Merry-go-rounds, Ferris wheels, roller coasters, hot dogs, salt water taffy, beer, games
and more! The surf with the rollers coming in and lapping at your feet! Sand castles.
Ocean bathing in the surf! Suntans and beach blankets. Come to the boardwalk!
flocked to the shore for pleasure after the Civil War ended in 1865. The United States
industrialized and urbanized and city workers wanted an inexpensive place to escape the
rigors of work and the essential boredom of factory work. Go-getters met this demand by
creating amusement parks, eateries, bars and beer joints, carnival games, and hotels in
such places as Atlantic City (1880) and Palisades Amusement Park (1898) in New Jersey and
Coney Island in New York. Coney Island influenced the creation of a smaller version on the
shore of present-day Jacksonville, Florida. This essay, part of my historical series on
the east coast of Duval County, Florida (see list below), studies the rise and fall of the
carnival on the boardwalk of Jacksonville Beach, Florida. First, a tad of background about
east coast amusement parks is useful.
In Brooklyn in the 1860s, businessmen began developing the huge amusement complex known
as Coney Island. Coney grew rapidly in the 1880s, about the same time that Pablo Beach was
founded. Being part of the giant metropolis, New York City, made the growth and prosperity
of Coney Island easy for the resort had millions of potential customers.
Coney Island was considered the world's largest and premier amusement area during the
first half of the 20th Century. It was a beach resort that provided carefree entertainment
and thrilling amusement park rides to the millions of residents that lived in New York
City. It featured three huge amusement parks; Luna Park, Steeplechase and Dreamland, and
countless other attractions along the Bowery, Surf Avenue and its numerous side streets.
It would feature luxury hotels, restaurants, bars, sideshows, bars, games, a steel
pier, bath houses, music, dancing, beauty contests, gambling and prostitutes. The carnival
ridesFerris wheel, roller coasters (the first was the Switch Back Railroad in 1884),
carousels, and hundreds of other rides throughout its historythrilled millions. Its success as an
entertainment venue was a direct result of the growth of the population of New York City
through natural increase, immigration, and annexation, by the development of cheap
transportation, especially the arrival of the subway in 1923 which brought the urban
masses, and completion among the various businesses located there.
Figure 1 Boardwalk Carnival ca. 1959 Source: Don Keller
Jacksonville Beach thrived as an entertainment and carnival-like amusement center for
decades before becoming a bedroom community and part of the City of Jacksonville; the core
of the entertainment district was the boardwalk, a strip of five blocks along the
oceanfront where the city began in 1885. The boardwalk as an amusement venue evolved over
time but then went into decline in the 1960s and became something quite different.
Nomenclature changed as people decided to call the settlement and its streets different
names. In 1885, it was Ruby Beach, named after the daughter of William E. and Eleanor K.
Scull; two years later the Jacksonville & Atlantic Railroad renamed it Pablo Beach
after the river which separated this barrier island from the mainland to the west. In
1925, Pablo Beach officials decided to identify more closely with Jacksonville, hoping it
cash in on its growth and rising fame. Then, on October 1, 1968, the City of Jacksonville
Beach also became part of the City of Jacksonville when Duval County and the City of
Jacksonville became one. This confusing political arrangement works but with problems.
Street names also changed. The founders named streets, of course, and then town
officials named streets after themselves and after friends when Pablo Beach was
incorporated in 1907. Putnam Avenue became Pablo Avenue. What is now Beach Boulevard was
Duval Avenue, the Railroad Avenue, and then Mundy Drive. In 1937, in order to simplify
navigation, north-south streets were numbered as in 1st Street North and 1st
Street South. East-West roads became numbered avenues, north and south with the exception
of Pablo Avenue and the future Beach Boulevard. Other named streets also exist but are not
part of this story. To help the reader, both names will be given when necessary.
Fortunately, the Sanborn Map Company created schematic maps of Pablo Beach for 1903,
1909, 1917, and 1924 for fire insurance purposes. The University of Florida Digital Map
Collection serves up these maps at Sanborn
maps for Florida but, unfortunately, uses a presentation system which does not allow one
to download a full map. Thus, the essay often utilizes snippets. However, the 1903 map,
drawn eighteen years after the community was founded is available. The full image is
difficult to read but one can discern Leon Avenue (now 1st Avenue North),
Putnam Avenue (now Pablo Avenue), Duval Avenue (now Beach Boulevard), the Ocean View Hotel
at the edge of the beach, the dancing-skating octagonal pavilion (now a parking lot), and
the train depot. The map also shows existing stores and cottages. The closer up map makes
these details clearer. Photos and postcards help.
Figure 2 Pablo Beach, 1903 Source: Sanborn Fire Insurance Co.
Figure 3 Pablo Beach, 1903 Closer Source: Sanborn Fire Insurance Co.
Figure 4 Postcard View Looking West Source: Andrew
Figure 5 Pablo Beach Train Depot Source: Andrew
Pablo Beach and the other beach communities came into existence because the
newly-formed Jacksonville & Atlantic Railroad Company laid tracks from South
Jacksonville on the banks of the St. Johns River eastward almost to the ocean. To generate
passenger traffic, the company sold lots in the little settlement of Ruby Beach (and then
Pablo Beach) to whomever could afford summer houses and to the few permanent resident.
Housing was also provided for railroad workers as well as the people who worked for others
or sold things.
Wealthy people traveled to Jacksonville, arriving by railroad or steamship from more
northerly climes to escape cold and sometimes inclement weather. Situated near the mouth
of the north-flowing, very large St. Johns River, the county had over 26,000 people in
1890, not much by modern standards but, Florida was a frontier state and Jacksonville its
metropolis. When tourists tired of the local delights, they could take passage up the St.
Johns River to the center of the peninsula, enjoying the beautiful flora and fauna.
Entrepreneurs decided to extend the reach of this tourist industry by running a little
train of the
Jacksonville and Atlantic Railroad to the ocean east of Jacksonville. Wealthy
people, they hoped, would build summer homes on the beach and day trippers would sustain
railroad operations. After all, it would only be a forty-five minute trip, much less than
a three-hour boat ride to Mayport.
In October, 1883, a contract was let to build the Jacksonville and Atlantic Railroad
between South Jacksonville and Pablo Beach. There was ferry service across the St. Johns
between Jacksonville and South Jacksonville. On November 12, 1884, even before the
railroad was completed, lots were 34 lots sold at Ruby Beach (Jacksonville Beach) bringing
the railroad company $7,514. In order to maximize profits, the lots were quite small,
often 50 feet by 100 feet. The railroad
tracks were narrow, three-foot gauge and 35 pound rail. The roadbed and track were
completed in December, 1884.
The railroad allowed people and goods to get to the ocean shore cheaply and quickly
when cars and, later, trucks were rare or expensive. People in Jacksonville could and did
establish summer residences. Eagledune, the LEngle-Barnett house built
in 1887 was one of a dozen houses scattered near the railroad terminal. Prominent
Jacksonville men George Wilson, W. A. MacDuff, S. B. Hubbard, P. McQuaid, J. W. Shoemaker,
and others had houses. Tom Cashen was one of the early residents of Pablo Beach but built
a house on the oceanfront away from the others in what is now Neptune
Beach. General Francis Spinner, former U.S. Treasurer, lived at Pablo Beach in a tent
for about two years1885-87because he said it was good for his health. Spinner
was the father-in-law of Shoemaker, the first cashier of the First National Bank of
Florida. By 1895, Jacksonville residents had seventy summer cottages there.
The little railroad became more important when Henry M. Flagler bought the Jacksonville
and Atlantic Railway Company in 1899 and changed the narrow gauge, light rail track to
standard gauge track with 60-pound rails, thus making it compatible to the railroads in
the country. In other words, he made the railroad to Pablo Beach part of the FEC system
and the national train network. He extended the line to Mayport in 1900, and built a
railroad bridge across the St. Johns River between Jacksonville and South Jacksonville.
Moreover, he built a luxury hotel, the Continental, in Atlantic Beach, opening up that
part of the beaches at the turn of the century.
Without adequate transportation the Jacksonville beaches would have remained sand
barrens on a barrier island. People from Jacksonville first had to cross the mighty St.
Johns River by ferry until the bridge was completed in 1921 to South Jacksonville and then
sixteen miles across creeks and swamps until they reached the ocean. Travel on foot or by
a wagon pulled by horse or mule were possible but not probable. They came and went by
train. It chugged along several times a day carrying passengers and freight to and from
the big city. Its right of way approached within walking distance of the oceanfront before
turning north (at what became Second Street North) on its way to Atlantic Beach and then
Mayport. Most of the passenger traffic occurred in the summer, of course, carrying people
to enjoy sun, surf, eats, drink, and the fun and games of the boardwalk.
Burnside Beach was its potential rival. Located near Mayport on the south bank of the
St. Johns River at its easternmost point where the river met the Atlantic Ocean, Burnside
could be reached by sea, river, and railroad. Mayport was an established and important
settlement east of Jacksonville. The arrival of two railroads, the Jacksonville &
Atlantic, and, in May, 1888, the short-lived Jacksonville, Mayport, and Pablo Railway and
Navigation Company (JMP), seemed to promise a bright future for the little resort. Nearby
Mayport was a thriving settlement with a fine port. Prior to the railroads, it was a
three-hour boat trip to Mayport, limiting the number of tourists; the railroads reduced
the time and should have brought more people to Burnside.
Bad luck, undercapitalization, and competition made Burnside only a stop on its way to
and from Mayport on the route of the Florida East Coast train. The JMP developed a bad
reputation almost immediately when it got bogged in sand and passengers had to alight and
push. It became known as the Jump, Man, and Push, a sobriquet that it never lived down.
Arlington, its western terminus, was very small with bad connections across the river to
Jacksonville. Alexander Wallace, its founder, died in 1889; the JMP went bankrupt. In
March, 1892 , the JMP was bought out and its terminus moved from Arlington to South
Jacksonville, but its financial troubles continued. There was not enough traffic for two
railroads to Mayport and it could not compete with the Jacksonville and Atlantic Railroad.
The hotels, the San Diego Hotel, the pre-Civil War Burnside House, and the new 4-story
Palmetto Hotel were destroyed by fire in 1889 as was the beach pavilion. Pablo Beach
surged ahead with the backing of the Jacksonville and Atlantic railroad and the Florida
East Coast Railway after Henry M. Flagler bought the J&A in 1899, modernized it, built
a railroad bridge across the St. Johns river to connect Jacksonville and South
Jacksonville, and built dock facilities at Mayport where he imported coal for his trains.
Worse, for Burnside and Mayport, he established Atlantic Beach a few miles south and built
the luxury Continental Hotel there to cater to the wealthy.
Although a paved highway was built from the City of South Jacksonville to Atlantic
Beach in 1910, very few people had automobiles. Henry Ford figured out how to mass produce
them and pay his workers enough so they could afford to buy them. In 1910, there were only
468,500 registered cars in the United States for a population of 91,972,266 people or half
of one percent of the population. By 1940, the population had risen 131,954,000, the
number 27,465,000 or about 21% of the population owned a car. By 1950, 52% of families
owned a car but only 7% owned two or more. By 1960, 62% did with 15% owning two or more
cars  The new highway to the beach made
getting there easier but few people owned cars over a decade later. The little railroad
sped people to the beaches in forty-five minutes but the mass production of automobiles in
the 1920s and their use in the Jacksonville area doomed the FEC railroad beach branch. The
company abandoned it in 1932 during the Great Depression. So the railroad was the key to
development in the pre-automobile age but it had to generate settlement and traffic.
The Jacksonville and Atlantic Railroad company built a pavilion at the beach to attract
passengers to the beach. The pavilion had a 64 by 105 floor for dancing and
roller skating. The contract with James F. Woodworth called for the construction to be
completed by October 1, 1885 for $3,980 but work was delayed by heavy rains and difficulty
in getting materials to the site in a timely fashion. Railroaders were partly to blame but
so were suppliers. The workers were paid $1.25 a day, a decent wage when working men
earned $400 a year on average. The pavilion was finished November 18th, much
later than the contract had specified and the contractor tried to collect extra money
because he asserted that the J&A had caused the delays by untimely delivery of
materials which cost him more in labor.
The luxurious Murray Hall Hotel was occupied even before it opened in 1887. During July
5-10, 1885 it was used for the encampment of state troops, not long enough to make a
difference. The hotel cost $150,000 and had 192 rooms or a 350-guest capacity. Steam
heated the hotel but it also had 58 open fireplaces, a danger in a wooden building in a
settlement without fire protection. The Hotel generated electricity for itself and the
rest of Pablo Beach. Its artesian well supplied the city until 1918. For entertainment, it
had a childrens playroom, a billiard room, bar, and an orchestra for its ballroom.
John G. Christopher , a powerhouse Jacksonville businessman who had pioneered electrical
generating plants in Florida and brought the telephone to Jacksonville, dreamed of
attracting the wealthy in both summer and winter. One could telephone Jacksonville from
Nevertheless, the hotel was a financial disaster. Christopher hired C. H. French to
manage it; the he and his wife managed it in 1887 and 1888 before again hiring someone to
try to figure out how to make it profitable.
Figure 6 Murray Hall Hotel, 1988 Source: jacksonvillebeach.org
Quickly, people and their buildings clustered around this magnificent structure. In
1887, a directory asserted that Pablo Beach had one thousand people but listed only 145
persons. Of these, thirty-three (22.8%) were identified as African American. The directory
lists one baker, two butlers, a bookkeeper, twenty-nine carpenters, three chambermaids,
two chief cooks, two second cooks, two cooks, three clerks, a dairyman, fourteen
domestics, a drayman for a vegetable and poultry dealer, a druggist, two grocers who
worked at the James E. Dickerson grocery and dry goods store, a headwaiter, five hostlers,
two janitors , a laborer, three laundresses, two livery stable employees, two managers, a
nurse, two painters, five porters, a real estate agent, a railroad section foreman, a
servant, a storekeeper, a railroad superintendent, and three waiters. The highest
ranking member of the tiny community was James M. Schumacher, President of the
Jacksonville & Atlantic Railroad and the First National Bank, but, surely, he resided
in Jacksonville and only had a cottage in Pablo. Eight people, at least, either worked for
the railroad or its bathhouse. Spinner was not listed in the directory. There were
ownersR. M. Call of Call & Jones, lawyers in Jacksonville, John G. Christopher
of the Murray Hall Hotel, John Clark of John Clark & Son who was a wholesale and
retail grocer as well as a dealer in soap, coal, champagne, and hotel supplies, W. N.
Emery of the Hotel Pablo, Samuel B. Hubbard of the S. B. Hubbard & Company, President
of the American Illuminating Company, VP of Jacksonville & Atlantic Railroad,
president of the Citizen Gas Light Company, and other businesses; Thomas McMurray of
McMurray livery stable, and Mrs. Jane R. Mahoney of the Atlantic Restaurant. Patrick
McQuaid was mayor of Jacksonville and an agent of a firm which sold manure and grains. Two
were two lawyers (one was a notary public; one was John M. Barrs, Secretary of the
Jacksonville & Atlantic Railroad and law partner of Duncan U. Fletcher, who would be
mayor of Jacksonville, a U.S. Senator, and the namesake of the Beaches high school in
1937. Most were workers, however, people living in Pablo Beach to provide services to the
wealthy and to visitors. Most resided there throughout the year since they could ill
afford to own two homes or to commute. How many resided there year round is not known. The
name listed might represent a single individual (except when identified as Miss) or a
family. Richards says the population was one thousand, unlikely unless he
counted summer population from cottagers and tourists. The U.S. census in 1890 counted 282 people, 257 in the town.
