The View of the Future from 1964

On December 27, 1964, the Florida Times-Union released a 313-page edition commemorating the newspaper’s centennial. (The paper got its start as the Florida Union in 1864.) Various reporters and contributors dove into every element of the city’s history–from its Timucuan roots and territorial days, to its founding in 1822, to the Great Fire of 1901 and beyond. They also cast their eyes to the future, celebrating the region’s assets and prognosticating about its potential.

Harry Brinton

Harry Brinton, then Director of Jacksonville Public Libraries, wrote a decidedly prescient piece about the future of libraries.  Titled, “Electronic Home Library Forecast,” the article tried to guess what libraries would look like in one hundred years. As you read Mr. Brinton’s article on your computer, tablet or smart phone, we invite you to consider how many of his predictions have already come true:

“What will our library look like 100 years from now? How will it work?  These two questions are often asked and with recent advancements in electronic equipment and other mechanized data processing services, some imaginary speculations are offered which may not really be far-fetched.

The library of the future will serve the traditional needs of its patrons and it will also serve as a data processing center for thousands of home “remote stations” electronically geared to request and receive information.

It is entirely possible that by 2064 A.D. the student will have all the information in the library at his bidding in a few seconds. He will be able to sit down at home in a chair in front of a small console, no larger than an electronic organ. He will put on a headset that is a throwback to the old radio crystal set days with modifications by “My Favorite Martian” of the 20th Century.

He’ll spin a telephone dial . . . punch a few keys that will send electronic impulses over a magnetic wire to the central library center where his request will be received, fed into a memory computer and the material sent back to him by television or radio. This presumption is based on recent acceleration tendencies. However, if the material must be retained for reuse later, the console will have receiving apparatus that will be fed from the library’s vast storehouse of microfilmed material.

The “library console” will be a popular home feature three generations from now. Just like the first radios and televisions, the first console models will probably be too expensive for most families to own. The early models will be installed in schools, colleges, clubs and in homes of the very wealthy who can afford it. By 2064 A.D., the “Handy Dandy Library Console” will be one of the best-selling items for the big department stores and mail order houses.  Later they will begin to appear at much lower prices after the first excitement wears off.

Arthur Radebaugh, a whimsical futurist caroonist, imagines the Electronic Home Library of the future in 1959 for the Chicago Tribune.

A mail order model at $299.95 will not compare with the deluxe, $3,500 custom-made console. The less expensive model will serve to bring in a limited amount of library material, such as data from the most popular encyclopedia sets, some other standard reference works, the unabridged dictionaries in several languages and the bound files of the National Geographic and other educational publications and periodicals.

There will be no limit to the potential of the deluxe model. It will be constructed in such a way that additional circuits can be wired in as they are available to expand the library’s remote service.

Already a UNIVAC magnetic tape computer has digested into its memory the thoughts of 74 authors on abstract subjects. Data processing equipment is being used more and more for the mechanization of voluminous files in a variety of areas. So, you see, we’re on the right track. The “library console” is on the way.

We don’t mean to give the idea that books and libraries are on the way out with this talk of electronic computers and home library receiving centers. Books will remain a favored source of information and recreation.

They have many advantages over electronic devices: They can be consulted whenever desired and the reader can turn any page at will; once purchased, they require no further expenditure; and there is no need to have a connection to electronic power or to make costly repairs.

Another predicition for the library of the future that should interest patrons who prefer to feel a book in their hands so they can savor printed words on a page rather than rely on electronic devices, is the possibility that in the future patrons may be able to obtain a fascimile book from the library copied for him by a do-it-yourself vending machine in a few seconds. These books may be taken home and kept.

The Haydon Burns Library opened in 1965.

Libraries will be more inportant than ever a hundred years from now. It is estimated that the sum total of man’s knowledge will be several times greater than at present. The amount of printed matter doubled in the first half of this century, doubled again between 1950 and 1960, and yet again before 1965. Projecting into this future, we will be dealing with billions of volumes as compared to thousands at the present. Therefore, libraries will need to be more efficient to make information more readily accessible. This will require the use of the latest electronic equipment and increased use of microfilm storage.

