Springfield, Jacksonville’s oldest neighborhood, is currently in the midst of celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.
The neighborhood, located north of downtown, was first established in 1869 and subsequently divided into residential lots by local developer John H. Norton. Springfield Development Company was formed to sell off plots of land; the company donated some of that land to the city at the turn of the 20th century to create Springfield Park.
When the Great Fire of 1901 wiped out most of downtown Jacksonville, many former downtown residents chose to move north to Springfield. This prompted a major development boom in the newly-forming neighborhood, bringing in a steady stream of residential and commercial projects.
Claude Nolan Cadillac set up its headquarters along a busy Main Street corridor in 1910. That same decade, the city chose Springfield Park as the site for its first zoo. Many of the neighborhood’s now-famous historic homes were built during this early-1900s boom – many being designed by Henry J. Klutho, who even built himself a house in Springfield.
By the late ‘20s, there were very few empty lots remaining in the red-hot Springfield.
Unfortunately, the neighborhood started to lose momentum soon thereafter. A redesign of Springfield Park led in part by Klutho helped ease the loss of the zoo to a site in North Jacksonville, but because the area was already thoroughly developed, it missed out on waves of development that hit downtown, the Eastside, and other nearby neighborhoods.
When those waves ended, things really got bad for Springfield. As downtown Jax entered a decline to start the second half of the 20th century, Springfield followed suit. Residents bolted for newer, nicer suburbs, and businesses quickly followed them.
Newly-vacant houses were used as makeshift boarding houses and bordellos, attracting a less-than-ideal crowd to the neighborhood. Other buildings were left to rot away or used by homeless individuals for shelter.
The Springfield Preservation and Revitalization (SPAR) Council was founded in 1974 in an attempt to fight back against the neighborhood’s newfound blight and to preserve its historic integrity.
The founding of the SPAR Council and its subsequent work helped create a renewed interest in the history of Springfield. In 1984, part of Springfield Park was renamed to honor Klutho and his contributions – both to the park and to Springfield as a whole. Three years later, the entire neighborhood was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
It has since also been designated as a Jacksonville Historic District.
The neighborhood has enjoyed an ongoing comeback as of the past decade or so. The historic nature of the area and its houses appealed to many looking to buy houses – especially those looking to buy a house and renovate it. The once-busy Main Street commercial corridor has started to bounce back, adding a growing collection of businesses including breweries Main and Six and Hyperion, The Block Skate Supply, BARK pet boutique, and eateries Crispy’s and Uptown Kitchen.
Another brewery, Strings Sports Brewery, is set to open soon as well.
The tight-knit Springfield community has proven fiercely loyal to local businesses, and they showed up in droves to support the expansion of breweries into the neighborhood.
There’s still a lot of progress to be made in Springfield, with many vacant buildings remaining and homelessness and vagrancy still an issue. But as the neighborhood celebrates its sesquicentennial anniversary, it is rightfully full of hope for a long future ahead.