The Murray Hall and surrounding buildings burned to the ground as a result of a boiler
room fire on August 7th, 1890. Reports attest to the spectacular sight as the
middle of the night fire lit up the sky; the blaze could be seen for miles. As Dwight
The building created a fire storm, and the Ocean View Hotel, a block away, was
almost destroyed. Pryors Grocery burned. The railroad station, the pavilion, the two
pagodas, the sheds, some homes, the wooden bulkhead and a box car were all destroyed.
Sheet metal from the roof fell 600 feet from the fire. Railroad rails for a hundred feet
twisted and curled.
John S. Christopher and wife lost $225,000 less the $4,000 insurance but Mrs. Christopher
was relieved that the financial albatross died. The railroad company lost its pavilion and
terminal but fared better, losing only $500 after its $5,500 insurance policy was paid.
The lessee, J. W. Campbell, owner of the St James Hotel in Jacksonville, lost little. 
Besides the Murray Hall, there was the Hotel Pablo on what is now 2nd Avenue
South and 2nd South (then Orange Street). The hotel was close to the ocean. It was more
modest but did a substantial business until it was consumed by fire.
Figure 7 Hotel Pablo Source: BAHS
EARLY VISITORS TO PABLO BEACH
Summer residents and day trippers shared Pablo Beach with other visitors. The Florida
State Troops camped at Pablo Beach in 1886 in the troops first encampment. The
summer encampments, each only an average of five to nine days long, in addition to greatly
increased federal aid, seem to be responsible for the rapid improvement in the proficiency
and skill of Floridas State Troops after 1891.
Lady Howard gushes about the charms of Pablo Beach when she stopped there on her North
American tour in the late 1890s. Her comments deserve quotation at length.
After hurriedly breakfasting at a restaurant, G. went on by train to St. Augustine,
whilst I hurried down to the ferry-boat across the wide Matanzas riverstarting on
its further side at once, by the Jacksonville and Atlantic railroad, to Pablo
Beachone of the most charming seaside nooks I know. The train runs across the
island, through seventeen miles of the sunniest and most delightful forest of tall pines,
with a luxuriant undergrowth of palmetto and wild fruit trees, cleared at rare intervals
for plantations of orange, lemon, fig, and pomegranate 'wild roses and flowering
Within a mile or two of the sea the forest has been cleared, but the dense and
brilliantly-green mass of palmetto still decks the open space, though which the train runs
to the very edge of the moderate cliff overhanging the sparkling blue Atlantic ocean, with
magnificent sands, ideal for bathing, stretching away to right and left into far distance.
These sands are delightful for walking, riding, or drivingthe heaviest wagon makes
no markand many are the delicate and lovely shells to be found. The cliffs are of
richly-coloured yellow, pink, and red sandstone, crowned with the vividly-green palmetto.
I thought it an enchanting spotat any rate for one dayand more than one day it
is, at present, impossible to spend there ; for no sooner rises, with American quickness,
a fine hotel, then comes the incendiary and burns it down. Two hotels which I was told
were worthy to compare with the best had been burnt, one after another, within the
previous year; and so surely does this happen, not only here but in many other resorts,
that the insurance companies, in places where for some reason new hotels seem not to be
desired, decline any longer to effect insurance, the fire-doom being next to a certainty.
Many of the well-to-do of Jacksonville have charming villas here, built (as is often the
case in America) several feet above the ground, resting on short square pillars of brick
or stone, the air circulating freely beneatha good way of keeping houses dry.
The villas themselves are mostly of wood with wide verandas covered with gay creepers and
plants in pots, roses twining round the supporting pillars. These flowery verandas are all
over Florida the great ornament of the houses, and are furnished with comfortable
rocking-chairs, much used by the dwellers.
I spent a long delightful day here wandering about revelling in sunshine,, and had an
excellent tea at a charming little cottage, one mass of creepers and flowers, close to the
sea, to which day visitors were directed; after which, late in the afternoon, the train
returned to the ferry, where I wandered about for some time amidst charming villas and
gardens and orange groves of great size, grand pines and giant cypresses with their
drapery of Spanish moss, before re-crossing the ferry into Jacksonville ; whence at 8 p.m.
I started by train for St. Augustine, arriving at 10 p.m., and joined G. at the Cordoba
Hotel, in the grand plaza, which is beautifully laid out with lawns, fountains, and palms,
orange and lemon trees, and beds of dazzling flowers; one whole side occupied by the huge
and magnificent hotel " Ponce de Leon," and another by the almost equally
splendid " Alcazar" neither of these yet open for the winterand
other fine buildings and villas embowered in flowers and gardens. In short, nothing of its
kind could be finer or more gay.
The hotels she mentions were the Murray Hall and the Pablo.
J. M. Hawks, a medical doctor, visited the area in 1887 and found seventy-five
good-sized buildings and several hotels. The railroad would make this a good
summer report, he opined, but he found Mayport, much of it sitting on dunes, to be a
popular watering place with almost one hundred cottages owned by Jacksonville businessmen
for summer use.
The 1888 Yellow Fever epidemic in Jacksonville helped Pablo Beach because it had no
cases originate there. Swamps had been drained and the breezes helped reduce the mosquito
population. Railroad traffic from South Jacksonville was closely monitored so as to
prevent the spread of the dreaded disease. Roads were improved. The community developed a
reputation as a healthy place to live.
OCEAN VIEW HOTEL
By 1896, the Murray Hall was replaced by the Ocean View Hotel. It occupied the same
spot as the Murray Hall at the foot of Putnam Avenue [Pablo Avenue]. It had an adjoining
public bath house to serve clients from elsewhere who needed to rent a bathing suit and a
place to change clothes. This wood frame structure was the very popular anchor of the
boardwalk. W. H.
Adams, Sr. acquired it in 1903 and added a billiard room, bowling alley, shooting
gallery, and a drug store. Both the water system and the telephone exchange operated from
its premises. Until it burned in 1926, taking much of downtown and parts of the boardwalk
with it, most images of the boardwalk included it.
Soon, Adams replaced it with the Ocean View Pavilion amusement area; the roller coaster
would be built there.
Figure 8 Ocean View Hotel Source: Jacksonville Public Library
Figure 9 Front Verandah Source: Laurie Adams Crowson
Figure 10 Beach and Ocean View Hotel Source: Laurie Adams Crowson
Figure 11 Pablo Avenue, Walkway, Pavilion Source: Florida Memory
The Pavilion on the right was built in 1905. A decade later it would become the core of
Little Coney Island, a huge amusement park covering almost an entire city black.. The two
bath houses are connected to the pavilion. In the photo, the ocean is in the background
while the Pablo Beach business district is on the left. The Ocean View Hotel is in the
distant background, the last structure on the left. The walkway pralleling Putnam (Pablo)
Avenue) ran from Boulevard (First StreetNorth) to the beach sand. The photograph was taken
Figure 12 Little Coney Island and Ocean View Hotel Source: BAHS
SPANISH AMERICAN WAR
Before Pablo Beach became a serious amusement locale, the United States Army used it for a
few months in 1898. The Army sent troops to camp at the beach and established a
convalescent Army hospital on August 2, 1898.. The Red Cross had to supply furniture, bed
linens, medicines, and other items to this hospital because the Army was ill-prepared. The photo below shows tents west of the
Pavilion, its bathhouses, and the Ocean View Hotel. The Third Nebraska Regiment was led by
Colonel William Jennings Bryan (the Democratic Party candidate for President in 1896,
1900, and 1908). Bryan was sent to Pablo Beach so he couldnt participate in the war.
The 2nd New Jersey was encamped there, some of its members were sick. One died in the surf. Most of the troops
never saw action in Cuba. They had been sent to Pablo Beach and Jacksonville to become
acclimated to a hot, humid climate or because they had fallen ill. The Second Virginia
Volunteers found a long rattlesnake with 17 buttons, indicating that the wild was very
close to the beach. They had little to do.
Figure 13 The 2nd Virginia Volunteers Source: Florida Memory
On September 9 the men were ordered from Panama Park [in Jacksonville] to Pablo
Beach. It was a welcome change because it was the location of a small summer resort. The 3rd
Nebraska now pitched its tents near one of the best beaches in the country. Of course it
proved too good to be true, and the resort atmosphere came to an abrupt end when Pablo
Beach was graced with the worst storms of the year. Tents were blown away and a nearby
creek [Bontall Creek] swelled to river proportions with a river-sized current to match. In
this disaster Lieutenant Ohlheiser was noted for his cool head as he calmly led the men
out of the waist-deep water to town without a single soldier lost.
Figure 14 Ocean View Hotel and the Pavilion Source: Florida Memory
Figure 15 2nd Regiment Illinois Volunteer Infantry Source: H. W. Bolton
Figure 16 Drilling on Pablo Beach Source: Florida Memory
Residents liked having the Army spending money and providing some excitement to an
otherwise humdrum life by the shore. They lobbied the War Department to extend the stay of
the troops and succeeded. This valuable
lesson of being at least partially dependent on U.S. taxpayer money in the form of the
military was learned; they would follow this precedent several times until the area became
one of the major US military establishments in the country. Units present included the 2nd
Virginia, 3rd Nebraska, 2nd New Jersey, and the 49th
Iowa, a cross-section of the United States. The camp closed by November 15th,
RISE OF TOURISM
By the end of 1898, a wooden walkway (boardwalk) would be built from the end of Putnam
(Pablo) Avenue to the beach. The photo taken in 1909 or 1910 shows the wooden walkway to
the beach with the Dance Pavilion and bath houses on the right (south). The street is
Putnam (Pablo; at the end is the Ocean View hotel.
The dunes or hummocks so characteristic of the area disappeared as men flattened them
to erect buildings and ease access to the beach and ocean. Some businesses, such as the
Ocean View Hotel, provided a walkway so its guests could sit and watch the seaside sights
or walk along. Not many years passed until a boardwalk was built in front of oceanfront
businesses. By the 1920s, not only was there a boardwalk but also wooden platforms that
hosted rides in some places.
Figure 17 Beach scene with boardwalk, 1920s. Source: Coveman
Figure 18 Pablo Beach Restaurant, 1910 Source: Mabry Archive
Some of the entertainment in the little resort village was clandestine; prostitution
existed in Pablo Beach near the boardwalk as early as 1904 when Cora Crane ran a brothel.
Ralph Emery of The Jacksonville Story Web
site told the following story:
Yesteryear's beachgoers didn't show much skin at Pablo Beach (Jacksonville Beach). This
postcard dates from around 1910. The people in it evinced a modesty that probably wasn't
present in Palmetto Lodge, an oceanfront bordello. The Lodge functioned as the Pablo
branch of the Court, Cora Crane's house of ill repute in Jacksonville. The proprietress
built the surfside brothel in August 1905, and it stayed in business for three years.
Patrons partook of its offerings within a roomy, two-story frame house with wide screened
porches. Cora split her time between an apartment at the Court and one at the branch. She
eventually died at the Lodge.
When on the beach in public, Cora dressed like many of the other women in long black
stockings and skirts below the knees. In fact, she displayed even less skin. The madam
kept each arm covered with a scarf tied around it, and she donned a wide shade hat secured
under her chin by an elastic band.
The jetties proved a favorite haunt for Cora while surfside. With a small group of her
ladies and their young boyfriends, she would picnic and fish for crab, leaving only when
the sun sank low in the sky.
Palmetto Lodge sold its services to the more adventurous beachgoers. When lightning struck
the building on July 20, 1907, no doubt some local residents saw it as the hand of a
vengeful God. Just two months before at Mayport, Cora's husband Hammond McNeil had killed
a teenager he suspected of being his wife's lover. And, of course, the unsavory activity
at the Lodge inflamed conservative townsfolk. Here's how the Florida Times-Union
described the zapping of Cora's establishment:
"STRUCK BY LIGHTNING -- House at Pablo Beach Badly Damaged Yesterday; Roof, Walls and
Ceilings Demolished; Young Woman Stunned. ~
Passengers arriving from Pablo Beach last night reported that a house was struck by
lightning at that place during a severe thunderstorm yesterday afternoon, and was badly
Those reporting the occurrence said that the house belonged to Cora Taylor of this city
and that it is a large, two-story house situated north of the Ocean View Hotel.
Lightning struck the roof of the house, tearing away a large portion of the roof and two
corners of the building; (it) tore out the ceiling and demolished a large portion of the
One young woman, whose name was not given, was reported to have been badly stunned but was
restored to consciousness by Dr. Jackson and Dr. Denton (spelling?), who were called to
attend her, and was reported as getting along very well at the time the train left the
So far as known, no other damage was done by the lightning at the beach."
Cora Crane Taylor died September 4, 1910, the Sunday before Labor Day, at age 46. A
generous person, she had overexerted herself by helping push a car out of the beach sand.
One doubts that prostitution ended with her death but records about it do not exist.
The village grew into a town and was incorporated as such in 1907. It was much smaller
than it would be in 1925 when it became Jacksonville Beach. It did not include what would
become Neptune Beach in 1931. Pablo had reached 326 residents in 1900 according to the US
Census Bureau; by 1910, it only had 249 in the incorporated area but there were a few
hundred more scattered neat the two limits. Even by 1925, the Florida State Census only
showed 744 inhabitants. Bounded on the east by the ocean, it stretched west to 10th
Street, to the north to Wakulla Avenue [15th Avenue North] and south to
Hillsboro Avenue [15th Avenue South]. In fact, settlement was confined to a few
blocks near the Ocean View Hotel. African Americans, however, tended to live southwest of
the railroad station in an area which became known as The Hill. African
Americans could only use Manhattan Beach, miles north near the mouth of the St. Johns and
now encapsulated by Kathryn Abby Hanna Park. They did not work in the family-owned
businesses on the boardwalk. If they did, they were invisible.
Figure 19 Looking East Source: Andrew Bachman
Pablo entered the automobile age, so to speak, when a paved road was completed in 1910
from South Jacksonville to the intersection of Atlantic Beach and the Neptune section of
Pablo Beach at the oceanfront. Todays Atlantic Boulevard was a marvel at a time when
Florida enjoyed few paved roads. One still had to drive a few miles south to downtown
Pablo but one could drive there on the beach when the tide was right. The hard-packed sand
was suitable for automobile racing at low tide when the beach was 600 feet wide. Racing on
the beach started in 1906 and continued through 1911. The five-mile course from Atlantic
Beach to Pablo Beach saw a new world record established in August, 1911when an E-M-F
30 ran the course in 4.20 minutes beating a Chevrolet which had held the previous
record at 4.27.
Playing in the ocean was one of the chief draws of the resort and on which the
boardwalk depended but poor or careless swimmers could get in trouble from the pounding
waves or riptides. By 1912, a Volunteer Life Savings Corps was organized. The following
incident and its legal ramifications made the existence of a corps more imperative.
The drowning of a young nurse in the summer of 1912 prompted Clarence McDonald, then
supervisor of public recreation for Jacksonville, and Lyman Haskell, a lifesaving teacher
from the YMCA, to quickly recruit, train and organize young men to volunteer their time to
guard swimmers at the increasingly popular Pablo Beach.
