The golf course was in the general location
of the present Selva Marina course. The Plaza Avenue ran into
the golf course and it was here that an Army Camp was built
for World War II. Up until 1913, there was no income tax and
the fact that the wealthy now had to share with the government might have
had some influence on the lessening of visitors
to the hotel. But the main reason was because of extending
the railroads to south Florida where the climate was warmer.
The 1930 census shows that Atlantic Beach had seventy-six
permanent residents and that Jacksonville Beach, which included Neptune Beach
at that time, had four hundred and nine.
The entire community started growing after that until today
it is estimated that we have some fifty thousand people in and
around here. Both Atlantic Beach and Neptune Beach have
been blessed with some good law enforcement officers. Jack
Russell of Atlantic Beach did an excellent job until his death,
and now his son, Eddie Russell, is carrying on the family tradition in Jacksonville Beach.
Marshall Jimmy Jarboe is about to celebrate his fortieth
year as Marshall of Neptune Beach and what a good job he has,
and still is, doing. Before the war he rode a motorcycle but
during the war his mount was a horse. Law and order were
kept even during the blackouts. Very little goes on in Neptune
that Jimmy does not know about, but like all good law officers,
his hands are partially tied by this new and strange interpretation of the law.
You were safe to walk the streets of most any
city until this strange malady hit our land.
Neptune Beach was part of Jacksonville Beach until 1931
when Neptune seceded because Jacksonville Beach was unable
to offer any services at all to Neptune Beach. There was one
street where you could cross from Third Street to First Street
and you had to be careful not to get stuck in the sand at that.
This was in what is now Neptune Beach and Jacksonville Beach
was not much better. The fact that Jacksonville Beach had put
sewerage over much of the close-in property and defaulted on
the bonds might have had some bearing on the decision to
Willie Jensen of Neptune Beach tells his story:
In 1919, my dad was told that he had consumption and would
have to go to either Florida or Arizona. Since he had already been
to Arizona, he decided to come to Florida. We left New York in a
1916 Cadillac and landed here in Neptune where we met Pete
Clarson. Things were tough here and Pete sold us our present location of a
hundred and fifty feet on First Street with a big two-story house on the property all for $600.00.
There were no improvements of any kind on the beach and the
approaches were so sandy that you had to have help to get on and
off the beach. A.A. Stoddard, who ran a garage next door, would
get you on and off for $2.00. It was worth it, for the beach was
fifteen hundred feet wide and smooth.
We ran a store where Ed Smith Lumber Company is now and sold
chickens, turkeys, rabbits, and a general line of groceries along
with water, kerosene and shine. Some people objected to sulpher water; you had to have kerosene to cook with because there was
no electricity most of the time; and the Eighteenth Amendment
had taken away legitimate whiskey. It was my job to drive to
Palm Valley and pick up the moonshine from some of the boys.
They would put it over the fence and I would put it in the car.
There was no ice house here so ice was brought from Jacksonville
in an old Army Truck. This truck supplied both the Beaches and
Mayport, and it was a rough day when the truck broke down and
failed to get here.
It cost fifteen cents for a round trip on the Florida East Coast
Railway to South Jacksonville for a school kid. Boy, what a time
we kids had on that train. Hope the kids today have made an improvement over us.
The old 6-6-6 remedy was going strong and a
kid was afraid to get sick, for he might have to take a dose, and
was it bitter.
George Carrol was a developer here and there were no lots being
sold anywhere so he had to give up. My dad gave him $15.00 for
the water works and some time later gave the works to the town
of Neptune Beach. The garbage disposal was easy, one man and one
wagon did the job nicely. Ecology did not enter in this deal. We
did accumulate some land in swapping groceries and shine for lots.
The town of Neptune got its name more or less out of a
case of necessity. Mr. Dan G. Wheeler, Sr., had a home in 1922
on the present location of the Sea Turtle Inn, and rode the
train daily from the beach to Jacksonville in the summer
months. He was forced to go almost to East Mayport and
walk back because there was no station near his home. Tiring
of this, he asked a railroad friend how he could get the train to
stop near his home. He was told that if there was a station the
train would have to stop. At his own expense, he built a station, named it
Neptune and had the train stop almost in his
back door. Judging from the number of stops between the city
and the beach there must have been many people in the same
circumstances as was Mr. Wheeler.
