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3: Pablo Beach, 1907-25

<< 2: Pablo Beach, 1886-1907 || 4: The World's Finest Beach, 1925-45 >>

Now the tiny community by the sea was the Town of Pablo Beach, not just a rural post office. It was now an official entity, a way to collect revenue and provide for the common good of residents-permanent and summer-and tourists. The Town could effect changes. It could encourage growth. Government money, not its own, would determine the Beaches future. To live outside the public budget is to live in error. Pablo Beach officials knew the score.
    The new government supported the digging of a canal through the Diego Plains to connect San Pablo Creek to the Tolomato River near St. Augustine in 1908. The Florida Coast Line Canal & Transportation Company (FCLC&TC), organized in the 1880s, finished dredging a canal in 1912 but it was unsatisfactory. The undertaking was taxing. The national government eventually assumed responsibility and, by 1935, had produced a 100-feet wide and 8 feet deep canal.1 Canal proponents hoped that the canal would be a commercial thoroughfare and improve the local economy. In the early 20th century, however, not much would be shipped from the St. Johns River to St. Augustine.
    In the early 1900s, the Port of Jacksonville grew when the shipping channel was dredged to 24 feet and then 30 feet to allow bigger ships. Jacksonville truly became an international port. The St. Johns originally only had a clearance of 3-4 feet, but bigger ships drew more water. Improving the river took years of lobbying by private enterprise to get governments to pay the costs. In 1879, Congress appropriated funds to build the jetties, necessary to create a controllable channel at the mouth of the river. In the 1890s, the Jacksonville Board of Trade, as the Chamber of Commerce was then called, got Duval County to authorize $300,000 to dredge an 18-foot channel. In 1902, Congress paid $2.1 million to have it dredged to 24 feet which was done by 1907. In 1910, a 30 foot channel was dredged. In 1912, the U.S. House of Representatives demanded that City of Jacksonville government build city-owned docks, terminals, and warehouses before it would spend any more money on the river. The existing facilities were so bad that Congress decided to force a socialist solution because a viable port was of national importance and it was clear that the private sector would not or could not build the necessary facilities.2 Jacksonville smelled the money and complied. Money talks, as they say.
    Money came when the film industry came to town in 1908. Jacksonville was a winter film center more important than Hollywood as film companies came south to escape the cold and to pay lower wages. The abundant sunshine and mild weather made northeast Florida a welcome respite from the harsh winters of New York and Philadelphia. First to arrive was the Kalem Studios but others followed as word spread. At its peak, there were thirty companies with studios. Oliver Hardy and Lionel Barrymore starred in silent movies made in Jacksonville.3 Writing about a Kalem film company trip to Jacksonville in 1908, Gene Gauntier, a writer, actress, and producer said:

Within a few hours of our home were quaint negro villages, their unpainted huts set on stilts above the shifting sands. There were wonderful stretches of sand at Pablo and Manhattan Beach, facing the open sea, uninhabited and desolate, with their scrubby palmettos, which served as setting for many desert island scenes. There were fishing villages, primitive as even a picture company could wish, quaint old-time Florida houses with their "galleries" of white Colonial columns, orange and grapefruit groves, pear and peach orchards which gave forth lovely scents when in full bloom; formal gardens and Spanish patios; the gorgeous Ponce de Leon hotel and gardens, and the picturesque old fort at St. Augustine.4

   Money did not talk loud enough. The film industry created problems in the Jacksonville area and met enough resistance that it gave up and concentrated instead on the desert of southern California. Perhaps the Beaches would have been more tolerant but many Jacksonvillians could not tolerate the behavior of movie people. Their personal lives were often blatantly messy; they disrupted normal life with the filming of car chases and shootings. For those in commerce, too many did not pay their bills on time. Banks would not extend credit as needed and film making, like farming, is done on credit. World War I disrupted the movie business because it diverted money and attention to the serious business of killing. After the War World I, a few movies were made in Jacksonville but the time had passed. Decades would pass before parts of movies were shot in the area.
   The Beaches relied upon tourism for income, not the movies, and the opening of Atlantic Boulevard to great fanfare on July 28, 1910 provided a viable alternative to the FEC train. There was a parade and the dedication of bridge spanning Little Pottsburg Creek, which was close to the St. Johns River and marked an obstacle to the Beaches. On the shore, auto races were held in front of Continental Hotel in Atlantic Beach. The railroads monopoly of transportation to the Beaches was broken. Automobiles were the future.