W. H. Adams, owner of the Ocean View, was sued for $50,000 by the estate of Mary E.
Proctor, who had rented a bathing suit, changed in his bathhouse, and drowned in the ocean
on July 7th, 1912. The court ruled that Adams did not own the Atlantic Ocean and, thus,
was not liable. Tourists, who often did
not understand the vagaries of the sea, needed help. Death by downing discouraged
visitors. In April, 1913, the town of Pablo Beach gave the corps the building shown below.
A year later the American Red Cross absorbed the Volunteer Corps as part of its Water
Safety Program. It still exists. The Life Guards began using the now-famous Walters
Torpedo buoy in 1919 which made it easier and safer to rescue distressed swimmers.
Figure 20 H. W. Walters Source: Popular Mechanics
Figure 21 Life Saving Corps, 1913 Source: Pablo Improvement Co.
The American Red Cross Volunteer Life Saving Corps station was a concrete, visible
reminder that visitors to the beach would be protected. Over the years, different stations
were built to meet the needs of the corps but always in the same spot. The current
station, built in 1946, is a much photographed beach icon. The Corps, of course, only
protected surf bathers once they hit the water.
Figure 22 Life Guard Station, 1989 Photo: Don Mabry
LITTLE CONEY ISLAND
Prosperity for Pablo Beach depended on enticing people to come to Pablo Beach and spend so
Beach entrepreneurs mimicked what they saw in New York. Pablo Beach businessmen had built
hotels, bath houses, beer halls, shooting galleries, and the like. In 1916, the Pablo
Development and Power Company started adding on to the Pavilion to create Little Coney
Island. Situated on the southwest corner of Pablo Avenue and First Street with a wooden
walkway to the beach, it was the areas first amusement park. Unfortunately, records
of the enterprise are scarce but we do know the following.
An Englishman, Charles Henry Mann who moved to Jacksonville in 1883 was the president
of the Pablo Development and Power Company. In1892 at age sixteen, he began a hide and
skin business, the Southern Hide and Skin Company, and eventually the American Oak and
Leather Training Company. In addition, by 1909, he was vice-president of Citizens Bank and
vice-president of Welaka Mineral Water Company which was incorporated on November 15,
1907. D. E. Fletcher was president and
H.C.D. Williams was secretary. The mineral water company attracted people to its
healing mineral waters upstream from Jacksonville on the St. Johns River.
Governor Napoleon Broward appointed him to the town council of Pablo Beach when it was
incorporated in 1907. Mann bought a lot of real estate between 1892 and-1909. A Pablo
Beach street was named for him 
Figure 23 Charles Henry Mann Source: Makers of America
Little Coney Island was a large amusement park, a destination for tourists. The Sanborn
Fire Insurance Company map for 1917 shows Little Coney Island with a bowling alley, a
dance floor, a pool room, concession stands, stores, and a roller skating rink. The 1924 map of the area around Little
Coney Island shows the Life Guard Station across the street and on the shore, a Pavilion
at the eastern terminus of what is now Beach Boulevard, the Ocean View Hotel in the upper
right hand corner, and City Hall and the Fire Department on 2nd Street North.
Photographs from the 1920s show its existence along with the development of the boardwalk
Figure 24 Little Coney Island, 1919 Source: Sanborn Fire Insurance Co.
Figure 25 Little Coney Island Source: Sanborn Fire Insurance Co.
Figure 26 Postcard of Pavilion Source: Jacksonville Public Library
Little Coney Island, massive as it was, aged badly, being wooden and buffeted by the
constant winds of the ocean. The Beach News & Advertiser reported on January 26, 1924
that it had been condemned. Razing the building was a protracted affair with a contract
let at the end of March, and being torn down in January, 1925.
BOARDWALK AND BATH HOUSES
A new entertainment venue but along the oceanfront was built. By May, 1925, the call
for a boardwalk was made and plans drawn by late September. The City Council balked
against recommendations for the boardwalk and bulkhead the following March b, by April,
1927, the boardwalk was built on one level and was straight.
Before the boardwalk was a strip along the beach edge, Mary E. Perkins built a bath
house and boarding house in 1907. That she operated in a male-dominated society never
stopped her. Born in Wisconsin in 1856, she came to Florida in 1880 with her husband, L.
S. Birks. After he died in 1883, she opened a boarding house in Jacksonville to earn an
income. She established her Pablo Beach business in Pablo Beach in 1907. Before she died
on November 19, 1933, she had yielded control of the Perkins Bath House and Hotel to her
daughter Anna Perkins Pursel in 1931. Perkins started with a two story house facing the
ocean where one could get room and board. Her success meant expanding the business until
it was quite large by 1924. It consisted of three separate buildings connected by
walkways. It was destroyed by the 1933 boardwalk fire.
Figure 27 Mary E. Perkins Source: John Wimpy Sutton
Figure 28 Perkins Boarding and Bathhouse Source: John Wimpy Sutton
Figure 29 Perkins, 1924 Source: Sanborn Fire Insurance Co.
Figure 30 Beauty Pageant, 1920s. Source: Florida Memory
Undaunted, Perkins built a new hotel and more bathhouses. As her great grandson, John
Wimpy Sutton, tells the story:
It was to face on the new concrete boardwalk built by the Works Progress
Administration. Below the hotel, there was space for a restaurant and other forms of
entertainment and, in front of the bath houses, there were other concessions such as
Joes Pee Wee Bar and the shooting gallery. This very popular area on the oceanfront,
between First and Second Avenues North, would remain part of our family until 1945.
The hotel and bath house were sold to Pete Dickinson, who owned a large building with his
hardware store across the street; his son Maxwell still owned it in 2009 but had closed
the hotel when national chains better met consumer tastes.
Figure 31 Double View, Perkins Source:
Tourists went to Pablo Beach mostly to enjoy the ocean and its breezes and each
others company. House parties were fun for the younger set. Unlike today, their
dress at the beach was similar to what they would wear in town. Even on the beach getting
a suntan was not in the fashion. These 1917 photos show one house party as well as its
mode of transportation to Pablo Beach. Even though they were on the sand by the sea, they
covered their bodies. The party may have been in the Hotel Pablo. The porch seems to be
the hotel porch. Even in the 1920s, swim suits were very modest.
Figure 32 House Party, 1917 Source: Mabry Archive
Figure 33 Leaving the house party Source: Mabry Archive
Figure 34 Lawrence Gayle and Anna Grant , 1922 Source: Coveman
World War I intervened briefly in 1917-1919 and then the Spanish Influenza
Pandemic of 1918-1919. Twenty-eight men, three of whom were African American, out of 357
people at Pablo Beach served. This represented about 40% of the adult male population.
More than this, the number of tourists declined during the war because of disruption and
also because prices rose rapidly when the US government began spending lots of money.
Jacksonville and Florida in general, suffered from the Spanish influenza with
thousands contracting the virus and hundreds dying from it. In the fall of 1918, an
Ocala, FL man, Mr. Olson, traveled to Jacksonville, FL for a carpentry job. Jacksonville
was inundated with the flu at the time, and despite a citywide quarantine and the use of
gauze masks, Olson contracted the flu. 
Travel from other states declined as well. Prices shot up 17.4% in 1917, 18% in 1918, and
14.6% in 1919 until prices precipitately dropping 10.5% in 1920.
Pablo Beach gained national fame when military pilots used the hard-packed sand as an
ideal runway for airplanes, a new phenomenon in the world, as they experimented with
transcontinental flights. On December 22, 1918, Major Albert D. Smith and three other Army
aviators landed on Pablo Beach in Curtiss JN-4 biplanes. It had taken 18 days from San
Diego. Then, on February 24, 1921, Lt. William Devote Coney landed at Pablo Beach after
making a flight from San Diego, California in 22 hours, 17 minutes. His return trip began
March 25, but he crashed and died near Cornville, Louisiana. That same year, Lt James
Doolittle left the Neptune Beach portion of Pablo Beach on a transcontinental flight to
San Diego in 21 hours and 18 minutes.
The first half of the 1920s was an exciting time for Pablo Beach. Getting to the
beaches became easier on July 1, 1921, when the Jacksonville-St. Johns Bridge (Acosta
Bridge) was opened. Automobiles, trucks, busses, and pedestrians could cross the St. Johns
River without using a ferry or a train. In 1922, the Town of Pablo Beach became the City
of Pablo Beach. Residents of the Neptune area in the north considered seceding, however,
for they were separated by several miles of sand dunes of Pablo Beach but bordered
Atlantic Beach which was on the other side of Atlantic Boulevard.
Pablo Beach became more modern. The Duval County school board built a new grammar
school for whites in 1924, a school that building served the community for decades. The
Pablo city government started building a new city hall which was completed in 1926. In 1922 and after, the beaches communities
made a big push to increase tourism. To encourage this industry without
chimneys, they paved the road between Neptune and Jacksonville Beaches, built
seawalls or bulkheads, and installed street lights to illuminate areas near the strand.
They bridged Bontall Creek in south Jacksonville Beach. They persuaded the Seminole Auto
Bus Company to provide daily service from Jacksonville to Pablo Beach via Atlantic
Boulevard. On March 14, 1923, Pablo Beach joined the Jacksonville electricity grid. When the amusement-bathhouse-room rental
part was built, the boardwalk, it was higher than the sand and ocean so steps had to be
built to allow people to move between the two. The reflective properties of the beach sand
meant artificial shade was desirable and accomplished by palm frond or other material
umbrellas on the beach. Because of cars on the beach, sunbathers had to be protected by
A swim suit competition was staged at the Pablo Beach pavilion on June 6, 1924. The
American Legion Post # 9 sponsored the Delegation of Mermaids at the Revue of Modes and
there were twenty-five women contestants who were said to be modeling swimsuits. Pathe
News was to film the event. The suits were borrowed from the Mack Sennet film studio.
Pablo Beach mayor Joe Bussey proclaimed the day American Legion Day and
perhaps 7,000 came. A local woman, Mary Gonzalez, won.
Some beach residents fought the post WWI trends, believing them immoral. It was the age
of alcohol prohibition, 1919-1933, so the law was on their side but this was the beach
where such niceties were often not observed when family income was at stake. The late Bill
Foley told the wonderful story of the city government banning shimmying, dancing
cheek-to-cheek, possessing or drinking liquor, or women wearing anything other than
a two piece swim suit with a skirt at least 12 inches long. The police intended to enforce
these laws to save the youth! The 1924 Charter and Ordinances of the City of Pablo Beach
specified a number of offences against public order which intended to punish such as
prostitution, discharging firearms, gambling, shimmy or cheek to cheek dancing, or being
Horrors abounded in 1922 when Coronel A.R. Stroup of the U. S. government and Duval
County Sheriff R.E. Merritt and state officials were determined to keep Pablo Beach
dry over Labor Day. That September 4th, they wanted law-abiding
citizens to meet them at the Ocean View Hotel at 10 AM to organize to prevent the
consumption of booze. Working people from Jacksonville planned to celebrate their holiday
at the beach with picnics, games, playing in the surf, and drinking. On
Shad's pier the ladies of labor were opening a week's carnival of wholesome activity, such
as a country store and fortune-telling and raffles and bake sales and other
diversions. After a nice, dry day of family fun, the authorities would
clear the beach for several miles north of the pier so James E. Doolittle could try again
to make the first cross-country flight. He did.
Besides booze, marathon dancing on Shads pier in 1923 flummoxed city officials.
Jimmy Trotter, a band leader, ran the pier and he decided to stage a marathon dance,
promising a thousand dollars in prizes . The last couple dancing split $400. There was
another marathon dance on the Ortega pier in Jacksonville but no money was involved.
Provisions were made to take care of the dancers as well as the crowds which watched. In
Pablo, the druggist Doc Russell was on hand and he could call upon the
American Red Cross Volunteer Life Saving Corps if need be. In both cases, the dancing
would inevitably slide over into Sunday, a sin according some religious types and they
demanded that government enforce their religious beliefs. Sheriff Ham Dowling stopped the
Ortega marathon at midnight; Mayor Joe Bussey did in Pablo. Trotter handed out the prize
money on Monday with Herbert Sachs and Patricia Williams taking the big money for their
100 hours of dancing. 
The Ku Klux Klan infected Pablo Beach in the 1920s, threatening anyone who ignored Klan
moralism and small town-rural Protestant values. This terrorist organization entered
Florida on December 22, 1922 through Jacksonville with its largest Klavern the Stonewall
Jackson No. 1 of Jacksonville and it joined other Jacksonville civic groups to
protect city beaches from commercial exploitation. Since Pablo Beach consisted of small family-owned
businesses, this statement is puzzling. Atlantic Beach to the north was essentially
residential. Mayport and Palm Valley would not have been considered beach communities.
What became Ponte Vedra Beach was then a very small mining settlement called Mineral City.
It had to be directed at the carnival and honky-tonk character of the boardwalk and
Part of it was simply that the Klan opposed most Christians, Jews,
Muslims, Buddhists, Asians, Africans, most Europeans, urban mores, and African-Americans.
People, including the Pablo Beach police chief, who supported the Roman Catholic New
Yorker for U.S. President in 1928, were threatened by the Klan. 
Jacksonville had a very large African America population but Pablo Beach did not so it
was not an anti-black movement at the beach. Instead, it appears to be a reaction to the
growing tourist industry and the atmosphere it engenders. Bars (illicit during
Prohibition), games and other amusements, hotels, and a desire for pleasure offended those
who believed that one should only work, go to church activities, pray, and stay at home.
Businessmen coped, ignored threats, and got on with the business of earning a living. They
continued to improve the boardwalk.
Charles Shad led the next major development, the building of a dance pier jutting from the
boardwalk. Martin G. Williams, Sr., a very successful tailor and mens clothier in
Jacksonville since 1919, invested in the boardwalk after becoming fascinated with it and
the beach. In time, Williams would be known as the Father of the Boardwalk.
Shad and Williams had joined forces in 1917 to acquire the patent rights to a sprinkler
from Hugh Partridge and to renew the rights in 1919. Together with Charles Hawkins, they
worked to get permission to build the pier.
Shads Pier opened on June 8, 1922, providing a place for visitors and residents
alike to dance, relax, and fish. It was inspired by the Steel Pier on Coney Island in
Brooklyn and that is what the Pablo City Council wanted built but the cost was
prohibitive. U.S. Census Bureau figures explain the economic limitations. Jacksonville
only had 91, 558 people. Duval County had 113,540. Pablo Beach had only 357. Kings County,
New York (Brooklyn) had 2,018,356 and New York County (Manhattan) had 2,284,103. Coney
Island was then an island in the southwestern part of Kings County but it was only a
nickel subway ride from Brooklyn and Manhattan. Millions would visit Coney. So the Council
reluctantly had to settle for Shads palmetto pilings and wood.
Shad installed a 10-watt generator and strung lights to light the entire structure,
making it visible for miles. There was little danger that ships or airplanes would mistake
what it was even though it was twenty-five feet wide and four hundred feet long with a
large dance pavilion, La Brisa (the breeze), almost at the end. Music floated from the
pier as James B. Trotters dance band or visiting major bands played on weekends and
juke boxes on weekdays. Shad, however, died in late 1922, so he never knew how much he had
accomplished. Hawkins and Williams assumed control of the pier.
The pier was not static. It was Trotters Pier after Shad died, but
others owned it subsequently. Storms as well as age meant repairs had to be made. At one
point, the fishing extension was swept away only to be rebuilt. It burned in 1937 but was
rebuilt. Some old timers said there was a whirlpool at the end of the pier in the 1920s
but that myth was probably just a reflection of the piers iconic presence at Pablo.
