One of Jacksonville’s largest suburbs, Arlington, is also one of the city’s most historically-rich areas.
The area’s history dates all the way back to the 16th century when the French established Fort Caroline along the St. Johns River at the northern boundary of Arlington. But afte the short-lived fort ceased to exist, the surrounding land would sit untouched for multiple centuries.
The modern history of Arlington began after the Civil War. Like the rest of the Jax area, Arlington drew interest from northerners who were told by returning Union soldiers about the beauty of North Florida. Northerners began establishing summer homes along the river in Arlington.
This led to film studios taking an interest in the area, which was largely forest and farm land at the time. New York-based Kalem Company filmed in Arlington, and a full-time film studio was later established in the area. That full-time studio would be purchased by Middleburg native Richard Norman and became Norman Studios.
Meanwhile, residential neighborhoods grew around the area’s farming and industrial activities, establishing a tight-knit, rural community.
In 1910, the full stretch of Atlantic Boulevard was completed. It was a narrow, somewhat-rickety stretch of brick, rough concrete, and asphalt – but it provided a path from the city’s core to the beaches at a time when automobiles were just catching on. The road surfacing would be upgraded – and the road itself widened – several times.
The 1940s brought about two major arrivals: Craig Airport and Jacksonville University. Craig Airport was one of several new airfields built by the Army and Navy during World War II, and Jacksonville University began construction on its main campus in Arlington in the late ‘40s.
The completion of Mathews Bridge in 1953 established a link between downtown and Arlington, spurring development along the Arlington Expressway. Within just a couple of decades, the expressway would be lined with retail and office developments.
This retail boom in Arlington culminated in the opening of Regency Square Mall in 1967. The mall became one of the most successful shopping centers in the Southeast, expanding multiple times and prompting further retail development along Atlantic Boulevard.
Arlington, like several other Jax suburbs, officially became part of the city of Jacksonville after the consolidation of the city and Duval County governments.
In 1989, the completion of Dames Point Bridge connected Arlington to the Northside.
Over the past few decades, the area’s retail properties have suffered mightily. West Arlington, including the Regency area, has become particularly blighted.
But even with its retail issues – which show signs of reaching an end – the remainder of the Arlington neighborhood is actually doing quite well. Commercial developments at Atlantic and Kernan continue to grow, and Jacksonville University is in the midst of several campus improvement projects that will hopefully spur additional nearby development.
And amidst future growth, the area will always have a reminder of its history. Fort Caroline National Memorial sits at the northern edge of Arlington along the St. Johns River, overlooking the beautiful Timucuan Preserve.