Not only will more librarians be needed, but the need will be for librarians whose specialized education and training will enable them to cope with the ever-growing mountains of fact, using both the traditional and machine approaches. Books are durable, and since the codex replaced the scroll in the early years of the Christian era, there has been no really important change in the physical form of books or in their manufacture. There have been increases in speed and efficiency, but the process is fundamentally the same as it was in Gutenberg’s day.

No one has any better solution for the assembling of words in a usable, understandable pattern than the simple printed word in a book. What happens to the words after they come out in the books is the key to the library of the future.

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The Bravest of the Brave

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Robert R. Ingram, Hospital Corpsman Third Class, U.S. NAVY Company C., 1st Battalion, 7th Marines. Medal of Honor recipient and Jacksonville resident. Photo credit: MSNBC.com

As a 21-year-old Navy hospital corpsman, Robert Ingram was serving with Company C, First Battalion, Seventh Marines, when the platoon he was attached to was ambushed in Vietnam in 1966.

In mere moments, the platoon ranks were decimated. Oblivious to the danger, Petty Officer Ingram crawled across the bullet spattered terrain to reach a downed Marine. As he administered aid, a bullet went through the palm of his hand. Calls for “CORPSMAN” echoed across the ridge. Bleeding, he edged across the fire swept landscape, collecting ammunition from the dead and administering aid to the wounded. Receiving two more wounds before realizing the third wound was life-threatening, he looked for a way off the face of the ridge, but again he heard the call for corpsman and again, he resolutely answered. Though severely wounded three times, he rendered aid to those incapable until he finally reached the right flank of the platoon. While dressing the head wound of another corpsman, he sustained his fourth bullet wound. From sixteen hundred hours until just prior to sunset, Petty Officer Ingram pushed, pulled, cajoled, and doctored his Marines. Enduring the pain from his many wounds and disregarding the probability of his demise, Petty Officer Ingram’s intrepid actions saved many lives that day. By his indomitable fighting spirit, daring initiative, and unfaltering dedications to duty, Petty Officer Ingram reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

So reads the citation for the Medal of Honor awarded to Jacksonville resident Robert “Doc” Ingram by President Bill Clinton on July 10, 1998. An honor long in coming–fully 30 years after his acts of valor in Vietnam–the ceremony inducted Ingram into that rarest of fraternities: recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force that can be bestowed upon an individual serving in the Armed Services of the United States. The medal was conceived one hundred and fifty years ago today.

On December 21, 1861, a bill was passed by the U.S. Congress authorizing that “medals be bestowed upon such petty officers, seamen, landsmen and marines as shall distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action.” President Abraham Lincoln signed the bill and the Congressional Medal of Honor was born. To date, there have been 3,458 recipients of the Medal of Honor, of which 85 are living today. The first award of the Medal of Honor was made March 25, 1863 to Private JACOB PARROTT. The last award of the Medal of Honor was made September 15, 2011 to Sergeant DAKOTA MEYER.

The Congressional Medal of Honor

Over the years, the Medal has become a historic symbol of the bravest of the brave, and in respect to all who have earned it, little has been done to change its design, which dates to the eary days of the Civil War.

By far, the most were awarded for service during the Civil War – 1,522, not counting 893 that were revoked during a strenuous review that was undertaken in 1917 after many veterans feared the granting of medals had gotten out of hand. Among those who lost their medals were the 29 soldiers in President Abraham Lincoln’s funeral guard.

By World War I, the medal had attained the special significance it holds today. Only 124 Americans received the medal for valor during that war, compared with 424 granted for service during the Indian Wars of the late 1800s. Since then, the honor roll is as follows: World War II, 464 medals; Korea, 131; Vietnam, 245; Somalia, two; Iraq, four; and Afghanistan, six.