The Jacksonville coast did not suffer direct hits from hurricanes except in 1964 but
hurricanes generate peripheral winds, rain, and sea surges; more dangerous were the
Northeasters which battered the coast for days in the late Fall and Winter and could
arrive one after another. In 1925, storms damaged the pier and again in 1932. Fire, the
bugaboo of the old beaches, struck in 1938 and 1949. In the 1938 fire, Charles W. Hawkins
of Jacksonville, the owner, had insurance. E.W. Compton owned the concession equipment and
furnishings which were lost. The pier was rebuilt. The 1949 damage was not as bad.
That first pier was integral to the history of the boardwalk from 1922
through the 1961 season. Its entrance was on the boardwalk between 2nd Avenue
North and 3rd Street North but its long profile out in the water made it hard
to miss. Couples in fancy dress danced to the music of famous bands in until 1950 or so.
Advertising signs decorated its sides. Signs warning bathers to stay 50 feet away from the
pilings (the barnacles were like razors) were sometimes ignored. Life Guards and other
young men would dive off the fishing extension during storms because the high waves gave
such a good and dangerous ride to the shore. Beach teenagers hung out and danced on the
pier, often unbeknownst to their parents. Those who fished loved its projection into the
ocean and were willing to pay the small fee.
Figure 35 1920s Shads Pier Source: Florida Memory
Figure 36 Dancing at the Beach Source: BAHS
Figure 37 Shads Pier in 1955
Figure 38 Ticket Booth to the fishing extension Source: BAHS
The Florida land boom of the first half of the Twenties contributed to the prosperity of
the beaches but so, too, did Henry Ford by manufacturing and selling cheap automobiles to
the middle classes. Pablo Beach attracted investment because more people could buy
amusement. In the early 1920s, Martin Williams built a large bathhouse complex on the
boardwalk at 3rd Avenue North across from the pier entrance, operating it
during the season. (See below) The president of the United Amusement Company, on April 16,
1922, proposed two or more riding devices; tented attractions of an amusement nature; free
seats for the public; and free admissions to Oceanside Park at Pablo Beach. Further, he
offered to fill the plot used to the level of First Street; to maintain at all times an
orderly and credible amusement park, and to cooperate with the town government.
Fires could not destroy the Casa Marina Hotel, started in 1925 and opened in 1926, for
it was built not of wood but of masonry. Modest in size it would still exist in 2009 but
not so the Ocean View Hotel which burned in 1926. The Ocean View Hotel and all about it
were gone. Fate picked the night for a $100,000 fire. The Adams bathhouses, ''numerous''
concession stands, King Tut's theater and restaurant, the north boardwalk and the 60-room
seaside hotel perished in the debacle.
The Casa Marina was just north of the boardwalk, blocks from the fires center.
Figure 39 Williams Bath Houses Source: Sanborn Fire Insurance Co.
Figure 40 Casa Marina Hotel, 1925 Source: Jacksonville Public Library
In August, 1926, W. H. Adams, Sr. created the Ocean View amusement park on the site of his
former hotel and encouraged the construction of a large roller coaster in 1928 in
imitation of Coney Island coasters. John Miller of the Miller & Rose Amusement Company
of Milwaukee built the ride. It was 93-feet high and its trains reached speeds of 50 miles
per hour. It was 3,168 feet long; Its two trains with two cars with the riders arranged
2 across in 3 rows for a total of 12 riders per train. Although it may have seemed
longer for some passengers, it made the circuit in a minute and one-half, reaching a speed
of fifty miles per hour. The coaster was huge, dominating the skyline where it could be
seen for miles.
It was vulnerable to storms and had to be repaired several times. In
1933, Miller sold it to W. H. Adams, Jr., who put Lake R. Peddy in charge. By 1949, the
wooden coaster was increasingly unsafe and was dismantled in 1950 to be replaced by the
metal, small Wild Mouse. Other rides and amusements were brought into the
space. The Coaster Block complex included restaurants, apparel stores, game parlors, and
Figure 41 Late 1920s-1933 Source: BAHS
Figure 42 Storm Damage probably 1929 Source: BAHS
Figure 43 The Drop Source: metrojacksonville.com
Figure 44 View in late 1940s Source: BAHS
Figure 45 Boardwalk & Pier, 1920s Source: BAHS
Figure 46 The Wild Mouse, 1st Street North (1961) Source: BAHS
Storms were but one of the many threats to the boardwalk but merchants could batten down
the hatches with plywood. Fiscal storms battered everyone. The wild, speculative, real
estate and housing bubble of the first half of the 1920s collapsed by 1926. For Florida,
that was the beginning of the Great Depression. Land and buildings were sold for back
taxes. The Florida East Coast Railway went into receivership in September, 1931; service
to the beaches ended in 1932, making day trips more difficult for those without
automobiles. Few people owned automobiles. Beach dwellers were accustomed to meager
incomes since most depended on seasonal work but conditions worsened until the New Deal
began in 1933.
Jacksonville and its beaches became very dependent on federal spending since 1933 when
the New Deal began and prospered because of it. The liberal New Deal government of
Franklin D. Roosevelt pumped money into beaches infrastructure and spurred a
population increase. Duncan U. Fletcher, liberal Democratic U. S. Senator, managed to
direct U. S. government money to Duval County, including the beach area. The Works
Projects Administration (WPA) built a concrete seawall and concrete boardwalk (thus
creating a wonderful place to skate when the tourists had left!). The U.S. government
financed most of the construction costs of Duncan U. Fletcher Junior-Senior High School in
1936-37, an institution which unified the white people at all the beaches including those
in the St. Johns County communities of Palm Valley and Ponte Vedra Beach. The Civilian
Conservation Corps and its projects provided work. In 1940, the Works Progress
Administration completed the concrete sea wall from 16th Avenue South to 37th Avenue
South; in 1941, the WPA authorized $170,000 for additional improvements. Governor Dave
Sholtz worked closely with New Deal agencies to garner federal money for Florida. He
established a State Welfare Board, Planning Board and Emergency Relief Administration. As
a result, Jacksonville Beach and Atlantic Beach grew from 1,046 people in 1930 to 5397 in
1940 with the Jacksonville Beach area leading the way by going from 882 to 3,566 even
though it lost Neptune beach in 1931.
Federal spending and the national debt increased exponentially in the 1930s through
1945. Herbert Hoovers Republican government had increased federal spending from
$3.127 billion in 1929 to $4.623 billion in 1933, a 47.8% increase. Roosevelts New Deal
increased it to $8.858 billion in 1939, a 91.6% increase. Massive federal spending came
with World War II; federal expenditures jumped to $95.184 billion in 1945, the last year
of the war! Similarly, in 1929, the national debt was $16,931,088; in 1933, the national
public debt was $22,538,673, a 33% increase; by 1939, it was $40,439,532, a 139% increase
over 1929 and a 79.4% increase over 1933. The US borrowed money to fight the war so the
national debt in 1945 was $258,682,187.
Wars bring big government.
Federal spending was not the concern of people in October 1933 when the boardwalk fire
occurred. Survival was. Fire had always been the bęte noir of the beaches. The Ocean View
Hotel and neighboring structures had been consumed only seven years before. This time,
however, following the lead of the Casa Marina Hotel, rebuilding would be done with
concrete. Mary Perkins and Anna Pursel saved their safe and began rebuilding, contracting
with Manuel Chao, a friend, to do the work. Next door, to the north, Martin G. Williams
lost his oceanfront amusement businesses but he used his credit to build a new building
which contained Martins Grill, a bowling alley, soda fountain, and luncheonette. W.
E. Monty Montgomery, Jacksonville Beach Mayor in 1933-35 ,took over from his
friend Williams to lead the reconstruction effort.
MARTIN G. WILLIAMS, SR.
Williams, who was Jacksonville Beach mayor in 1929-33, emerged as the undisputed leader of
the boardwalk, specifically, and the little citys business class in general. His
story is remarkable. When he arrived at the Beach, there were about 300 people, no paved
streets, and only one or two sidewalks. He was born on August 22, 1887 in Maclenny, west
of Jacksonville; he and his family moved to Jacksonville after his father died in 1889. At
age 12, he went to work for the W. R. Grace Company in the daytime as an office boy and
for American Telephone Company at night in Jacksonville. In 1919, he opened a successful
tailor shop in Jacksonville but spent so much time in Pablo Beach that he moved there in
1929. Charles Shad was a close boyhood friend. He decided to build a boardwalk, bath
house, and fishing and amusement pier. He built an arcade which had been a dance hall
leased to Jimmy Trotter, the orchestra leader. Williams owned an ice company and various
other businesses. Later, he had a miniature golf course on First Street North.
Figure 47 Boardwalk Fire, 1933 Source: BAHS
Figure 48 Boardwalk Fire 1933 Source: BAHS
The devastation was tremendous but the expensive rebuilding of businesses, the sea wall,
the concrete boardwalk, and houses generated jobs and sales. People came to do
the work and stayed. New money also brought visitors from Jacksonville and nearby who
wanted a respite from the daily grind.
Williams understood that the boardwalk and the beach had to be merchandized through
ads, sales, gimmicks, and free publicity. He owned Martin G. Williams Tailor Made Suits
next to the Florida Theater in downtown Jacksonville but he worked at night and weekends
at his businesses on the boardwalk from May to September. He persuaded many of his fellow
Jacksonville merchants to let their employees go to the beach on Thursday afternoons and
beach merchants, including on the boardwalk, to give them discounts; he promoted these
Thursdays via newspaper ads and flyers. In 1929, he closed the tailor shop and devoted his
time to the beaches.
In cooperation with other boardwalk owners informally and then through the Boardwalk
Association and Beaches Chamber of Commerce he founded in the 1930s and early 1940. The
group would issue scrip which was buried in the sand; finders could be redeem it for
rides, games, and food. Bathing beauty contests, started in the 1920s, became common after
World War II as sexual mores changed. In 1946, the season was begun with an
Opening Day Parade to draw crowds and to get newspaper coverage. Whenever possible,
officials and groups from other towns, particular in Georgia, would be invited to
participate. He got the first convention, the Florida State Firemens Sixth Annual
convention. to come to Jacksonville Beach by going to the 1930 convention and handing out
photos of bathing beauties; it worked.
Efforts to attract people to Jacksonville Beach and its boardwalk not only occurred
before and during the summer season but also at the end as merchants sought to earn a bit
more before the long eight-month idle period. These clippings from September, 9, 1935 of
the Jacksonville Florida Times-Union demonstrate the end of the season
festivities. The first shows the crowd attending the baby parade contest; the second the
victor of the 6th annual Life Guard swimming marathon being hoisted by fellow
guardsmen; and the third women in a bathing beauty contest. Their platform was built
perpendicular to the pier.
Figure 49 Closing Day, 1935 Source: Florida Times-Union
Figure 50 Boardwalk Looking South Source: metrojacksonville.com
Figure 51 1936 Boardwalk Looking North Source: metrojacksonville.com
Figure 52 Boardwalk Source: metrojacksonville.com
As Martin G. Williams, Jr. remembers What is vivid in my mind as a kid (1930-40)
were the images of men in shirts and ties, panama straw hats and ladies wearing dresses
and gloves seated on the Boardwalk benches enjoying the cool ocean breezes in the evening
and the strollers walking in similar dress. One can see this formal style of dress
in the photo below.
Figure 53 Martin G. Williams Building Source: metrojacksonville.com
The boardwalk and other beach fun places recovered so much by 1938 that the ministerial
alliance of Jacksonville campaigned against them but to no avail. The beach had only two
sources of incomecommuters and tourismand was not about impoverish itself
because some church people objected to entertainment establishments. The State of Florida
had legalized horse and dog racing as well as jai alai after the Depression hit. Other
forms of gambling were at the discretion of the county sheriff. Poker, bingo, slot
machines, roulette wheels and the like on the boardwalk and nearby bars seemed ordinary.
Carl S. Ward, who owned 200 slot machines filed suit in federal court in the Fall of 1937
in an effort to get the courts to grant an injunction to stop sheriffs from seizing slot
machines. Drinking alcoholic beverages
and dancing at the beach started when the town was founded. One suspects that adultery and
even prostitution even occurred in some hotels and rented rooms. After all, the beach was
far enough from Jacksonville to afford some privacy.
THE MILITARY RETURNS
Then came the military and war and lots and lots of money. The Army used Camp Blanding
near Jacksonville beginning in 1939. Florida had been friendly to the New Deal and the War
Department rewarded the state with the Jacksonville Naval Air Station in 1940 and McDill
Air Force Base in 1939. The Navy passed 10,000-plus pilots and 11,000 air crewman through
JAX NAS during the war. Naval Air Station Cecil Field came on line in June 1941; by 1943,
all Navy pilots went through Cecil Field before joining either the Atlantic or Pacific
To accommodate the visiting service members who came to enjoy our beaches, a Recreation
Camp was built with the aid of Civil Conservation Corps labor in Jacksonville Beach on
Seventh Avenue North between Eighth and Ninth streets.
When completed in July 1941, it afforded over 100 shelters on concrete slabs, each with
six folding army cots, where servicemen could be based while on pass to the beach.
Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 135th Infantry Division
maintained the camp and furnished patrons for the Beaches.
It then became the Combat Training Camp in 1942 in Atlantic Beach. Much more important
was the selection of the Mayport Naval Auxiliary Station in 1939 and its commissioning in
December, 1942. In 1943, the Casa Marina Hotel was leased to the US government to house
immigrant workers and converted into forty-nine apartments. When the war ended, the
Mayport naval base was deactivated until 1948 when it was revived. In 1951, Mayport NAS
was expanded and the channel deepened. The next year, the first aircraft carrier berthed
in Ribault Bay, the carrier basin that had been developed. In 1955 the Navy added a master
jet runway. The base became more important as the United States fought the Cold War and
hot wars in Korea and Vietnam. It has become one of the three largest US Navy bases in the
country, covering 3,409 acres and is the third largest US Navy facility in the continental
United States. 
Billions of dollars were spent to operate these bases. The military acquired land,
bought supplies, provided housing, and all the other necessities to establish small cities
for its personnel. Besides thousand of sailors, soldiers, and Marines, the military hired
civilians. The presence of the bases increased the demand for social services such as
In the 1940s and 1950s, most military personnel were young males; they wanted fun and
the beach specialized in fun. Relief from military discipline might mean traveling and
they did it. Some had never seen an ocean. Some wanted to enjoy the beauty and beauties on
the beach. The USO helped with loneliness; so, too, did professionals. This author
remembers the 1950s when the bus from Mayport discharged its passengers at the terminal on
1st Street North and 6th Avenue and a sea of white hats,
headed for hotels and bath houses to change into civvies or to bars or the boardwalk or
all three. An unusual number of youngish women arrived the day before. Testosterone
worked. Sailor tourism became a mainstay of the boardwalk.
The war ceased to be an abstraction in April, 1942 when a German submarine sank the SS
Gulfamerica off the Jacksonville Beach coast. Boardwalk lights, including those of the
pier, made the SS Gulfamerica a better target but the captain of the sub, once he
surfaced, saw that firing on the ship would endanger civilians on show and sailed between
the shore and sea before firing. People could see fire; some tried to rescue survivors.
