The land we know today as San Marco has a history that dates all the way back to the 1800s.
It was during that century that a group of inter-married families, all linked to the family of plantation owner Isaac Hendricks, operated multiple plantations and owned the overwhelming majority of the land that would become San Marco. A house from one of those plantations, built in 1854, still stands as a private residence.
After the Civil War, the Hendricks family and its associates sold most of their land for development.
The western portion of the land was developed as a neighborhood and dubbed Oklahoma. To the south of it, the prominent Mitchell family built a winter home on a huge chunk of property, dubbed Alexandria. But by the turn of the 20th century, the whole area had become collectively known as South Jacksonville.
Just prior to that, in 1890, the FEC Railway Bridge was completed, providing the first non-boat path across the St. Johns River and allowing rail access back and forth between Jacksonville and South Jacksonville.
By 1907, the area had a population of hundreds and was officially incorporated as the town of South Jacksonville. A city hall was built along Hendricks Avenue, and other town amenities such as a bank and a school building also popped up nearby.
The quick growth of South Jacksonville – as well as the rise of automobile traffic – prompted local officials to begin planning an automobile bridge to cross the river. By 1921, the original Acosta Bridge had opened to the public.
In the mid-1920s, a new residential and commercial district was planned on the site of the Alexandria winter home. Developed by Telfair Stockton, it consisted of 250 single-home lots as well as a commercial district to be modeled after Piazza di San Marco in Italy.
The neighborhood was given the name San Marco in honor of its inspiration. Its lots sold in record time. A nearby quarry was converted into what’s now known as Lake Marco.
The first building in the neighborhood’s commercial area, San Marco Square, was built in 1927.
In the ‘30s, the entirety of the South Jacksonville area was annexed by the city of Jacksonville. As the city’s land holdings expanded to the south, the South Jacksonville moniker no longer fit the area properly. Around this time is when the area began being referred to by the name of its newest neighborhood, San Marco.
In the mid 1950s, Baptist Medical Center opened its first area hospital near the Southbank. A wing of the newly-built hospital was set aside for Wolfson’s Childrens Hospital, which would grow rapidly over the next few decades.
Like many other historic Jax neighborhoods, San Marco was hit hard by the unintended side effects of consolidation. The ‘70s and ‘80s brought about a period of decline for the area, with vacancies piling up in San Marco Square and some residents bolting for newer suburbs.
It was in this era – 1975, to be exact – that the San Marco Preservation Society was formed.
In the ‘80s, the northern edge of San Marco became part of the city’s central business district. As such, most of the Southbank is now considered part of downtown Jax.
In recent years, the Square has been renovation multiple times to improve traffic flow, as well as to restore its original fountain and sculptures that were removed during previous eras. The most recent round of upgrades saw the addition of multiple round-about intersections. Very few vacancies remain within the Square today.
Hendricks Avenue, meanwhile, has become a hot commercial corridor in its own right. In the past couple of decades, it’s added Aardwolf Brewing Company, Panera Bread, La Nopalera, V Pizza, and more.
Moving forward, San Marco looks poised for a huge growth spurt, with well over 1,000 new residential units either under construction or proposed in the area. A multi-use pathway being added to the Fuller Warren Bridge will also give the area a vital link to the similarly walkable Riverside neighborhood.
And maybe, one day soon, San Marco will even get that Publix it’s been waiting on for years.