Figure 3-1    Pablo Beach in 1906. The Pavilion on the Right

   Atlantic Boulevard was long in coming. Soon after the railroad was completed to Pablo Beach in 1884, E. F. Gilbert acquired land at Beaches that he wanted to develop. He needed a wagon road from south Jacksonville to Pablo Beach. He paid a surveyor to mark a route and then got the county commission to start work on the road using convict labor. The project, started September, 1892, completed two-thirds of the route grade and the bridge across Pablo Creek before the county commission changed its views and stopped the work. In 1902, Fred E. Gilbert, son of W.E. and an automobile dealer, lobbied to get the road finished. After popular auto races at Atlantic Beach in 1906, he finally generated interest in a paved road but the Panic of 1907 intervened. In 1908, work started but only as a shell and brick road. Cars began using it 1908 but the completion and dedication had to wait. By 1922, it needed repair and the St Johns River had been spanned, thus eliminating the cumbersome and expensive ferry service. The road proved to be so valuable that, in May, 1923, the county passed a bond issue of $2.55 million to build a concrete, lighted highway. Atlantic Boulevard would become a marvel that allowed rapid access to the Beaches.5
   E. F. Gilbert got things done. He was originally from Connecticut and a U.S. Army veteran. His primary occupation was being a jeweler but he was also a land speculator. He bought six parcels of land at Neptune Beach and wanted a better way to get there. The train would only stop at a station so he built one in 1910 in the section of Pablo Beach known as Neptune.6 Neptune, the northernmost section of Pablo Beach was replatted in 1911. It extended into present-day Atlantic Beach.7 This would become the basis of Neptune Beach, created in 1931.
    South of Pablo Beach, another development, mining, was occurring in 1912. No one could anticipate how the exploitation of these sand dunes to extract rutile, ilmenite, and zirconium (all useful for making steel) would become Ponte Vedra Beach. Instead, the firm of Buckman and Pritchard, Inc. of Jacksonville began to mine the minerals. It built a post office, store, and workers quarters.It also built a nine-hole golf course for its management.8
    Close by in a slightly more western section of St. Johns County was the older but more fragmented Palm Valley. People has been living in this area,part of it was the Diego Plains, since the 18th century but in houses far apart. It was a hard scrabble life as settlers did subsistence farming, hunting, and fishing. People cut palm leaves to sell and ship from the Durbin Station on the FEC until they used the Intracoastal Waterway, which was finished in 1912. Those fortunate enough to go to school had to travel north to Pablo Beach for the community was far from the county seat of St. Augustine and there was precious little in between. As late as the 1950s Palm Valley was considered backwoods. Ernie Mickler, author of White Trash Cooking, grew up there.9 It was the neighboring mining camp that would eventually grow but not until the late 1930s.
    Various improvements were made to Pablo Beach  as a beach resort. In 1912, the Red Cross Volunteer Life Savings Corp was created. Tourists, who often did not understand  the vagaries of the sea, needed help. Drownings discouraged visitors. No one could have foretold that this Red Cross Volunteer Life Saving Corps would still exist in 2006. The pier provided a place for visitors to dance, relax, and fish. Lifeguards found the pier problematical because bathers often did not understand that razor-sharp barnacles grew on the pilings. In 1925-26, Martin G. Williams, Sr. built dance pavilions, restaurants, shooting galleries, and other amusements on the new boardwalk. In 1916, the Pablo Development and Power Company created Little Coney Island which opened in 1917. This amusement center attracted more tourists. It was located where the dance pavilion had been. Little Coney included a bowling alley, a dance floor, a pool room, stores, and a roller skating rink.11

Figure 3-2    Lifeguard Station, 1912

Figure 3-3    Shad's Pier, 1922


   Figure 3-4    Pablo Avenue, June, 1917

   The 1917 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map shows houses, cottages, the apartments of Finkelstein Flats, the Palmetto Products Company, stores, bars and beer gardens, the Ocean View Hotel a public elementary school, Perkins Hotel and Bath House, a grocery store, the train station, and various other buildings. Private homes are only shown when they are in proximity to public buildings. The town had grown and had begun to have other than wooden buildings. The Perkins House, which became the Perkins Bath House, was a frame house operated by Mary E. Perkins. Eventually, she added more buildings. When a fire consumed it, she and her daughter, Anna Pursel, rebuilt a more substantial structure.