The boardwalk lights dimmed. Then on June 17, 1942, four German saboteurs landed at Ponte
Vedra Beach in Operation Pastorius. Four others had landed on Long Island on June 13,
1942. The Florida group included Edward John Kerling, 33; Herbert Hans Haupt, an American
citizen; Werner Thiel; and Herman Neubauer. They carried boxes of incendiary devices and
bombs and money. They walked the few miles to downtown Jacksonville Beach and took the bus
to Jacksonville where they had a large breakfast. Two stayed at the Seminole Hotel; the
other two at the Mayflower Hotel. Kerling and Thiel went to New York City and were
arrested on June 24; Haupt and Neubauer went to Chicago and were arrested on June 27th.
One of the Long Island party ratted out the Florida group before it had landed. On August
8, 1942, the Ponte Vedra four were executed.
Security measures were taken. Blackouts were required. Dark curtains on the windows and
shaded car lights and, on the boardwalk, more elaborate means of hiding light. Barriers
were installed at ramps to the beach to hide car lights. Coast Guard patrols became more
active. Passes were required, even of students. Bus passengers to Jacksonville had to be
inspected. Civilian lookouts were used.
Figure 54 Beach Pass Source: Clint Sykes
City boosters, however, insisted that the growth of Jacksonville Beach between 1937 and
1942 owed nothing to wartime spending. Their advertisement in the Beaches Outlook (Summer,1944)
asserted that the Citys capital and surplus from $300,000 in 1937 to $1,160,000,000
in 1942, that private investment had built The Flag, the Bowling Center, the Baker Bryan
Building, the Beach Bank, and the Sportland Building. The City adopted radio to contact
its police officers, beautified the city park, paved seven miles of roads and paved two
miles of sidewalks, installed sewage systems, and completed three sea walls. The building
total was one and one-half million dollars.
True as these statements were, they ignored the injection of New Deal and military monies.
The boardwalk survived the war even though its lights had to be dimmed at night. The
daytime was no problem, of course, and tourists could play at night as long as light
emissions towards the sea were controlled. The Flag, owned by Carl S. Ward and operated by
Cecil Summers and Fred Blas. advertised itself as the Souths Largest Amusement
Center, Open All Year, with 14 bowling lanes, billiards, Bingo, a soda
fountain and grill, and games, penny arcade, pinball machines, and a dance floor (see
Figure 36). It was built between 1937 and 1942 and occupied the city block between 4th
and 5th Avenues North. Originally, Ward had installed seats for 3,000 for
bingo, hoping to earn his fortune, but had to cut back and install the bowling alley. Ward
was virtually illiterate but could count on his wife to help. The gambling Club 21,
upstairs, was owned by George MacDonell.
Figure 55 The Flag Source: E. J. MacDonell Taylor
The Flag went down in flames. A large part burned on Tuesday, February 1, 1944 in a fire
caused by a short circuit, but War had it rebuilt and open for business the summer of
1944. Then, on Monday, August 17th, it burned completely. Some say a problem
with the neon sign was the cause; others say it began in the bowling alley. Regardless,
Ward collected the $100,000 insurance. Luckily, the 500 people in the building escaped
without injury and firemen were able to save neighboring buildings. Some rides were
After the Flag burned, W. A. Buddy Albury and Frank Griffin bought the site
and installed an amusement park and the Club 21 was opened further south. This 1948 photo
of a bathing beauty contest also shows Club 21 on the second floor and the sign indicating
where the entrance was can be seen behind the boys on the roof.
Figure 56 Beauty Contest, 1948, With Bobbie MacDonell Source: BAHS
Beauty contests always drew a crowd but so, too, did motorcycle races, Opening Day
Parades, fireworks displays, and stunts. In the immediate postwar years, amphibian vehicle
(duck) became a popular ride which took people out into the ocean almost beyond the site
of land allowing passengers to see sea life. Martin G. Williams, Jr. tells of one famous
stunt used to draw crowds to the boardwalk:
One famous 1949 act was Dynamite Jones. He had a platform out from the Boardwalk. A
wire cage contained a wooden coffin and at 10 p.m. on Thursday nights Jones would enter
with a crash outfit and helmet. He would climb into the coffin, an assistant would insert
a stick of dynamite into a hole in the end of the coffin, and light it. When it exploded,
wood and splinters went everywhere in the wire cage, there was lots of smoke. An assistant
would rush in; at first there was no movement, then finally a hand and arm would come up
and they would assist Jones to his feet; he would wave and slowly be helped off the
platform until the next week. This was sponsored in August when summer business slowed and
it was at 10 p.m. to keep the crowd at the Boardwalk.
Until the crackdown in 1950, gambling was common on the boardwalk and the beach. Bingo
was a popular gambling pastime. Martin G. Williams had a bingo parlor as did The Flag and
another business. When The Flag ownership realized that seating 3,000 players was too
many, fourteen bowling lanes were installed in some of the space. Art Alexanders
mouse game involved betting into which hold a mouse would go. Martin G. Williams, Jr. said
he saw a man win $500 once. There were three gambling clubs, one at Club 21 in The Flag. A
headquarters for serious gambling was Kites Bar & Grill, owned by Earl and Mary
Kite, who ran a numbers or bolita game. The kingpin of bolita in Florida was Santo
Trafficante, Sr. and then Jr. of Tampa. The Tax Court of the U.S. penalized the Kites,
equal business partners, for underpayment of taxes in 1943, 1944, 1945, and 1946 and they
appealed. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against them for each year except 1946
in its February 4, 1955 decision. They operated a retail whiskey business under the
name of Kite's Bar, an illegal gambling operation, an apartment house, a riding stable and
a fishing boat. The Court ruled that they owed $29,367.94 in back taxes plus another
$ 13,152.50 in penalties for a total of $42,520.44. The bar was raided on July 1, 1950 as
part of a State Beverage Department push to stop the bolita industry in Duval County, The
Havana Nite Club and Mac's Bar and Package Store in Jacksonville were also hit. Bill Foley
reported that fifty-five persons were arrested and between $30,000 and $50,000
[were] seized. 
That was not the end of troubles, for Duval County Sheriff Rex Sweat, at the urging of
Governor Fuller Warren, closed the games on the boardwalk just before the second busiest
weekend of the season, Labor Day, September 1-4, 1950. The sledgehammer approach
threatened the livelihood of hundreds or more and the fun of thousands. Most of the games
were hardly gambling since one always or almost always got a prize or required some degree
of skill such as Pull-the String, darts, shooting ranges, throwing a ball at dolls, and
the like. Bingo, if played in hopes of winning a prize was gambling. So, too, was Art
Alexanders mouse games where patrons bet on the hole a mouse would dart into.
Betting on cockroach racing was as well. Club 21, above the mouse game after The Flag
burned, was a pool hall and gambling place; some assert it was a horse parlor. Herb
Shelley, H. A. Prather and Martin G. Williams, president of the Beaches Chamber of
Commerce, appealed to Florida Attorney General Richard Ervin who ruled that games which
involved some skill in order to win a prize were not gambling and could reopen Labor Day
weekend was saved, but then the rain came. Operating a giant amusement park was a gamble
THE END BEGINS
The year 1949 was a turning point for the boardwalk although few realized it at the
time. It lost its most distinctive ride, the roller coaster, which was torn down after the
1949 season in 1950, the roller coaster. The Wild Mouse which eventually replaced it paled
by comparison; small amusement parks could have one. Any amusement park could have such
rides as Ferris wheels, Tilt-a-Whirl, bumper cars, The Bullet or Roll-O-Plane (pictured),
carousels, and childrens rides, but Jacksonville Beachs boardwalk was
distinctive because it had a huge coaster.
Figure 57 Bullet or Roll-o-Plane Source: BAHS
The opening of Beach Boulevard in late 1949 changed the beaches even more profoundly.
It was constructed on the roadbed of the defunct Florida East Coast Railway as a
four-lane, divided highway allowed motorist to speed to Jacksonville Beach, cutting the
travel time between south Jacksonville to the beach in half. Moreover, it ended at the
ocean once B. B. McCormick extended from Third Street North. The American Red Cross Life
Saving station was the north side of the ramp to the beach. Visitors could drive onto the
beach as long as the tide was not high and drive for miles or park on the sand. Beach
Boulevard delivered customers of the boardwalk to its door.
With a fast, easy means of getting to Jacksonville Beach, the little city grew as did
its neighbors, so much so, that Third Street had to be widened in less than a decade to
accommodate the increased traffic. The new highway had its downside as well. More people
could commute to jobs in Jacksonville, making them independent upon the Jacksonville Beach
entertainment industry. South Jacksonville Beach and Ponte Vedra Beach quickly lost their
relative isolation created by the long trip to Jacksonville via the curvy Atlantic
Boulevard. Prudential Insurance Company management employees who came from New Jersey in
1953 to work in the South Central home office on the south bank of the St. Johns could
live at the beach and work in town, thus importing persons with higher
salaries and a different cultural norm. Within fifteen years, the beaches were bedroom
communities which depended upon commuters for income rather than laid-back, small,
relatively poor places whose chief livelihood was seasonal and dependent upon visitors.
For the last decade of the height of its existence (the fifties and until the Coaster
Block burned down in 1961, the businesses remained essentially the same although their
owners may not have. The boardwalk, bounded on the west by 1st Street North,
stretched along the oceanfront for five/six blocks beginning at Pablo Avenue and going
north to the Casa Marina Hotel at Sixth Avenue North.
The southernmost section between Pablo Avenue and First Avenue North was the Coaster
block (once called the Ocean View Pavilion since it was owned by W. H. Adams, Jr.).
Entering from the south, one first came upon Howards Restaurant followed immediately by
the entrance to Coaster Park and its ridesThe Wild Mouse, the Bullet, a
merry-go-roundas well as Ring the Bell and Guess your Age or Weight. Next were
Pauls Restaurant, Pitch Until You Win, the Coaster Bath House and Raft rental, Beach
Kiddie Land, Balloon Dart Game, Chinese String Gallery, Shooting Gallery, and, at the end,
The Hitching Post Restaurant, famous for its steam burgers, hamburger meat cooked
loosely instead of in a patty and with a little pepper added. On the backside or the First
Street North side were shops and restaurants.
Going north one block, there was another amusement park and masonry buildings. The
amusement park, called Playland Park, featured a Ferris wheel, Dodgem or bumper cars, boat
ride, Tilt-A-Whirl, and merry-go-round. Next was Pee-Wees Restaurant and Bar where
local icon, John Wimpy Sutton worked in the summer as an adolescent; his great
grandmother was Anna Perkins, who founded Perkins Bath House and Perkins Hotel north of
Pee-Wees. A gift shop, Buds Cat House ballgame, Buds Juice Bar, Cup and
Saucer Restaurant, Martin G. Williams 15 by 30 Shooting Gallery, and the
Playland Arcade operated by Gus Leisengang. This penny arcade was filled with
machines. Pinball machines lined its north side; the older machines were priced at a lowly
two cents but their tilt triggers were set to react quickly. One of the most notable
machines was the Gypsy Fortune Teller whom some found scary. One could shoot a .22 rifle
at a target, test ones ability to endure an electrical current, discover ones
love appeal and other nonsensical but fun attributes, and other games/devices
typical of such places. To facilitate people putting money into the machines, there was
not only a person in a change booth at the front but also boys patrolling the arcade with
change aprons and saying change, here, change. Prior to being a game room, it
had been Martins Grill, then Jimmy Trotters Dance Hall, and the Lucky Game for
bingo. Behind the arcade was Williams ice house.
Figure 58 Juice Stand Source: BAHS
Crossing Second Avenue North, one entered the pier block with the Griffin Amusement Park,
Tastee Freeze, the entrance to the pier, Tradewinds Restaurant, Maybellines Gifts,
and various games. In 1940, Williams moved Lucky Game adjacent to Griffins Amusement
Park. Adjoining on the north was the Martin G. Williams property, a 2-story bowling alley
building (18 lanes) built in 1939. In 1940 the end store became the famous Arts
Mouse Game, run by Art Alexander.
Across Third Avenue North were the Tropical Gift Shop, a ball game, Dave's Beer Garden,
Ski Ball, Williams Photography, the Pantry Restaurant, White House Rooms, and Nicks
Shooting Gallery, and a Salt Water Taffy store. The famous Mermaid Tavern and restaurant
were on 1st Street and 3rd Avenue.
Figure 59 Pantry, 1962 Source: Vicki Wright Shattles and Mike Wright
Figure 60 Booths in the Pantry. View to 1st St, N. Source: Vicki Wright
Shattles and Mike Wright
Figure 61 Wrights and Employess Working Source: Vicki Wright Shattles and Mike
Figure 62 Shooting Gallery Source: BAHS
Figure 63 Fascination Source: BAHS
Between 4th and 5th, where The Flag had been, Fred M.
Frenchy LeGrand operated rides and amusements rides. Buddys Bar at 1st Street North and 4th
Avenue North, owned by W. A. Albury provided thirst quenchers. The Sandpiper Hotel with
its bathhouse and pool open to the public was the northernmost boundary of the boardwalk.
Vendors also sold suntan oil and rented rafts.
Figure 64 Postcard, Sandpiper Hotel Source: Andrew Bachman
Downtown businesses, besides those of the boardwalk, served the needs of tourists and
residents within three blocks east and west and six blocks north and south. First Street
North edged the boardwalk on the west and was a mix of ordinary main street shops and
places to have fun. What made it different from other small towns were the number of bars,
liquor stores, tourist shops, places to rent rooms, and, of course, a carnival on the
Businesses at the beach were family-owned; A&P and Winn-Dixie supermarkets were two
exceptions but non-chain food stores coexisted. A&W Root Beer had a stand on Beach
Boulevard. There were no chain-owned motels, hotels, rooming houses, apartment complexes,
fast food restaurants, amusement rides, boardwalk amusements, and bars. Owners not
uncommonly lived in the motels, which might have only six rooms. People rented rooms in
their homes to tourists. Many times the employees were family members; many children or
their friends or schoolmates worked in the stores. Non-family members were also employed,
of course. Some boardwalk employees were seasonal, leaving after the rides were stored for
the off-season and the stores shuttered. Often those who stayed made repairs, cast the
plaster dolls given as prizes, or found other employment.
Downtown Jacksonville offered things which could not be purchased at the beach because
they were not in stock or not priced competitively. A bus ride on Atlantic Boulevard or,
increasingly, an automobile jaunt on either Atlantic or the much faster Beach Boulevard
solved the problem. The new St Johns River bridges in the early 1950s expedited traffic.
People dressed to go to Jacksonvilles downtown for it did not practice
the informality of the beach.
To the white residents of the beaches were insular in several ways. Their lives were
idyllic. New money improved the infrastructure of schools, roads, water and sewage system,
telephones, and electrical service. More and more people built or bought houses,
stimulating a real estate boom and the need for more and different businesses. The small
African American population seemed content, unlike those if other places including
Jacksonville. The beaches communitiesPonte Vedra and Palm Valley in St. Johns
County, Jacksonville Beach, Neptune Beach, and Atlantic Beachand the village of
Mayport and the adjacent Navy Base cooperated on most matters, partly because they shared
a common high school. This good will extended to those just west of the island on San
Pablo Road and in the Isle of Palms subdivision. Social change, be it the advent of chain
stores and motels, shopping centers, much stronger competition for the Florida tourist
dollar, or racial integration, seemed something that happened to others.
