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
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
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
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