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Cover || 1: The Setting

People asked me why I was writing a book. Some were in awe that they would know an author. Most of them did not know that I am an established author with five books published (more if one counts electronic reprints) and over one hundred articles. Nor do they know my Historical Text Archive has published seventy (70) books and six hundred and eighty four (884) articles and photograph collections. Because the HTA receives nineteen (19) million page views each year, more people read it than read most newspapers or magazines.
    After all,  why should they? They see an elderly man sitting in coffee shop in front of his laptop with earphones in his ears, typing with one finger. Because I am there six mornings a week, we regulars see each other, wave or speak, sit down or leave with coffee and a muffin. Some comment about how hard I am working (and I am working hard and they are only seeing a small part of the process; researching and writing a history book takes time). I tell them that I am retired. Of course, work and getting paid are two very different things, but we don't waste our time sorting out the distinction. Besides, almost all of them have paying jobs or are students at Mississippi State University (and probably get "paid" from a job, a subsidized loan, or a scholarship). They are a bit baffled by the fact that I work without getting paid, especially doing something so demanding as writing a book. It is not just the  people from the coffee shop; others of my acquaintance find this behavior odd. They would not devote their time to researching and writing a book.
    Why do I do it? Why not? It beats doing many other things. It is fun. It satisfies my need to express myself. Perhaps it will help those who lived or live on the Beaches or in Jacksonville, Florida or visited either understand that particular past. One can always hope that this micro history will help us understand the human condition. Or not. And I have deep ties to the subject matter.
    My family went to Duval County, Florida by 1917 after my maternal grandfather died in south Georgia. My grandmother, Jennie Griner Harris, moved her brood to Jacksonville in search of a better life. Jacksonville was a common destination for ambitious south Georgians. She met and married a veterinarian from New Jersey. She died giving birth to twin boys in 1921. Her children raised each other. One would live in the Beaches area and had daughters who went to K-12 schools at the Beaches. One of Jennie's two sisters and her husband lived at the Beaches.  My mother met and married Frank Olschner, Sr. in Jacksonville and bore him a son, Frank, Jr. in 1930. Later that decade, she met and married my father, Jerry L. Mabry, Sr. During my childhood, which began in Atlanta, Georgia in 1941, the family or parts of it were in and out of the Jacksonville and Jacksonville Beach. Sometimes, I went to school there. I have loved the Beaches since I was very young. Then in 1953, I moved there more permanently. In some ways, I carry the Beaches with me. My cousins, my two full brothers, and I graduated from the local high school. So family ties are a reason to write about the Beaches and, perhaps, an attempt to understand myself.
    My life at the Beaches was successful because of others—fellow students, their parents, teachers, townspeople—who helped or forced me to become a responsible adult, giving me leadership opportunities early in life. When it came time to go to college, my extracurricular activities in addition to my high grades enabled me to get scholarships to an expensive private college; I could not have gone to college any other way. Some of those friendships have lasted over the decades. If I wrote a dedication for this book, it would be to those who went to or worked in Duncan U. Fletcher Junior-Senior High School. 
    Somewhere along the way as I passed through life, I became a scholar, a person trained to systematically gather evidence on a topic, evaluate it, and use logic to reach a conclusion, one that has to be modified in the light of new evidence and/or new questions. For the true scholar, one learns to accept almost nothing at face value and to reject assertions based on emotion and wishful thinking. Being a scholar means accepting the fact that one can be wrong. It means being curious.
    When I lived at the Beaches, then later while living in other places, and then in recent years, I sometimes wondered about why the Beaches were settled and why they developed as they did. As I aged, nostalgia played a part. Memories of things seen and heard were jolted by the reality of population growth and landscape sculpturing. Was one imagining it all? Childhood memories romanticize.
    Reading in Beaches history was one solution. And I did that—on the Web, in books, in articles, and newspapers. Trips to the Beaches were essential. The Beaches Area Historical Society archives under the leadership of Dwight Wilson supplied written and photographic material. The Beaches Branch of the Jacksonville Public Library and the instructional Media Center of Duncan U. Fletcher High School provided materials unavailable elsewhere. Florida has wonderful Internet resources in the online Florida Heritage project, the online historical resources of the Jacksonville Public Library, and the Florida Historical Quarterly, most of which is online. Other online materials are also available as noted in the bibliography. I purchased books and people sent me written materials.  
    Other people helped. We talked either face to face or by electronic mail or both. Fletcher friends corresponded, answering whatever question I might ask.  They provided information and friendship and kept me from going down wrong paths. As luck would have it, some of them allowed me to enter their lives again after four decades.
    It is hard to know where to begin.  Dwight Wilson, Class of '48 of Fletcher High School, and Archivist Emeritus of the Beaches Area Historical Society, is a delightful source of Beach lacunae. One wonders what he does not know. He spent hours with me at the archives, showing me sources and answering my questions and, then, over a year later, met with three of us one Friday afternoon to discuss Beaches history. People with whom I had gone to school helped. Austin Smith knows so much and loves the Beaches. Hazel Wern and Emory Dalton, Dianne Hardee Wingate, Ron Wingate gave hospitality and friendship. My high school classmates—Harry "Flash" Hoover, Terry Brant, Tom Ravoo, Leigh Koffman Callahan, Hazel, Diane, Reggie Watterson, and Barbara Crawford William—helped. So, too, did Charlotte Thames, mother of two Fletcher graduates, who provided information and insight. Younger than me, Suzanne McCormick Taylor, is the daughter of a former Jacksonville Beach mayor and the granddaughter of B. B. McCormick, both prime movers in Beaches history, had unique information. John W. "Wimpy" Sutton, a truly great teacher, and his wife, Bobbie MacDonell Sutton, gave friendship and information. They also honored me by letting me help him with his memoirs and allowing me to use some family photographs. Other Beaches denizens, current or past, helped. Clint Sykes, Class of '43 of Fletcher Junior-Senior High School, provided materials and explanation of life on the Beaches before I was born. Towards the end of my research and writing,  I was able to ask questions and get answers about the Beaches on an alumni listserv. Thanks to all who responded.
    Special thanks to my beloved wife, Paula Crockett Mabry, whose love inspired me and whose patience sustained me. One could not have a more supportive spouse.


Jacksonville Beach Duplex