Only one woman has been awarded the medal: President Andrew Johnson honored Dr. Mary E. Walker for devoting herself “with much patriotic zeal to the sick and wounded soldiers, both in the field and hospitals, to the detriment of her own health.” She participated in major campaigns from Bull Run to Chickamauga, even enduring four months as a Confederate prisoner of war, but her medal was rescinded in 1917 (along with 911 other medal recipients) for being ineligible for the honor due to her civilian status.

Clifford Chester Sims, a Staff Sergeant in Vietnam, and Medal of Honor recipient. Sims was honored for "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty." He threw himself on a triggered booby-trap device, taking the entire blast to save his squad.

Hero is a term frequently heard, but never more deserved than when applied to the nation’s Medal of Honor recipients. These are ordinary people who just happen to have performed extraordinary acts of courage and valor on behalf of their country. Through the years, eight of these men have called Jacksonville home; we invite you to read their inspiring stories:

Robert Edward Femoyer

Hammet Lee Bowen, Jr.

Bruce Wayne Carter

Robert Henry Jenkins, Jr.

Clyde Everett Lassen

Clifford Chester Sims

Thomas Rolland Norris

Robert R. Ingram, living recipient (who happens–and deservedly so–to have a beautiful facility named in his honor at Mayport)

When Does Modern Architecture Become Historic?

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The Fletcher Building, designed by Taylor Hardwork, was built in 1963 on Riverside Avenue.

Just as Victorian architecture in the U.S. was widely obliterated 50 years ago, outstanding architecture of the 1950s through early 1970s has become increasingly imperiled by redevelopment and an appetite for newer – but not necessarily better – buildings. Northeast Florida is home to exemplary works of modern architecture from the post-war era (sometimes referred to as “Mid-Century Modern”) by esteemed architects such as Welton Becket, FAIA, Paul Rudolph FAIA, Robert Broward, George Fisher, William Marshall AIA, William Morgan and Taylor Hardwick. Click here for premier local examples of this modern style.

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Gingerbread Extravaganza Opens Tomorrow!

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Gingerbread Extravaganza Opens Tomorrow!

Since the summer of 1912, the United States Volunteer Life Saving Corps building has stood sentinel on the shores of Jacksonville Beach. It’s a well-known landmark with a rich history, but we bet this is the first time it’s been rendered in gingerbread!

This is just one of 36 incredible gingerbread creations that will be on display at Old St. Andrew’s (the Society’s headquarters) tomorrow through December 22nd. This is a terrific event for the entire family. We hope to see you there!

The Cummers of Riverside

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The names of certain families loom large in Jacksonville history: The Browards, Harts, Hendricks, Hogans and Phillipses were city pioneers who left their marks all over Jacksonville’s founding documents (not to mention our streets and bridges). But, too often, the faces behind the names get forgotten. Today, we’d like to introduce you to one such family: the Cummers of Riverside.

Wellington Cummer. photo credit: The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens

The Cummer family already had significant lumber holdings in Michigan and Virginia when Wellington Cummer moved his family, including sons Arthur and Waldo, from Cadillac, Michigan to Florida in 1896. When the men of Cadillac queried why they were moving to Jacksonville, the answer they received was, “to turn boys into men.”

One of the Cummer Lumber Company sawmills, circa 1900.

In truth, as the pine forests in Michigan became exhausted, the firm found a field for its energies in Florida.  Here the business was carried on in the name of the Cummer Lumber Company. Cummer bought up vast tracts of cypress and long leaf pine forest, eventually becoming the largest landowner in the state.

To haul lumber and phosphate from Cummer operations in Georgia, the company constructed the Jacksonville & Southwestern Railway, a railroad nearly 100 miles long. Sons Waldo and Arthur formed the Cook-Cummer Steamship Line and built a mill and phosphate shipping facility north of the city that employed 1150 workers in 1906.

The Wellington Cummer home, circa 1897.Michigan architect William Williamson designed this palatial home for Wellington and Ada Cummer, which was built in 1902 at a cost of $25,000. The white-and-yellow home featured four massive columns, highly detailed portico, and a one-story colonnade wrapping around the Georgian Revival Style structure. There were huge reception rooms and a vast wine cellar.