Figure 3-5    Railroad Station, Perkins Bath House, Ocean View Hotel, Little Coney Island

   Figure 3-6    Perkins House

Figure 3-7    Perkins Bath House and Rooms, 1930s

   World War I affected the Beaches in two ways. After the U.S. entered the war in April, 1917, the national government brought 21,000 soldiers to Jacksonville to Camp Johnston in October and November.12 The beach was one place they went to relax. US military involvement lasted on 17 months because an armistice was declared on November 11, 1918 so the tourism impact was not very great.
       A number of Beaches men served in World War I. From Atlantic Beach, there were five men: in the Navy, Crawford James Gilbert (white) , in the Army, John Jackson , Alexander Killen, Alexander Kirkland, and Willie Webb, all of whom were African American. From Mayport, in the Navy, Otto Ernest Burford, George McCauley Daniels, Neal Florence Daniels, Claude Sidney Davis, Alonzo C. Greenlaw, Herbert Austin Harris, Milton Lewis Harris, Addison Thomas Haworth, John Franklin King, George Allan Leek, Alexander Better Thompson, and Stephen Coleman Truesdale. To the Army, Mayport contributed William C. Aiken, Franklin Arnau, Walter Colman Arnau, John C. Bleight, Clarence Coward (Negro), F. A. Daniels, James L. Floyd (Negro) , Fred Dickson Haworth, George Hilgerson, Edmund Mosley (Negro), George William Murwin, Arthur Francis Sallas, Chauncey J. Singleton, Holbrook E. Singleton, Robert E. P. Singleton, Oscar F. Thompson, Jeremiah Walker (Negro), General Williams (Negro), and George Williams (Negro). From little Pablo Beach, the Navy got Eugene George Zapf while the Army got Ernest Atkinson, James Robert Barbour, Porter R. Barnes (Negro), Samuel G. Barnes (Negro), Herndon Hollinsworth Hall, William Howard Jeffcoat (Negro), William Fletcher Jones, George T. Leonard, and Carl Ulrich Smith. From Palm Valley there was Sidney Alexander Mickler who served in the Navy.13