Krystal Hamburgers, the Chattanooga chain, set up shop on North 3rd Street a
few blocks from the high school, breaching the food bulkhead. A Chattanooga chain founded
in 1932, it had long existed in Jacksonville but its little square hamburgers served in
boxes might satisfy downtown workers and shoppers but beach adolescents preferred
Bills Drive-In and then the Surf Maid. Still Krystal proved that could survive on
the beach. More ominous were the Burger King and McDonalds fast food restaurants
which opened in southside Jacksonville.
Small family-owned businesses lacked investment capital. Commonly, they earned enough
income to support a famous modestly but not enough to enable the owners to build the kinds
of tourist facilities Americans began demanding by the mid-1950s. Americans wanted more
luxury and convenience and wanted it immediately.
The worst part of the boardwalk was the Coaster block. Its wooden structure needed
replacement because it was becoming a firetrap and seemed seedy. The masonry structures
were in better shape but needed refurbishing. The hamburger and hot dog stands paled in
comparison to fast food restaurants such as Burger King and McDonalds which had made
their appearance in south Jacksonville by the mid-1950s.
In 1960, there were thirty-seven family-owned motels that belonged to the Beaches
Chamber of Commerce, none of which belonged to a regional or national chain. They varied
in cost and quality. Some had no air conditioning or inefficient window units added after
the fact. Investors who wanted to build a modern motel or hotel had to decide whether the
millions invested would yield a good return in the face of such competition. Howard
Johnson and the Holiday Inn had motels in Jacksonville but avoided the beach for years. As
prosperity increased so, too, did consumer demand for better accommodations. In a short
time, travelers to Jacksonville Beach demanded the upscale, modern facilities they found
elsewhere. The first modern chain hotel was a Holiday Inn which opened in 1969.
Figure 65 Beaches Motel Map, 1960 Source: Pat Carlton Sanders
Air conditioning in the 1960s became a necessity in Florida because rising
prosperity gave people the means to cool their homes and cars, stores, and restaurants.
The opening of Regency Square Mall in Arlington in 1967 marked the beginning of the end
for downtown Jacksonville and for downtown Jacksonville Beach. Shopping in a mall with its
free parking, climate control, wide variety of stores, and wonderful lighting was easier
than paying to park and trudging in the weather from store to store. So shoppers quit
going downtown. The city centers, both in Jacksonville and in Jacksonville Beach, became
hollow. Cool breezes on the boardwalk were not as cool as air conditioning. Along with
television broadcasts, it helped kill most outdoor entertainment including the boardwalk.
Television also helped destroy the boardwalk as it revolutionized the entertainment
industry. It was free except for the receiver. It promoted the cultural values that
generated profits for business; TV was, after all, a business itself. Unlike the movies,
TV taught that one should buy and buy and buy. Television sets became the idols that
people worshipped, almost always having the prominent place in the home. The commercials
were often better than the programs. They were more important. Commercials promised that
Article X would bring love, pain relief, respect, sexual fulfillment, or
happiness or some combination thereof. As the decades marched relentlessly on, TV
broadcast in living color and received by cheaper and cheaper sets. To attract viewers, TV
taught self indulgence and instant gratification, the efficacy of violence, the supremacy
of the U.S., tolerance of divorce and adultery, and that any and all life's problems could
be solved in less than half an hour. Serious, complicated information could be reduced to
a sound bite or two.
The expansion of the Naval base at Mayport during the Korean War and then the Vietnam
War helped the beaches economy in general but began moving the tourist industry away from
being family-oriented. Some sailors, often officers, brought families to live at the
beaches but most sailors were young, single, enlisted men. When an aircraft carrier came
into port with its flotilla, thousands of these young men got liberty and headed for
Jacksonville Beach and the pleasures it offered. Sailors came from all over the United
States. When on shore leave, they tended to act the way adolescent and young adult males
away from home commonly acted. Some got inebriated. The Shore Patrol tried to keep order.
Others sought sex.
So, too, did some locals, for the rock
n roll revolution had struck full force by the mid-1950s and some adults
were threatened by the music and its sexuality. Although school and church dances were
restrained, those who went to the pier sometimes danced the dirty boogie. Not
often but parents and other community adults tended to associate the pier with
licentiousness. The scene of sailors and/or adolescents dancing to black music or rock
n roll alarmed some. Gone were the days of ballroom dancing to Tin Pan Alley tunes.
Many deplored the condition of downtown Jacksonville Beach, including the boardwalk,
but the road to redevelopment twisted through issues of what to do about the Coaster block
and the pier, sharp political differences within the City Council, and fear of change and
its costs. Some people had begun to object to the numerous bars in the entertainment
district centered on 1st Street North and neighboring streets even though they
were decades old. Many of the drinkers were young sailors. Downtown merchants found
competing with Jacksonville increasing difficult when shoppers could speed at 65 miles per
hour for most of the trip. People had to be enticed to the beaches. Boardwalk merchants,
of course, earned their money from visitors not locals who rejected the tone established
by young people, including sailors; the adults seldom went there and more and more
commuted to Jacksonville to work and felt little loyalty to the boardwalk. Further
complicating the issues was race, for some city councilmen and prominent people were
strongly opposed to desegregation. So we must weave in and out to get the story.
By May 1960, city leaders planned to renovate the oceanfront back to Third Street with
a $2.5 million but only managed to get it passed by a 4-3 vote. The Council had a long
history of contentiousness and tackling the issue of redevelopment would bring it to the
fore. Some thought the city was doing well without spending money. Some wanted a civic
center. Some thought the boardwalk was in good shape; others thought it, including the
pier, were ratty or decadent and wanted them gone and said so in September, 1960. The City
Council, the Jacksonville Beach Advisory Planning Board, and the Chamber of Commerce
(which shared some members) wanted downtown to look better, to be modern, and make other
needed civic improvements. In January, 1961, the Council and Planning Board began studying
a new Master Plan. In February, the city bought the Beach Bank building and approved plans
for a new police station. IOn May 5, the Council nixed former Councilman T. N. Aboods plan
for redevelopment referendum.
Fire came to the rescue, forcing the issue of the boardwalk. City Manager Walter F.
Johnson as early as November, 1959, recommended that the Coaster Block be condemned. In
November, 1960, the City Council said conditions on the boardwalk were deplorable and
demanded that inspectors go to work. Then, in December, 1960, Johnson said he would
recommend to the city council that the Coaster Block be condemned as a fire hazard because of
debris, butane tanks, paint cans, bare wires, and rotted roofs. This came a week before downtown
redevelopment plans were announced, plans that generated controversy. On March 9, 1961,
most of the wooden Coaster block burned for three hours, wiping out decades of history in
the process. Frenchy LeGrand suffered heavy losses when his amusement rides were damaged.
At the north end, the shooting gallery and The Hitching Post restaurant survived with
minimal damage but Councilman Franklin Left wanted them condemned so the entire block
would become available for development.
The Jacksonville Beach Advisory Planning Board unanimously urged the City Council to
buy or lease the property which was owned by W. H. Adams, Jr. but leased to Adwolf
Amusements Corporation owned by the Sam W. Wolfson, a successful Jacksonville businessman
Demolishing the old pier turned out to be a difficult decision. The city owned the pier
as of May 1 and had let bids to have it destroyed. The Council voted 5-2 in May to continue
plans to demolish it even though Councilmen Bryant and Stormes and some merchants wanted
the city to delay until September so the demolition process would not interfere with the
tourists enjoying the beach. Demolition would be expensive and Stormes joked that it
should be burned because it would only take 3 daysone to burn, two to clean up .When
the bids were opened on June 5, the low bid by P. L. Burkhalter Company was $16,723. City
manager Walter F. Johnson got the Council to reject all bids asserting that city crews
could do it more cheaply. Later, the Council decided that Johnson should study the issue
further because demolition would be dangerous.
In June, pier demolition bids were sent back to the city manager for further study. July,
1961, the Chamber wanted a $1,350,000 municipal improvement plan for off-street parking, a
new civic center, a new city hall building to house all city departments, and a new police
headquarters and jail. It proposed financing the revenue bonds with cigarette tax rebates.
That month, the City Council voted to have plans drawn but Mayor Ira D. Sams opposed
building a civic center. After municipal elections the new city council in late October
began considering a one million dollar bond issue but insisted on the construction of a
new city hall be the first priority. By December, 1962, the bond issue of $1.2 million
passed and the city could spend 1962 acquiring property and planning the new city hall. It
bought the lot on the south side of 1st Ave N between 1st and 2nd
Streets for the city hall project and, in March, the oceanfront lot on the north side of 1st
Avenue from the sea wall to 1st Street North, thus beginning acquisition of the
Wolfson had the ruins cleared but noted that Adwolf had no plans to make improvements.
The City Council persisted, however, encouraging Wolfson to build a modern, large motel on
the site but Wolfson finally said no in September, 1962 when he could not get Adams to
subordinate his ownership to Wolfson. The Council was determined not to let anything stand
in its way; in June, 1961, it rejected an application for a walk-up lunch stand in Coaster
block because it wanted to change is usage. Adams dug his feet and the city threatened to
condemn the property and seize it. Adams won; he received an out-of-court settlement from
the City of $265,000, which included $15,000 in attorney fees and court costs, in October,
1963. Subsequently, the entire block was cleared. Obviously, the owners decided rebuilding
was not profitable. 
The old pier, the dancing-fishing pier between 2nd and 3rd
Avenues, came under scrutiny by the City Council because it was old and a bit rickety. The
structure had been leased to Curtis Amerson for one and one-half years by W. E.
Montgomery, uncle of Mayor Justin C. Montgomery. At the end of Amersons lease, the
pier would revert to the city. Amerson agreed to make repairs within 30 days, including
40-50 pilings, the sewer system, and the electrical system, facets of the pier that fell
into disrepair under the last lessee, Paul Ward. City manager Buford McRae had had to
close the pier when Ward didnt fix things. The Beach News & Advertiser
featured three photos of the piers understructure to illustrate damage. The Chamber
of Commerce, who had many boardwalk business owners, wanted the city to repair the pier
and assume the lease of the present defunct operator, former mayor W. A. Monty
Montgomery. Chamber president, Frank A. Griffen, who owned one of the amusement parks,
argued that the pier could be made operational for two thousand dollars. Others estimated
the cost could go as high as eighteen thousand dollars. The difficulty was that private
enterprise had failed to modernize, much less maintain, the pier. 
Then, on Friday, October 13, 1962, one day before the city council was going to condemn
it, the dancing pavilion and much of the rest of the pier was consumed by fire. The fire
was fortuitous because the city council had been discussing the demolition of the pier
since May, 1961; city firemen watched it burn. Nevertheless, it had been fine for
parents to host the annual post-Junior-Senior Prom of Fletcher Junior-Senior High
School as late as June 1960.
Figure 66 No Coaster Block nor Pier, 1962 Source: Florida Memory
The demise of the pier and the Coaster Block seemed to provide an opportunity to modernize
the boardwalk. One proposal was to build a new pier with a waterfront coliseum between
Pablo Avenue and 1st Avenue North, the former Coaster Block. The Chamber
supported the idea since having a vacant block on Boardwalk was bad for business. By late
November, a little over a month since the pier fire, the City Council approved a plan to
redevelop the Coaster Block, voted to hire a design firm, and began negotiations to buy
the property from Bill Adams, Jr. Life,
however, rarely proceeds in a straight line. Nothing could built until the property was
the citys; disagreements about plans and costs grew heated; and the issue of fair
play among citizens delayed resolution.
The Civil Rights movement finally came to the beaches although it had been active in
Jacksonville where it had been met by violence. When Rutledge Pearson led demonstrations
in August, 1960 against segregated lunch counters at the downtown Woolworth's, McCrorys,
and Kress stores. One day, two black youths accidentally knocked a white woman into a
plate glass window. Then on another day two women got into a fight. On August 27th,
hundreds of Klansmen and other bigots demonstrated in downtown Jacksonville with the
police watching. When some young African Americans tried to get lunch counter service at
the Grant's store and were refused, they were attacked by the white demonstrators who used
ax handles and other weapons. They chased the teenagers into a black section of town but
were run out by a black gang. Police intervention stopped the riot. More
"blacks" than "whites" were arrested, of course.
The city government of Haydon Burns, even though African-American votes put him in
office, was racist. He was a powerful force in Jacksonville affairs as mayor from
1949-1965, when he became governor. Burns was a segregationist so he refused to create a
biracial commission to resolve the issues. He was a determined conservative mayor of a
conservative city. African-Americans threatened an economic boycott and white businessmen,
fearing loss of profits, agreed to meet with African-American leaders and work out
compromises. Desegregation began. "Green" was a more powerful color than white
Jacksonville had a large African American population, potential customers for the
boardwalk; it had once been a majority black city but annexations of suburbs changed that.
In 1960, the city of 372,569 was 26.9% African American (100,169 persons); the Standard
Metropolitan Statistical Area population was 455,411 was 23.2% African American (105,843
persons). However, the tradition of racial segregation meant that Beach business owner did
not want the patronage of a quarter of the population of the county. This was not a Duval
County phenomenon; racial bigotry was common throughout the United States.
Not many African Americans, either in absolute numbers or as a percentage of the total
population lived on the beaches and the periodic influx of white tourists, civilian or
military, shrank both numbers. The 1960 Census is instructive. Of the 12,049 persons
living in Jacksonville Beach, 1,111 (9.2%) were African American; since Jacksonville
provided most of the jobs at the beaches, it is not surprising. Atlantic Beach, a
wealthier community of 3,125 persons, was home to 605 (19.4%) African Americans. The high
percentage surely reflects the legacy of the fishing and U. S. Naval industries of
Mayport, the Atlantic Beach Hotel, and the Florida East Coast Railway. Neptune Beach has
three African Americans out of a population of 2,868., probably live-in servants.
The Census also had Division categories. The Jacksonville Beach Division of Duval
County (covering more than the political boundaries) had 23,823 of whom 2,366 (9.9%)
persons were African American. Palm Valley and Ponte Vedra Beach were small,
unincorporated areas of the Northern St. Johns County Division, an area larger than these
two tiny communities. This Division contained 5,020 persons of whom 391 (7.8%) were
African Americans. Ponte Vedra Beach had been founded as an upper-income, private
settlement and it was exclusive and wealthy. 
There were so few African Americans at the beaches and the adults were so well known
meant that retaliation for any efforts to acquire access to the public beaches or to use
the public accommodations of the boardwalk seemed highly likely. Councilman Moses Stormes,
President of the newly-chartered Organization of American Rights, Inc., Franklin J. Left,
Vice President , and Robert J. Taylor, Secretary Treasurer, were its officers; the Board
of Directors included Chuck Franks, Chief of the Jacksonville Beach Police, A. W. Sands,
Lieutenant of Police, Robert R. Craig, Sergeant of Police, Harry E. Burns, architect,
James D. Smith, electrician, and Fred Downs, painter. The OAR sent a scurrilous letter in
the Fall of 1960 saying that integration meant African Americans (the letter used a
different word) would be raping white girls and other similar comments. It also issue a
membership recruitment flyer (pictured). The members position on race and segregation was
clear; it was to be maintained at all costs.
The OAR leaders went too far and most had to repudiate the letter and resign from the
OAR. Left, Franks, Sands, Craig, and Downs resigned. Burns said he was never a member and
condemned the letter. Taylor admitted that some of the language was objectionable and then
resigned. Stormes, on the other hand, defended the letter. At a Council meeting in
October, two different citizens rose to demand that Stormes resign. The Council members
ignored them, perhaps indicating that they were segregationists.