During the Great Fire of 1901, the Cummers opened the third floor of their home to some destitute families that had nowhere else to stay. Cummer died Christmas Day, 1909, and his subsequent funeral was said to have been one of the largest held in the city’s history.

Although sons Waldo and Arthur were able businessmen, it was Arthur’s wife, Ninah, who is responsible for the Cummer family’s most lasting legacy. Active in several charitable groups and a leading light of Riverside society, Ninah also was an avid gardener and knowledgeable collector of European treasures, from a sixteenth-century polyptich, to Meissen porcelain, Old Master portraits, Russian icons and snuff boxes of lapis lazuli. When she passed on, Ninah willed that her home, with its stunning gardens and cultural treasures, be turned into a museum.

The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, built on the site of the home of Arthur and Ninah Cummer, opened its doors November 10, 1961, and this year celebrates its 50th anniversary.

(The Cummer Museum isn’t the only Cummer legacy still standing. Waldo Cummer’s first home, purchased from Riverside developer Edward Cheney, was moved to its present location in 1911. This charming, elegant and well-mannered home, now 140 years old, is all that remains of Riverside in its infacy.)

Florida Fables and Harriet Beecher Stowe

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Early travel ads portrayed Florida as a paradise of endless plenty.

On days like today, when fog lies heavy on the horizon and Florida’s famous sunshine only intermittently penetrates the gloom, we’re reminded that there’s always a tension here between expectation and reality, between the myth that is Florida and daily evidence that even the fabled “Land of Flowers” has thorns.

Throughout the region’s history, writers have tried to give voice to that paradox, and perhaps none more ably than Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of the book Uncle Tom’s Cabin (and the woman whom Abraham Lincoln called, “the little lady that started the Civil War”).

The Stowe Residence on Mandarin Road. It was demolished in 1916. photo credit: The Florida Memory Collection, State Archives of Florida.

Northern soldiers returning from that war carried with them glowing accounts of Jacksonville’s mild, clear winters. Florida was portrayed as an exotic place of natural wonders and powers that could rejuvenate frail health.

Seduced, perhaps, by such reports, as well as the desire to help their son recover from the wounds he’d received as a Union soldier, Harriet Beecher Stowe and her husband, Professor Calvin E. Stowe, purchased a 30-acre orange grove in Mandarin in 1868; they spent their winters there in a cottage under two great spreading oak trees.

Mrs. Stowe was greatly impressed by the region, but also refreshingly realistic. In a series of letters to her relatives in New England, she attempts to disabuse her readers of the notion that the region is perfect: “In New England Nature is an up-and-down smart, decisive, housemother that has her times and seasons and brings up her ends of life with a positive jerk” whereas Nature in Florida is an “indulgent old grandmother, who has no particular time for any thing and does every thing when she happens to feel like it.”

Mandarin Road, circa 1890. photo credit: The Florida Memory Collection, State Archives of Florida.

Eventually, Stowe compiled her letters, as well as a series of articles she’d written about the people and natural environment of Mandarin, into the travel memoir, Palmetto Leaves, which was published in 1873. It would become one of the earliest travel guides written about Florida, and is credited with encouraging the state’s first population boom in the 1880s.

Nearly 140 years later, Mrs. Stowe’s descriptions of life in Florida in the latter half of the 19th century–“a tumble-down, wild, panicky kind of life–this general happy-go-luckiness which Florida inculcates“–still resonate . . . especially on days like today, when the sun is discinclined to shine.

From the chapter, The Wrong Side of the Tapestry:

It is not to be denied that full half of the tourists and travelers that come to Florida return intensely disappointed, and even disguised. Why? Evidently because Florida, like a piece of embroidery, has two sides to it, –one side all tag-rag and thrums, without order or position; and the other side showing flowers and arabesques and brilliant coloring. Both these sides exist. Both are undeniable, undisputed facts not only in the case of Florida, but of every place and thing under the sun. There is a right side and a wrong side to everything.

Now, tourists and travelers generally come with their heads full of certain romantic ideas of waving palms, orange-groves, flowers, and fruit, all bursting forth in tropical abundance; and, in consequence, they go through Florida with disappointment at every step. If the banks of the St. John’s were covered with orange-groves, if they blossomed every month in the year, if they were always loaded with fruit, if pine-apples and bananas grew wild, if the flowers hung in festoons from tree to tree, if the ground were enameled with them all winter long, so that you saw nothing else, then they would begin to be satisfied.

But, in point of fact, they find, in approaching Florida, a dead sandy level, with patches behind them of rough coarse grass, and tall pine-trees, whose tops are so far in the air that they seem to cast no shade, and a little scrubby underbrush. The few houses to be seen along the railroad are the forlornest of huts. The cattle that stray about are thin and poverty-stricken, and look as if they were in the last tottering stages of starvation.Meanwhile, we caution everybody coming to Florida, Don’t hope for too much. Because you hear that roses and callas blossom in the open air all winter, and flowers abound in the woods, don’t expect to find an eternal summer. Prepare yourself to see a great deal that looks rough and desolate and coarse; prepare yourself for some chilly days and nights; and, whatever else you neglect to bring with you, bring the resolution, strong and solid, always to make the best of things.

The great charm, after all, of this life, is its outdoorness. To be able to spend your winter out of doors, even though some days be cold; to be able to sit with windows open; to hear birds daily; to eat fruit from trees, and pick flowers from hedges, all winter long, —is about the whole of the story. This you can do; and this is why Florida is life and health to the invalid.

On the Homefront: Oral Histories of World War II in Jacksonville

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Inspired by The Veterans History Project (VHP) at the Library of Congress, which was launched in 2000 to collect, preserve and share the first-person recollections of America’s Veterans, the Jacksonville Historical Society has been actively recording the oral histories of Jacksonville residents who, whether in service or on the Homefront, have born witness to some of our country’s darkest times.

Oral history provides historians and archivists with a mechanism to supplement the documentary record and fill gaps within the collections we preserve. Oral histories also tell stories in a way the written word simply can’t—in the words of those involved.

We invite you to listen to On the Homefront: Oral Histories of World War II in Jacksonville.

Interested in helping to collect the stories of men and women who have lived during historic wartime moments? A Veterans History Project Field Kit, available online, provides step-by-step instructions to collect and preserve Veterans’ stories.

Jacksonville’s Red Bank Plantation, an enduring symbol of the Old South

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On February 4th, 1939, Rose Shepherd, a writer with the Federal Writer’s Project (an economic recovery program that paid writers to record oral histories during the Great Depression), sat down with Mrs. Thomas Ellington, a kindergarten teacher whose “considerable personal inheritance” had enabled her to purchase one of Jacksonville’s oldest residences, the Red Bank Plantation.

Drawing of Red Bank Plantation tract accompanying bill of sale, dated Dec. 4, 1829, between Isaac Hendricks and Albert G. Phillips. Source: http://bit.ly/sDn8eO

Today, Red Bank is one of a handful of pre-Civil War residences still standing in Jacksonville. The property is part of what was formerly a Spanish land grant first surveyed in 1793. From the 1820s until after the Civil War, the property was owned consecutively by three of Jacksonville’s most prominent men: Isaiah D. Hart; Isaac Hendricks, pioneer settler of South Jacksonville, for whom Hendricks Avenue is named; and Albert Gallatin Philips, Duval County’s sheriff from 1833-1839. (His son, Judge Henry B. Philips, is the namesake of today’s Philips Highway.) Philips built the imposing house in 1854 and operated a plantation on the 450-acre site.

Shepherd’s graceful writing and and Mrs. Ellington’s detailed reminiscences of Red Bank’s history paint a vivid picture of a time when “the principals of the Old South” were still very much a part of Jacksonville life.  We’ve excerpted the first few pages here, and invite readers to review the full, richly detailed interview in the Library of Congress’s American Memory website.

On the last street within the corporate limits of South Jacksonville stands “Red Bank” — an old plantation manor house formerly centering a land grant with a seven-mile frontage on the St. Johns River and a history of continuous ownership of over one hundred years by the Philips family, long identified with Duval County history and civic affairs.

The demand for estates with homes along the river, resulted in sales of parcels of land comprising the old grant from time to time, and finally an enterprising real estate company secured title to a large acreage nearest the city limits, developing it as a high class residential section under the name of “Colonial Manor” — a gesture of recognition of the importance of the old house in the picture.

Profiting by the experience acquired in marketing another development on the south side, the real estate company brought in dredging machinery, sand and silt was pumped up from the river bed, and the property line frontage was extended some hundred or more feet. So “Red Bank” which, in the early days, was only a stone’s throw from the mighty St. Johns, is now six blocks from the river bank.

“Colonial Manor” was popular from the beginning with those wishing to establish themselves as far as possible from the “madding crowd” and yet secure the city facilities of running water, electric light, and convenient access to local schools. A distance which in the old days was a three-hour journey from Jacksonville is now covered by bus or auto in twenty minutes.

photo credit: John Cowart, from cowart.info

New homes sprang up throughout the section, but nobody wanted the old house, until Mrs. T. H. Ellington three years ago realized its possibilities. Having spent her childhood in just such a home on a plantation near Dalton, Georgia, she longed to again live in a house with twelve foot ceilings, deep fireplaces, and spacious rooms, so the purchase was made, the deed recorded, and restoration commenced.

The old house has not had its “face lifted.” However, the modern platting of lots and streets necessitated making the west side the front entrance, with the number 1230 Greenridge Road. There is a new door with an old fashioned brass knocker, and new sash in the twelve-light windows which “four-square” the front, with narrow green shutters framing the sides.

A double track cement driveway leads to the east entrance and on into a two-car garage. This was formerly the front of the house which faced the sand trail of the private lane leading through the plantation from the main country road. Remnants of the old hitching post remained here until a few years ago, and weathered old liveoaks in the yard could tell many interesting tales of the plantation owners, their families and distinguished guests who in early days passed through this wide colonial door with its framing of small sections of glass to admit light into the spacious hall which marked the entrance to this hospitable southern home. . . . 

“Judge H. B. Philips’ grandfather was the owner of the original grant,” said Mrs. Ellington, “which he received direct from the Spanish King in recognition of some meritorious service to the Crown, as was then the custom. He was a retired sea captain from Red Bank, New Jersey, hence he named his new possession “Red Bank” which designation continues to the present day. Judge Phillips’ widow in Large Place has the original deed to the land, written entirely in Spanish.

A map of Jacksonville in 1859, five years after Red Bank was built. credit: Florida Heritgage Collection

“The place was in such a wilderness, with the country then roamed far and wide by Indians, that Captain Philips was not much interested in his new property, and he never lived here. However, his son, who was Judge Philips’ father came down, and when he saw the place so beautifully located along the mighty St. Johns River, he built a log cabin right on the crest of the hill here, where he lived for some years. He acquired a large number of slaves, valued at $100,000, so I have been told. Large sections of the land were cleared and planted in cotton, sugarcane, corn, peas, and garden crops. . . . 

“There was no road to San Jose, as is now, between here and the river. The main road came over Hendricks Avenue from the ferry, and the private lane to the house here led off from this road, and came past the house between the two big liveoaks to the east.

“On account of its spaciousness, the old house was always famous as a gathering place for social affairs, particularly dances. But it was such a journey to get here, that when there were evening parties and dances, the guests had to be accommodated over night. This was no trouble, however, the rooms were so big — extra beds were set up, and the girls were taken care of in one wing of the house, the boys in the other.

“In its heyday there were many different kinds of fruit raised on the place, but the only reminders now are two scrubby plum trees in the side yard and a few of the old orange trees in the back. There is also a crepe myrtle tree in the south yard, and the stump of a very large one where the tree was cut down nearby to make room for a new house.

“All of the old gardens and flowers have long since disappeared. Mrs. Tyler has cuttings from some of the old rosebushes and I am in hopes of getting some of these to bring back and start growing again in the home of their ancestors. . . .”

photo credit: Wikipedia, under Creative Commons license.

As the lengthy interview concludes, Mrs. Ellington confesses to seeking “comfort from the old classics of song and story.“Gone with the wind?” queried Mrs. Irvington to me – “No, I do not believe so. The principles of the old South are still with us, and the new Southerners of the old South have a heritage which will never die. You can acquire polish, poise, prosperity – but what is inherited is bred in the bone!”

Today, Red Bank remains a private residence.

Martha Reed Mitchell–Putting the D in Doyenne

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A doyenne is a woman considered to be the senior, or most prominent, member of a group. In the highest social echelons of late nineteenth-century Jacksonville, that woman was Martha Reed Mitchell, a tall, well-built woman with brilliant blue eyes who lived largely, built largely, and left one of Jacksonville’s most lasting legacies.

According to an excellent article by Louise Stanton Warren, a JHS board member, Reed was a relative newcomer to the city in 1866, but already had a proven record as a “doer” (thus the D in doyenne). Mitchell had co-founded the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, which saved George Washington’s home as an early act of historic preservation.

As the wife of Alexander Mitchell, a banking, insurance and railroad mogul from Milwaukee, Martha Mitchell was in a position to sustain such emerging charities as the St. Luke’s Hospital Association, serving as its president for 25 years. A devout Episcopalian, she also labored tirelessly to establish All Saints Episcopal Church. But in society’s eyes, Reed’s most enviable accomplishment was Villa Alexandria, the palatial home she built along the St. Johns River on 140 acres of what is today San Marco.

The Villa Alexandria, circa 1882, as viewed from the front--or river--approach.

According to Warren, Villa Alexandria was “one of the premier villas of the world.” It included a three-story frame mansion, stables, tennis courts, a polo field, extensive orange groves, a swimming pool, stunning formal gardens, and a massive boathouse the size of a small hotel. (Today’s River Road was her carriage way, and it’s said that chips from her garden’s many marble fountains still turn up in present-day yards.)

However, it was the house’s opulent interior that inspired the most reverence. A world traveler who crossed the ocean 18 times, Mrs. Reed filled Villa Alexandria with fine paintings and furniture by European masters. The dining room was said to be “a masterpiece of magnificence.” (Details about the home’s interior can be found in Mrs. Charles LeNoir’s oral history of South Jacksonville, recorded for the Federal Writer’s Project.) Mitchell’s bedroom, with hand-carved decorative woodwork, had a prominent bay window facing the river, hung with white silk curtains and over-drapes of blue brocade.

The Florida Dispatch enthused, “The general tone of “Alexandria” is refined, quiet and reposeful.” According to Warren, “Reed regularly opened her villa for dazzling parties to benefit the new hospital and All Saints Episcopal Church, and people flocked across the river, like Vikings in their lighted boats, to experience and enjoy the luxury.”

The winter home of the Mitchells, along the banks of the St. Johns River.

When Reed died in 1902, her obituary in the Florida Times Union underscored her impact on the city: “Kind of heart, helping others and trying to make beautiful the lives of the weary and struggling, she was always engaged in benevolent work, and countless and unknown are the many good works she performed that brought sunshine into many hearts and many homes.”

After her death, the Villa Alexandria estate eventually fell into ruin. The mansion and all of the other buildings were demolished by developer Telfair Stockton in 1927. The first lots in Stockton’s new San Marco development were sold in 1929 to John and Carl Swisher, who built homes on the waterfront where this splendid mansion once stood.

Martha Reed Mitchell is buried in the historic St. Nicholas cemetery.

Mother of a U.S. Senator, sister of a Florida Governor, and grandmother of General William Mitchell, founder of the Air Force, Martha Reed Mitchell is largely forgotten today. We believe it’s important to remember her.

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