   Atlantic Beach








   Pablo Beach




   Palm Valley








   Military pilots used the hard-packed sand as an ideal runway for airplanes, a new phenomenon in the world, as they experimented with transcontinental flights. On December 22, 1918, Major Albert D. Smith and three other Army aviators landed on Pablo Beach in Curtiss JN-4 biplanes. It had taken 18 days from San Diego. Then, on February 24,1921, Lt. William Devote Coney landed at Pablo Beach after making a flight from San Diego, California inn 22 hours, 17 minutes. His return trip began March 25, but he crashed and died near Cornville, Louisiana. That same year, Lt James Doolittle left the Neptune Beach portion of Pablo Beach on a transcontinental flight to San Diego in 21 hours and 18 minutes.14 Doolittle later became famous for leading bombing raids on Japan during World War II.
   The first half of the 1920s was an exciting time for Pablo Beach. Getting to the Beaches became easier on July 1,1921, when the Jacksonville-St. Johns Bridge (Acosta Bridge) was opened. Automobiles, trucks, busses, and pedestrians could cross the St. Johns River without using a ferry or a train. In 1920, the beach community passed some morality laws because a New York female beauty had shimmied in a "revealing" bathing suit. Town officials passed laws to outlaw shimmying, cheek-to-cheek dancing, and wearing any but a two-piece bathing costume with a skirt at least a foot long. Prohibition had become law in January and Pablo cops were told to spy on people and where they stayed to make sure they did not imbibe, searching even without a warrant, to make sure that no alcoholic beverages were being owned or consumed. In 1923,  however, opinion must have changed because Pablo Beach was inundated with tourists because the town's Board of Trade  had been advertising the town as a resort and could not handle the number who showed up. Earler, in 1922, the Town of Pablo Beach had become the City of Pablo Beach. Residents of the Neptune area in the north considered seceding, however, for they were separated by several miles were more oriented to Atlantic Boulevard. On March 14, 1923, Pablo Beach joined the Jacksonville electrical system. The Duval County school board built a new grammar school for "whites" in 1924, a school that building served the community for decades. The Pablo city government started building a new city hall which was completed in 1926.15
   In 1922 and after, the Beaches communities made a big push to increase tourism. To encourage this industry without chimneys, they paved the road between Neptune and Jacksonville Beaches, built seawalls or bulkheads, and installed street lights to illuminate areas near the strand. They bridged a slough in south Jacksonville Beach. They got daily bus service from Jacksonville to Pablo Beach started by the Seminole Auto Bus Company.16 To promote tourism, a swim suit competition was staged at the Pablo Beach pavilion on June 6 , 1924. The American Legion Post # 9 sponsored the Delegation of Mermaids at the Revue of Modes and there were twenty-five women contestants who were said to be modeling swimsuits. Pathe News was to film the event. The suits were borrowed from the Mack Sennet film studio. Pablo Beach mayor Joe Bussey proclaimed the day American Legion Day and thousands came, perhaps 7,000. A local woman, Mary Gonzalez, won. 
    All was not well at the Beaches, however. On December 22, 1922, the Ku Klux Klan entered Florida through Jacksonville. Its largest Klavern was Stonewall Jackson No. 1 of Jacksonville and it joined other Jacksonville civic groups to protect city beaches from commercial exploitation.17 The Klan would remain strong throughout the 1920s. It gained many supporters in 1928 when the Democratic Party nominated Alfred E. Smith for President, a Roman Catholic. Those who supported Smith were harassed including the police chief.18 The Klan opposed most of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Asians, Africans, most Europeans, urban mores, and African-Americans. They also wanted to enforce Prohibition. The Beaches had their share of bigots.
    When the Florida Land Boom hit, people dreamed of growth. Such was the case of the development to be name Ilanda. It was to be an upscale development sitting astride the Intracoastal Waterway north of Atlantic Boulevard. In 1925, F.L. Tucker was the general manager of the Ilanda Development Company. His grandiose and expensive plans matched the euphoria of the land boom. Like it, however, it went bust. Ilanda was never built.19
   In 1925 as well, Gabe Lippman purchased half a mile of ocean front between Jacksonville Beach and Atlantic Beach to add to the land he owned west of the two beaches. His property consisted of 2,500 acres and stretched to the Intracoastal Waterway. Lippman planned to build a town with a golf course, hotel, pier, and yacht basin. He built Florida Boulevard in what is now Neptune Beach to run from the ocean west and then northwest until it intersected with Atlantic Boulevard at the Mayport Road. He had to fill many low spots and constructed a miniature railroad to haul the fill. He held a big celebration on July 2, 1925 at the ocean front but little had actually been done. In October, he sold the project to the Majestic Homes Corporation of St Louis. It planned to create a 25,000 person city but Florida Beach was never developed. When Majestic Homes defaulted in June, 1926, only a few homes had been built.20
    Growth would be incremental. In Mayport with its 644 people in 1925 survived on its coal docks for the FEC Railroad, a menhaden (pogey) plant, boats such as the Hesse making the Jacksonville loop, fishing, and the dredges for the St Johns River and Pablo Creek. The tiny commercial district included Annie Daniels hotel, boarding houses, watering holes, and food purveyors. The Atlantic Beach Hotel burned in 1919 but W. H. Adams, Sr. bought the property and built a 50-room stucco hotel which opened in June,1925. An outdoor swimming pool was added in 1929. Atlantic Beach was incorporated in 1925 but less than 150 people lived there in houses near the Hotel.