Figure 67 OAR Flyer Source: Austin Smith
The views of Stormes and his ilk did not reflect the views of others or, perhaps, others
were practical. In my research in beaches newspapers, I found nothing about desegregation.
My sense is that the local media cooperated to keep it from being an issue. The available
accounts differ but the essential facts are the same.
Contemporaries described the events in an oral history session recorded at the Beaches
Area Historical Society and Museum in Jacksonville Beach in early 2007. They noted that
the integration drove whites away from the boardwalk but there was no violence. Because of
the danger of retaliation, the 1,111 Jacksonville Beach African Americans tended not to
pioneer. White tourists had come from north Florida towns as well as Georgia; the Chamber
of Commerce had done everything it could to promote it. However, they expected a
whites-only situation. With the beach and boardwalk being opened to all, many whites
stayed away. Martin G. Williams, Jr. in a message to the author in June, 2009 believed
that the boardwalk as he knew was dying in the 1960s for several reasons. Many
blamed integration in 1961 or 1962, a difficult situation that Mayor Justin Montgomery
handled very well. Bus loads of blacks were brought to the Beach and Boardwalk by the
NAACP. White families stayed away. By 1970, the number of rides and amusements were sparse
because business had declined. He noted there was much competition from Daytona
Beach, Myrtle Beach, Panama Beach, other vacation attractions and travel had gotten much
easier. Disney and the Mouse arrived in Orlando, air conditioned hotels were common and
golf and boating had become very popular. The family visitors from South Carolina, Georgia
and Alabama were gone.
A quite different view emerges from an anonymous typed document possessed by the Beaches
Area Historical Society, the view that civic leaders were progressive and quietly took the
lead to achieve integration. This six-page document is unsigned and undated although may
have been written in the late 1960s. It says the true story of what happened was revealed
to a reporter of The Beaches Leader and that a member of the black
community wanted it known. Some fifteen years before this essay was written, the
City Council completed the Carver Recreation Center and swimming pool and began tackling
the problem of substandard housing in 1955 in the African American section of town called
the Hill. It took five years to complete the application process and begin
construction but the City demonstrated that the government was not just for whites. They
had integrated the city golf course, built 1963, without incident and it turned a huge
profit in 1965.
In 1963, the mayor, W. S. Wilson, the City Council, and City Manager and other civic
leaders such as Justin C. Montgomery, a former mayor and nephew a former mayor and city
councilman, , decided that the time for change had come. They did not want the violence
they had seen in Jacksonville or the demonstrations occurring in St Augustine in 1964
under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. They desegregated the beach or
waterfront by quietly arranging for African American sailors, dressed in civilian clothes,
to drive onto the strand on a busy Saturday afternoon and go into the surf. Law
enforcement officers were hidden but acted quickly to disperse any hostile crowds. They
would use the tactic of a fait accompli to desegregate further.
Before the Civil Rights Act of July 4, 1964 was passed Jacksonville Beach had
desegregated its public accommodations. The Council asked the Chamber of Commerce to meet
with local motel and restaurant owners and ask them to desegregate; ninety percent
complied. On early June, 1969, the Chamber cooperated to desegregate the bars.
Desegregation occurred in other important ways. African American citizens were not
allowed at City Council meetings. Instead, the City Council came to them at the Carver
Center. In the Spring, 1965, at an outdoor ceremony for Beaches Welcome Day, invited
groups were announced, applauded, and seat on the platform. Then came the group of African
American invitees. They were announced, vigorously applauded and seated. Then there was
the desegregation of the local high school, Duncan U. Fletcher in 1967. Again, the
acceptance of a fait accompli was the strategy. During the last week of the school year,
an African American student attended and graduated.
Had not national policy and practice changed, whether Jacksonville Beach and its
entertainment industry cannot be known. Certainly respect for the law and a more tolerant
attitude in a resort community made a difference. Increasing dependence on the Navy at
Mayport surely did. The armed forces had desegregated decades before. As the naval base at
Mayport grew, its sailors had to have recreational place.
The carnival on the boardwalk continued for a few more years as the unburned businesses
continued to serve the thousands who flocked to Jacksonville Beach. Dancing, fishing, and
gawking on the pier survived the Coaster block fire for more than a year but the combined
demise marked a demarcation line in boardwalk history. Frenchy LeGrand maintained rides
until the late 1960s. Hurricane Dora also damaged what was left of the boardwalk in
September, 1964 but did not end it. The Seven Seas Drive-In and other Boardwalk businesses
were damaged. That same year the 1964Pablo Avenue ramp to the beach was removed. The
Civil Rights movement kept some people away.
The boardwalk and its surrounding businesses failed to modernize and appeared shabby to
contemporary ideas. Shiny, colorful plastics dazzled the brain unlike old painted wood and
masonry. Shopping centers and then air conditioned malls sucked customers away from main
street because they offered more. Better roads made them easily accessible. That was the
opinion of Martin G. Williams, Sr.
The United States had been going through an economic boom since 1946 Americans sought
to overcome the relative deprivation of the Great Depression and World War II by buying
what they wanted. Money was pumped into the economy to fight WWII and then the Cold War
encouraged consumer spending. People had more discretionary income and used it for
themselves and the children of the Baby Boom. They bought TV sets, air conditioning units
or centrally air conditioned homes, shopped and went to movies and restaurants in air
conditioning. They stayed in air conditioned hotels and motels. The Interstate Highway
system, begun in the 1950s, gave them faster, safer, and easier access to different
places. They could speed through Jacksonville on I-95, passing nowhere near the beach, as
they sought Daytona Beach, Orlando, Saint Petersburg, Tampa, Ft. Lauderdale, and Miami.
Carnival-like entertainment was dying in general. Coney Island, the prototype, declined
and ran into trouble in 1963-64. In 1963, fire destroyed six amusement places; parts of
it. The 1964 season was the worst in 25 years, partly because the nearby Worlds Fair
enticed millions to view its very modern exhibitions and facilities, upping the ante for
amusement venues. Concessionaires blamed other variablesthe influx of African
American customers, weather, gangs, inadequate parking, and unsafe subways, Steeplechase
Park shut its door in September. Over the next two years, Coney Islands reputation
went into steep decline.
What happened to Coney Island and to the amusements parks on the Jacksonville Beach
boardwalk was common in the 1960s; people had better opportunities for amusement when
entrepreneurs built prettier, more sophisticated venues. Disneyland, built in southern
California in 1955, became the standard by which all other amusement parks would be
judged. It was clean, sleek, and appealing. Its world famous cartoon and movie characters
gave it a cache that no other amusement park could muster. Its sister Florida park, Disney
World south of Orlando, was even more sophisticated, aided by the fact that the state of
Florida gave almost carte blanche to the company to do what it wanted. Disney tested his
ideas at the Worlds Fair in 1964 and began secretly buying property in Florida that
same year. He would transplant some of the Worlds Fair attractions to Disneyland and
Disney World. Other themed amusement parks were soon built. Tampas Busch Gardens
opened in 1959 as a free bird sanctuary and hospitality center for those who visited the
Anheuser-Busch brewery. By 1962, the process of converting it to an African-themed park
began with the creation of the Serengeti Plain. Then, Anheuser-Busch started charging
admission in 1970 in order to support and expand the park. Six Flags Over Texas opened in
1961 in Dallas and subsequent similar parks were opened in Atlanta and St. Louis.
Were there enough money to be earned by modernizing the oceanfront carnival in
Jacksonville Beach, to make it a more attractive area which provided both cheap and
moderately-priced entertainment and air conditioning, the carnival would have
not only survived but would have blossomed. However, the cost would have been in the
millions, way beyond the means of the mom and pop entrepreneurs who owned it.
So the carnival atrophied until death.
Jacksonville sped this change in 1968 when it absorbed all of Duval Country in a
complicated governmental structure which allowed Atlantic Beach, Neptune Beach,
Jacksonville Beach, and the west Duval County town of Baldwin to remain independent
municipalities and part of Jacksonville. This confusing arrangement was invented in April,
1967 because the beach communities could have been abolished under a 1934 law that the
pro-consolidators were avoiding because it would mean years of court fights. They knew
that the beach cities were likely to vote against consolidating Duval County into one
government called Jacksonville. Some prominent beach leadersJoseph Van Dyke a
Neptune Beach Councilman, Maxwell Dickinson of Atlantic Beach, Mayor W. S. Wilson of
Jacksonville Beachwere among those opposing consolidation. State Representative
George Stallings and Richard Featheringill, President of the Duval County Young Republican
Club led much of the anti-consolidation forces at the beaches. Featheringill headed
Citizens for Better Government even asserted that consolidation would bring dictatorship
and communism. Justin Montgomery led a strong coalition that spoke repeatedly for the
compromise consolidation plan. They and others had tired of Jacksonville and Duval County
corruption and/or inefficiency so they took the compromise of being part of Jacksonville
(Duval County) and self-governing municipalities.
When the smoke of battle cleared, the beaches voted 2,173 to 2,003 for consolidation.
They also voted 2,548 to 1,534 for retaining their existing governments. That Florida
county governments had some power over the municipalities in them was nothing new. All of
this would have been easier to understand had Duval County been renamed Jacksonville
instead of keeping both names. Although the Duval County beach communities kept some
autonomy, they could not compete against the fiscal and personnel resources of
Jacksonville. For most purposes, they had been absorbed.
Jacksonville, not beach, politicians made the decisions which influenced beach growth.
They had refurbished the 6th Avenue South pier; they would fund the 5th
Avenue North pier. They funded the social services at the beach including the beach branch
of the public library. Off the barrier island, they determined where, when, and why roads
would be repaired or built. The roads largely determined settlement patterns. When the J.
Turner Butler Boulevard (FL 202) multi-lane highway was built in 1997 from US 1 and I-95
to southern Jacksonville Beach, so many businesses and housing developments sprang up
along the route and in bordering St. Johns County that it had to be extended a little more
than a decade later. The St. Johns County community of Ponte Vedra Beach grew rapidly and
effectively absorbed Palm Valley, funneling more prosperous families out of Jacksonville
As the old downtown of Jacksonville Beach changed, the city government tried various
schemes to reverse what it saw as decline. Beautification, park improvements, better
parking, the Flag Pavilion, decorative paving of the boardwalk, and the Sea
Walk Pavilion were created. Nothing worked immediately. The entertainment center shifted
to Town Center where Atlantic and Neptune Beaches faced each across the eastern terminus
of Atlantic Boulevard.
The boardwalk survived, however, and even acquired a fishing pier in time. After all,
people flock to the sun and surf, play, eat, and spend the night. Driving and parking on
the beach ended in 1979. The concrete bulkhead was encased in sand and sea oats grown to
restore the shore to a more natural state. The boardwalk itself changed to accommodate a
different, more prosperous clientele. Some older buildings remained but private enterprise
built high rise hotels and condominiums by the late 20th century. Old-time
residents complained about the view being blocked but could not stop construction. The
boardwalk became more attractive so a fishing pier reappeared in the 21st
The abandonment of the carnival aspect of the boardwalk began in 1960 when a 1,200 foot
fishing pier was built at 6th Avenue South, then blocks south of the business
district. R.L Williams, owner of the new pier, wanted it to be much like the old pier with
dancing and beer sales. At first, the City Council balked because it seemed to be
replicating what some thought was undesirable about the old pier. It agreed later that May
to allow the sale of alcoholic beverages. Lewis Stewart awarded a beer license so he could
have a tavern.  After all, such had been
sold since the city had been founded as Ruby Beach. It suffered storm damage more than
once, losing 400 feet to Hurricane Dora on September 9, 1964, and then collapsed into the
ocean because of the 1999 storm created by Hurricane Floyd. The City of Jacksonville spent
a million dollars on June 16, 2000 to restore the pier and its restaurant. An arsonist
destroyed the Pier Point restaurant at the foot of this pier on June 17, 2002.
Figure 68 6th Avenue South Pier, 2001 Photo by Don Mabry
Hotels built on the boardwalk encouraged the building of a 1,300 foot fishing pier at the
end of 5th Avenue North, the northern limit of the old boardwalk. Sturdier than previous
piers, it opened in December, 2004 and instantly became a favorite of fishermen and
strollers. Its length allowed one to enjoy a panoramic view of downtown Jacksonville
Beach. Pelicans, hoping for a free meal, loiter. Few, if any, miss a place to dance since
dancing declined precipitously with the advent of rock concerts in the 1960s; clubs along
First Street North meet the demand. Although a storm damaged some of the flooring which
was quickly replaced, the pier became a beach icon. See the photos below.
Figure 69 2004 Pier. Photo by Don Mabry
Figure 70 Pier Pelican. Photo by Don Mabry
Figure 71 Jacksonville Beach From the Pier Photo by Don Mabry
People of all hues and ages flock to Jacksonville Beach to enjoy its sand, surf, bars,
clubs, and boardwalk. They watch free movies and attend festivals and concerts at the
Seawalk Pavilion by the ocean and see spectacular fireworks exploding over the ocean.
Those who spend the night do so in comfort and luxury whether at the historic Casa Marina
or the Quality Suites on the old roller coaster site. Driving on the beach was forbidden
in 1979. The bulkhead is covered with sand so that sea oats and other natural vegetation
can grow, making the shoreline more like its 1880 status. The concrete boardwalk is now
Only five buildings from the carnival days remain. At the southern end, the iconic
American Red Cross Volunteer Life Saving Corps Station (1946) stands guard where a station
has stood since 1913. The Guards still use the Walker torpedo buoy and the high orange
guard stand with its banner flying, a banner the guard waves to signal for help before
racing to the surf to the rescue. Going north, the public toilets at the foot of First
Avenue North have been refurbished a bit. The Perkins Bath House and Hotel Building
contains a restaurant and souvenir shop; the hotel and bathhouse are closed, made
redundant by modern facilities and automobiles. The former Playland Arcade, the
penny arcade of yesteryear now sells seashells, coral bits, T-shirts, and
beach supplies business. The Casa Marina grandly anchors the northern boundary. All the
rest exist in memory and photographs.
Figure 72 ARC Life Saving Corps. Photo by Don Mabry
Figure 73 Public Toilets, First Avenue North. Photo by Don Mabry
Figure 74 Perkins Bathhouse & Williams Buildings Photo by Don Mabry
Figure 75 Perkins Bathhouse Building, June 2009 Photo: Don Mabry
Figure 76 Hotels and Condominiums on the Boardwalk Photo: Don Mabry
The boardwalk of 2009 more closely resembles the vision of the founders of Pablo Beach in
1885, for it caters to those who afford to live on the shore in a condominium either as
primary or secondary home or afford a nice hotel room. The little area serves day trippers
as it did in the beginning but they travel by automobile not train. It exists for an
affluent society with a strong business sector and with a very large military presence now
instead of a small frontier city that grew into a large metropolitan area.
Why bother? Why spend time, effort, and money on this microhistory, this tiny little
area of Jacksonville-Duval County, Florida? The Jacksonville Beach boardwalk, the
appellation the locals gave the carnival, was never as big or influential as its New York
and New Jersey counterparts. After all, they served New York City and Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania and their hinterlands not Jacksonville and its feeder area. Such a history
illustrates the larger historical understanding. Going from the particular to the general
is more accurate than deducing the particular from the general, the way history is
generally written. Besides, it is fun.
