Today’s Jacksonville residents aren’t always treated to the best smells. There’s the occasional whiff of sulfur in the air from waste treatment plants, plus the stale coffee scent drifting over from Maxwell House’s downtown factory.
But we should all consider ourselves lucky, because that’s nothing compared to how the city used to smell a few decades ago.
For many years, Jacksonville had a reputation as one of America’s smelliest cities. Most of the stench was centered in one area, but on a windy day, the whole city stunk.
The awful smell didn’t have one source, but the majority of it originated from a stretch of Talleyrand Avenue along the St. Johns River. The area hosted two paper mills, two turpentine processing factories, and a city sewage treatment plant.
The putrid scents drew thousands of complaints from residents, but those complaints fell on deaf ears at city hall for years. The city was benefiting from the money raked in by the paper mills and turpentine plants and was therefore not inclined to pass or enforce anti-odor measures. They considered it to merely be “the smell of money” – not thinking of the money they scared away with the city’s growing odor problem.
It wasn’t until the mid-1980s that local politicians would take an interest in fixing the stench. When Tommy Hazouri was elected mayor in 1987, he made environmental improvements a major priority for his administration. At his insistence, city council passed an ordinance that increased fines for violating the city’s anti-odor laws from $500 to $10,000.
Gradually, the stench subsided over the following decade. Both of the prominent paper mills shut down in the late ‘90s, and the turpentine plants and the city’s sewage treatment plants both modified their practices to bring them to an acceptable level of odor output.
Obviously, there are still bad smell days here in Jax. But next time you get a strong whiff of sulfur, remember that it was once much, much worse.