At one time there was no school, no church, and very few
problems in Neptune, but times have changed this. Now we
have churches, schools and some problems but, hopefully,
none that can't be worked out.
Ruby Beach was the first name given to the present site of
Jacksonville Beach. This was in 1884, the same year that the
J & A narrow gauge railroad was completed to the beach.
Some time later, the name was changed to Pablo Beach and
this name was incorporated in 1907. The name Pablo Beach
was changed to Jacksonville Beach in 1925. As of now, I know
of no contemplated change in the name.
In 1886, the Murray Hall Hotel was built in Ruby Beach.
This was a beautiful structure, but being of wood, it burned
soon after its construction. There have been other hotels here,
but none to compare with the Murray Hall, except the Continental, which was in Atlantic Beach.
We had a bank here. The Bank of Pablo, until it failed one
day in 1929, along with so many other banks about that time.
Our boardwalk was burned in 1930 and the ocean pier some
time later. The depression laid a heavy hand on all of the
beaches and it is just now beginning to recover. It is almost unbelievable that
prosperity should have hit us smack in the face,
but that is the way everything looks now. Hope somebody or
something does not pull the string.
Talked to Bill Streeter this morning. He came here in 1911
and, at one time, was a policeman. There were about a hundred
people here and he knew them all. His memory is not as keen
as it was, since he is now eighty-three years old, but he still
remembers plenty. The present police department is a far cry
from the one of 1911, and is a thoroughly efficient one well
run by Chief Paul Brown.
The Warren Smith Cemetery takes its name from one of our
early engineers. Born in Connecticut, he really accomplished
great deeds here. Being a refrigeration engineer, he helped to
keep the beaches cool wherever refrigeration was installed.
Just one of the great succession of men who have given of their
time and talents to our beaches.
They must have made a new discovery over at FSU, creating good football
players without hard work. All I can say is,
if it works, I was born fifty years too early. To me, discipline
is one of the greatest words in the English language and without it we are not
going anywhere that we would be proud of.
Things are changing everywhere, and sometimes I get confused: college
students refusing to make an affidavit to support the hands that feed them.
It cost more to keep a wagon in repair than it does a car. Over in Alabama
we ordered "red eye gravy" and the waitress told us they put coffee in it to get
the color. I believe her now.
One of our customers bought some redwood and asked for
someone to ride shotgun for him while he carried it home.
Kids with plenty of money carrying bed rolls around and
sleeping on the ground just to get the feel of the old hard
It is becoming more difficult all the time to tell the difference between
luxury and necessity.
It takes less time to fly around the world and more time to
get to work every day.
Johnny Bench and Hank Aaron getting threatening letters
just because they are good athletes.
You can't spend a dime without a penny for tax.
What did we do with all of that time we saved by moving
from prairie schooners to jet airliners?
It costs almost as much to support one congressman as it
did to support the entire government during George Washington's time.
Science is still trying to find out why some small towns
produce so many more outstanding men than do other towns.
It has been said that you cannot back into prosperity. However, I saw two
enormous men slowly backing up the beach, pulling a seine filled with fish from the ocean . . . Bought any
Over the past forty years I feel that I have been privileged
to see more beauty than many people will ever see. The
beauty of the sun as it bursts out of the ocean to begin its
daily trip through the Heavens of our great country; the
beauty of the yellow moon as it slowly leaves its watery bed
until all of the land is bathed with a silvery sheen; the awesome beauty as a
tropical storm lashes our shores; the unmatched beauty of a red sunset framed
in a forest of palm
trees; great flights of geese passing overhead in V formation;
the beauty of a band of wild horses in full flight; the old
Spanish trail to Mayport where the live oak limbs, covered
with Spanish moss, entwine overhead to form an arboreal of
It has been my happy pleasure to love and live in this
country of beauty, and I just hope that it will not be
spoiled for the future generations.
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