Figure 3-8    Atlantic Beach, 1924

    The year 1925 was momentous for Pablo Beach. On February 9th a mass meeting to rename Pablo Beach to Jacksonville Beach was held. The city council ratified the decision with 75% wanting to change. Residents decided their future lay with being associated with the city to the west hoping it will mean growth for their little city. grow. The government also extended the city limits west to Pablo Creek, north to Atlantic Boulevard, and one mile further south. 21
    The little city of 744 people had grown from a few tents to substantial buildings. The Roman Catholic Church had a convent. North of the Episcopal Church on the same block was the Friendly House, a home where young women could stay. St. Andrews African Methodist Episcopal Church had been built at the corner of Shetter Avenue and 7th Street South, the focal point of the "black" community. To the west of 3rd St and south of the railroad, the African-American settlement had grown. Besides the downtown area, the city extended south about ten blocks and west about eight blocks. To the north, the city extended about a mile with scattered houses and then skipped further north to Neptune and its few houses. 

Figure 3-9    St. Andrews AME Church, 2006


Figure 3-10    Orphan Asylum, 1924


Figure 3-11    African-American Neighborhood

Figure 3-12    Neptune, 1924

    Pablo Beach was now Jacksonville Beach; it had hitched its wagon to the Jacksonville steed. Jacksonville had 91,558 people in 1920 and 155, 503 in 1930, an increase of 179%. It was a good bet. Lighted, paved Atlantic Boulevard, opened in 1925, began replacing the FEC railroad as the umbilical cord to Jacksonville.  


1. Johnston, Architectural Resources, pp. 89-91. In 1882, people knew that a canal was needed. The Floripedia Web site  quotes "An Ocean Voyage in Winter," in Chapter 11 of Florida for Tourists, Invalids, and Settlers, 1882 to the effect that no good harbors existed except Fernandina and St. Augustine. The pamphlet proposed a canal using existing waterways and building canals, starting from mouth of Pablo Creek at St Johns River. The Palm Valley Bridge was completed in 1937. The Intracoastal never became a major waterway for freight but pleasure craft used it often. Traveling on Atlantic Boulevard and, after 1949, on Beach Boulevard, could mean waiting until the drawbridge was raised and lowered for a motorized sailboat or large cabin cruiser.
2. James B. Crooks, Jacksonville After The Fire,  pp.28, 65-66.
3. Crooks, Jacksonville After The Fire, 1901-1919,  p.29; James Robertson Ward, Old Hickory's Town: An Illustrated History of Jacksonville. (Jacksonville: Florida Publishing Company, 1982), pp. 188-195.
4. Gene Gauntier, "Blazing the Trail," Woman's Home Companion, Volume 55, Number 11, November 1928, pp. 15-16, 132, 134.
5. Bill Foley, "Atlantic, Girvin Met on Road in 1910," Florida Times-Union, July 25, 1998; Davis, 237-239.
6. Bill Foley, "A Typical Yankee to Thank for Road," Florida Times-Union, August 20, 1997.
7. Johnston, Architectural Resources, p. 53.
8. Elaine B. Koehl, The Ponte Vedra Club: The First Fifty-Five Years, 1927-1982. (Ponte Vedra: Ponte Vedra Club, 1982). 
9. Michel Oesterreicher, Pioneer Family: Life on Florida's Twentieth-Century Frontier. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 1996. Ernest Mickler, White Trash Cooking. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 1986. Oesterreicher and Mickler attended Fletcher High School at the Beaches.
10. Johnston, Architectural Resources, p. 53.
11. Bill Foley, "Trains A New Idea? Sure Back in 1916," Florida Times-Union, January 28, 1999.
12. James B. Crooks, Jacksonville After The Fire, 1901-1919: A New South City. Jacksonville: University of North Florida, 1991, p. 120.
13. World War I Induction Cards., The Florida Memory Project. See Donald J. Mabry, "Jacksonville Beaches & Mayport WWI Veterans" on the Historical Text Archive for an extensive treatment.
14. Johnny Woodhouse, "Doolittle Took Up Challenge After Coney Died," Times to Remember: A Calendar for 2005. The Beaches Leader, 2004; Davis, 279, 282.
15. Bill Foley, "Millennium Moment: June 2, 1920: Vexing vixen's shimmy shocks Pablo Beach," Florida Times-Union, June 2, 1999; