For every city in the world, there’s a unique historic tapestry that tells us how and why that city became what it is today.
Jacksonville’s over-200-year history features a number of events that have, in some way, determined the course that the city would take moving forward. Some had small impacts, while others have completely changed life in Jax.
Here’s a list of events that helped to shape what Jacksonville is today.
THE CITY’S FOUNDING
This first one is pretty obvious.
In the 1820s, a group of Floridians came together to develop a town government to be submitted to the state legislative council. The group was led by Isaiah Hart, who is now widely recognized as the city’s founder.
In 1832, the city of Jacksonville officially came into existence, named in honor of Andrew Jackson.
The city’s land had bounced around between French, Spanish, and British control for centuries. The founding of Jacksonville brought a consistent government and community to the area for arguably the first time since the original native tribes inhabited the land.
GREAT FIRE OF 1901
On a hot day in the summer of 1901, a small fire started in a pile of moss at a fiber factory.
Within eight hours, the Great Fire of 1901 had consumed more than 2,000 buildings in downtown Jacksonville. The fire claimed seven lives and destroyed essentially all of the city’s downtown buildings, including most of the city’s government buildings.
The ensuing rebuild gave downtown Jax many of its most distinctive historic buildings, with many of the damaged city blocks being replaced within ten years of the fire. The city was aided in the rebuild by state funds and by the presence of architect Henry J. Klutho, who designed many of the most iconic buildings from this era.
While the fire was a great tragedy, it also resulted in some of Jax’s greatest developments.
ACOSTA BRIDGE OPENS
Before 1921, there was no way for vehicular traffic to cross the St. Johns River in Jacksonville. If you wanted to cross the river back then, you either had to take a boat or a train. And with cars growing rapidly in popularity, the city being bisected by a river presented a major complication for its growth.
The opening of the Acosta Bridge fixed this issue, allowing the city to continue growing and connecting it to South Jacksonville, Mandarin, and other developments to the south and west. It also set the stage for the development of future bridges, culminating in the city’s current collection of seven bridges.
Who knows how the city’s growth may have been stunted if it had to wait until the late ‘30s – when the next bridge was built – to have a way for cars to cross the St. Johns River.
In the ‘60s, Jacksonville’s city government had major corruption and incompetence issues to address. It also needed to address how quickly it was losing residents to suburban developments throughout the rest of Duval County.
These two factors made the consolidation of the city of Jacksonville and Duval County somewhat inevitable. By 1967, consolidation was up for vote as a referendum – where it passed easily. A year later, the newly-combined city’s government took effect, and Jax became Florida’s largest city. It also gave us the distinction of being the largest city by land mass in the U.S., minus Alaska.
So next time you drive over to Mandarin from downtown, remember that 50 years ago you’d be heading to a different city.
THE ARRIVAL OF THE JAGUARS
By the ‘90s, Jacksonville was a well-established city, but lacked a national profile. Still, the city was dreaming big: it wanted an NFL franchise.
When the city threw its hat into the ring for an expansion franchise, the move was almost universally mocked. Jax was thought to be beyond a long-shot to get a team, with St. Louis and Baltimore viewed as far more likely candidates.
Instead, the city shocked everyone by being awarded a franchise in 1993. The existing Gator Bowl was gutted and reopened in 1995 as Jacksonville Municipal Stadium in time for the Jacksonville Jaguars’ first home game.
In just under 25 years of play, the team has made seven playoff appearances and won three division championships. And the prestige of an NFL franchise helped raise Jacksonville’s national profile significantly – to the point that the city even hosted a Super Bowl in 2005.
The team has even survived an ownership change without moving, as Shad Khan has instead invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the team and the city while leveraging creative partnerships, such as the annual London home game, to make Jax a sustainable long-term home for the Jags.
As Jax enters a new era of growth and development, there will surely be things that occur in the next few years that will shape the city for years to come. We can’t wait to see what comes next!