This sweeping outline would not have been possible without the aid of many people.
Thanks to my wife Paula C. Mabry, a magnificent person who has been supportive of my
fascination with home. Harley Henry, a fellow alum of both Fletcher High
School and Kenyon College and a avid supporter of beaches history. Without the
extraordinarily valuable Beaches Area Historical Society & Museum studies such as this
could not be done. BAHS deserves more support than it gets. Dwight Wilson, former archivist,
carries so much beaches history in his head and is willing to share. Taryn
Rodríguez-Boette, BAHS archivist, is talented, helpful, and knowledgeable; I consider her
a friend. Austin Smith of Neptune Beach, Tom Ravoo of Orlando, Paul Marino of Jacksonville
always answered when I called upon them for help. One family-- E.J. MacDonell Taylor,
Bobbie MacDonell Sutton, John Wimpy Sutton, Janet MacDonell, and Anne
MacDonell Reillyis special; the members gave me insights unavailable elsewhere.
Maxwell Dickinson still owns part of the boardwalk; he has been a president of BAHS.
Martin G. Williams, Jr. was a prominent beaches leader and the son of the most important
owner on the boardwalk. Leigh Callahan proofread the manuscript. George Hapsis, historian of the American Red Cross Volunteer Life
Saving Corps, helped both with the Corps and as a volunteer staff member of BAHS. Leigh K.
Callahan proofread the manuscript.My beaches friends of more than half a century--Ron and
Diane Wingate and Hazel Wern Daltonencouraged me. Vicki Wright Shattles and Mike
Shattles supplied photos of the family business on the boardwalk, The Pantry,
and regaled me with stories. My widowed grandmother and her children moved to
Jacksonville in 1916. My mother was raised there and went back intermittently until she
finally moved to the area. I went to school in Jacksonville Beach at various times in
elementary school and then six years at Fletcher Junior-Senior High School. Fletcher
alumni contributed their memories to the project. So many people have made this and my
other studies of the beaches possible and fun. Thanks.
 Jeffrey Stanton, Coney Island
History Articles. http://www.westland.net/coneyisland/histart.htm.
the list of rides can be found at
 George W. Simons, Jr., Report for
Jacksonville Beaches Chamber of Commerce, 1944, p.10 comments on the very small lots
in Pablo/Jacksonville Beach. T. Frederick Davis, History of Jacksonville Florida and
Vicinity 1513 to 1924 . (Jacksonville, 1925), p. 350, writes of the railroad and real
 Ancient History at Beaches Is
Recalled As Landmark Will Be Razed for Modern Buildings, Florida Times-Union,
1935; S. Paul Brown, Book of Jacksonville: A History,(Poughkeepsie, NY: A. V.
Haight, 1895). p. 144.
Statistical History of the United States: From Colonial Times to the Present. (New
York: Basic Books, 1976), 8, 716-17. Burton Parker, Value Of Autos Shown At Garden;
Expert Estimates That 350,000 Motor Cars Are Now in Use in the United States, New
York Times, January 9, 1911, P. 10.
 October 29, 1885, Florida Times-Union;
Jacksonville & A. R. Co. v. Woodworth. (Supreme Court of Florida. Aug. 18, 1890).
 James C. Craig, Murray Hall, Jacksonville
Historical Society Papers, Vol. III, 1954. Dwight Wilson, drawing heavily upon
Craigs work, provides an account of the attempts to create luxury hotels on the
ocean shore. See The Murray Hall and the Continental: Our World-Famous Hotels of
Yesteryear, Tidings Vol. 13, no. 1 Winter 1992; A Jacksonville Hotel
Burned, New York Times, August 8, 1890.
Robert Hawk, Florida's Militia and
State Troops 1865 1898, Florida Guard Online.
 Winefred , Lady Howard of Glossop, Journal
of a tour in the United States, Canada and Mexico. (London: S. Low, Marston, 1897),
 J. M. Hawks ,The East Coast of
Florida: A Descriptive Narrative (Lynn, Massachusetts: Lewis & Winship, 1887), p.
 It is not clear when the hotel was
built. Bill Foley, What Next After Fire? Beaches Parties On, Florida
Times-Union, August 15, 1997, says that the Ocean View was 30 when it burned in 1926. That
would date it from 1896. Sidney Johnston, The Historic Architectural Resources of the
Beaches Area: A Study of Atlantic Beach, Jacksonville Beach, and Neptune Beach, Florida.
Jacksonville, FL: Environmental Services, Inc., July, 2003, p. 52.
 Clara Barton, The Red Cross in Peace and
War (American Historical Press, 1898), pp. 461ff.
 New York Times, September 25, 1898.
 David Ott,
Remember the Maine! Adam Countys Involvement in the Spanish-American War.
 H. W. Bolton, ed., History of the
Second Regiment Illinois Voluntary Infantry (Chicago: R. R. Donnelley, 1899),
Glenn Emery, Cora Cranes
Palmetto House, The Jacksonville Story, http://tinyurl.com/no923n.
 Manhattan Beach was provided by
Flaglers Florida East Coast railroad for its African American workers. The Atlantic
Beach Corporation acquired it from the FEC and then Harcourt
Bull took over. Bull leased land to business people and resisted pressure for years
from white to drive blacks away. Eventually, the state bought the land to make it a state
park. Letter of J. H. Payne, Atlantic Beach Corporation to FEC vice president J. P.
Beckwith. October 24, 1914. Letter of Harcourt Bull to Lucy Bunch, June 6, 1917. Letter of
Harcourt Bull to David Mayfield, February 17, 1920, turning down an offer to buy the
pavilions and promising to keep the beach a resort for African Americans. Harcourt Bull to
Joseph W. Davin letter, November 24, 1932; Rogers & Towers letter to Harcourt Bull,
January 27, 1933. Marsha Dean Phelts, An American Beach for African Americans
(Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1997), 3-8 devotes a few pages to Manhattan
Beach and has some good photos. However, her chronology does not always jibe with my
research in original sources.
New York Times, August 9, 1911. Randal L. Hall, Before NASCAR:
the corporate and civic promotion of automobile racing in the American South, 1903-1927,
Journal of Southern History, August, 2002.
Lifeguards Going Strong, Shorelines
, Saturday, August 3, 2002.
 The Southern Reporter, Vol. 66,
(St. Paul: West Publishing Company, 1915),p. 990.
 Torpedolike Buoy Is Efficient
Life-Saver, Popular Mechanics, Vol. 35, No. 3 (March, 1921).
 This may have been Duncan U. Fletcher;
there is no D. E. Fletcher in the Jacksonville city directory in that era.
 Charles Henry Mann, Makers
of America: An Historical and Biographical Work by an Able Corps of Writers. By
Florida Historical Society (Jacksonville, Fla.). Published by A. B. Caldwell., 1909., pp.
 Coney Island Building
Condemned, Beach News & Advertiser, January 26, 1924; Contract For
Razing Coney Island Building, Beach New & Advertiser, March 29, 1924;
Coney Island Building Changes Hands, Beach New & Advertiser,
January, 24, 1925; and Coney Island Building Razed, Pablo Beach News,
January 25, 1926.
 Pablo Beach News, May 2, 1925;
September 26, 1925; March 15, 1926; and April 11, 1927.
 John Wimpy Sutton, Papas
Memoirs. (Jacksonville Beach, FL, privately printed, 2005).
 Mike Leavitt, Florida State
Summit. Opening Remarks Prepared for Delivery By the Honorable Mike Leavitt
Secretary of Health and Human Services. The Great Pandemic of 1918: State by State.
 Historical Inflation Rates, 1914-2009,
 Johnny Woodhouse, "Doolittle Took
Up Challenge After Coney Died, Times to Remember: A Calendar for 2005. The
Beaches Leader, 2004; Davis, 279- 282.
 Davis, 324, 330; Johnston, p. 59; Bill
Foley, Tough Decision: Boxing or Swimsuits,? Florida Times-Union, June
3, 1998; Johnston, pp. 60-62. The school was Jacksonville Beach Elementary School which
was eventually demolished. What was the elementary school for African-Americans then was
named Jacksonville Beach Elementary School.
 Johnston, p.
 Bill Foley. Millennium Moment:
June 2, 1920: Vexing vixen's shimmy shocks Pablo Beach, Florida Times-Union
(June 2, 1999). Jack Pate, Its the Law!, in Beaches Area Historical
Society archive, dated 1993-2004.
 Bill Foley, Prelude to history at
Pablo on a sober Labor Day, 1922, Florida Times Union (September 2, 1999).
 Bill Foley, Dancing was so big
some refused to stop, Florida Time-Union (June 15, 1999) found at
 David Chalmers, The Ku Klux Klan
in the Sunshine State: The 1920's , Florida Historical Quarterly 42:3,
 Michel Oesterreicher, Pioneer Family:
Life on Florida's Twentieth-Century Frontier. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama
Press, 1996. pp. 91-95.
 United States. Patent Office, Official
Gazette of the United States Patent Office. Patent Office Published by The Office,
1919. v. 268, pp. 512. #1,322,466; Martin G. Williams, Jr., Jacksonville Beach
Boardwalk, typescript sent to Donald J. Mabry. June, 2009. Beach News,
December 16, 1922. Stone & Webster Journal, Vol. 30 (January, 1922) p. 255.
Trina Polkey, Jacksonville Beach Pier, GAFF Magazine, 2008. http://www.gaffmag.net/articles/jacksonville_beach_pier;
Jack Pate, The Old Pier, Tidings, 20 No. 1 (January 1999).
 Pier Burned In Less Than An
Hour, Ocean Beach Reporter, November 4, 1938.
 Letter, President, United Amusement
Company, April 16, 1923 to Mayor of Pablo Beach, BAHS collection.
 Bill Foley, Millennium Moment:
July 28, 1926 Florida Times-Union, July 28, 1999.
 Beach News & Advertiser,
August 9, 126; Rollercoaster database. http://www.rcdb.com/id2891.htm
 The Statistical History of the United
States: From Colonial Times to the Present (NY, Basic Books,1976 ), 1114-1117.
 Montgomery was mayor again in 1937 to
1939, Councilman and Mayor Pro Tempore from 1943 to 1945; Councilman from 1945 to 1947 and
Councilman and Mayor Pro Tempore from 1947 to 1949. His nephew, Justin Montgomery, would
be mayor in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He would be president of the Beaches Chamber
of Commerce in 1968. He died in January, 1960.
 Martin G. Williams, Jr. to the author; The
Beaches Leader (March 6, 1969). Williams died on August 20, 1977, a week before his
 The Leader Salutes: Martin G.
Williams, Sr.: Grand Old Man of the Boardwalk, The Beaches Leader (March 6,
1969). Steve Crosby, He Was King of the Boardwalk, Florida
 Florida Slot Machine Owner
Withdraws Test Case, St. Petersburg Times, October 22, 1937. He withdrew the
Leon O. Prior, Nazi Invasion of
Florida! Florida Historical Quarterly 49:2 ( October 1970 ),129-140; Stan
Cohen and Don DeNevi with Richard Gay, They Came to Destroy America: The FBI Goes to
War against Nazi Spies and Saboteurs before and during World War IIMissoula, MT:
Pictorial Histories, 2003; see also Michael Gannon, Florida, A Short History.
Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1993, pp. 105-107.
 BAHS Tidings, Vol. 24, No2,,May
 Billboard, September 1, 1945.
 Steve Crosby, He Was King of
the Boardwalk, Florida Times-Union, 1977. Chauncey Holt, a shady character,
said he was sent to the bar to monitor the books and found that Earl Kite was skimming:
Their business was dropping off about $15,000 a week and they figured that Mr. Kite
probably had his hand in the till. So we went down there and I stayed there about a month
as a book keeper, numbers writer, that sort of thing. And as soon as we found out that,
yeah, he was stealing, I moved on. Holt asserted that Earl Kite was found floating
in the surf with a bullet in his brain. Interview With Chauncey Holt, http://www.jfkmurdersolved.com/holt1.htm.
However, Earl Kite died in March 1967 at age 70; 217 F.2d 585, 55-1 USTC P 9199. Earl
KITE, Petitioner, v. COMMISSIONER OF INTERNAL REVENUE, Respondent. Mary B. KITE,
Petitioner, v. COMMISSIONER OR INTERNAL REVENUE, Respondent. No. 14936. United States
Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit. Feb. 4, 1955, found at
http://bulk.resource.org/courts.gov/c/F2/217/217.F2d.585.14936.htm; Bill Foley,
Bolita just didn't have lottery's Respectability, Florida Times-Union, July 3,
1999, found at http://www.jacksonville.com/tu-online/stories/070399/nef_allFoley.html.
 .Bill Foley, Beaches bet against
law and lose, Florida Times-Union, August 29, 1999.
 My comments are based on the Polk City
Directories for 1948, 1954, 1956, 1958, and 1960. They are available at the Beaches Area
Historical Society. In addition, Martin G. Williams has been very kind in providing me
with his recollections. So, too, have a number of persons I know from Duncan U. Fletcher
Junior-Senior High School.
 This colorful character He had begun as
a carny in 1925 at age 15 after he left his Detroit, Michigan birthplace. Although the
March 9, 1962 boardwalk fire damaged his business, he started over, continued after
Hurricane Dora in 1964, and, when the carnival parts of the boardwalk disappeared, he
continued being active in the field elsewhere in Duval County. He died August 22, 1993.
Boardwalk Used To Have A Carnival Flavor, The Beaches Leader, September
 Holiday Inn Completed, Beaches
Leader, April 3, 1969.
 Beach News & Advertiser, July
29, 1960 says the Council took initial steps on the new jail and planned to use a federal
loan to cover costs.
 City manager to recommend that
Boardwalk block be condemned, Beaches News, November 6, 1959; Boardwalk
Used to Have Carnival Flavor, The Beaches Leader, September 3, 1993.
 Beach News & Advertiser 5-12-1961;
Beach News & Advertiser 5-19-1961; Beach News & Advertiser, June 9, 1961
 Boardwalk Used to Have Carnival
Flavor, Beaches Leader, September 3, 1993 says the fire occurred on March 9,
 Beach News & Advertiser,
August 7, 1959; Beach News and Advertiser, 7-24-1959; Beach News &
 Beach News & Advertiser ,
November2, 1962; Beach News & Advertiser , November 9, 1962; and Beach News
& Advertiser , November 23, 1962.
 Beach News & Advertiser, Friday,
September 30, 1960; Beach News & Advertiser, October 21, 1960. Smith, according to his
son Austin, was not only not a member but a civil rights advocate. His sister, Lillian,
had written Forbidden Fruit.
 Martin G. Williams, Jr. , Jacksonville
Beach Boardwalk, email attachment, June, 2009.
 See Jacksonville Journal, June
12, 1969 for the desegregation of bars.
 Coney Island Timeline.
 Richard Martin, Consolidation:
Jacksonville-Duval County;: The Dynamics of Urban Political Reform. (Jacksonville,
Crawford Publishing Company, 1988) is an account by a Florida Times-Union reporter who was
an ardent supporter of consolidation. James B. Crooks, The Consolidation Story From
Civil Rights To The Jaguars. (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2004) is a
more sweeping book without much detail on consolidation. The Beaches Leader was
opposed to consolidation.
 Beach News & Advertiser, May
6, 1960; Beach News & Advertiser, May 20, 1960.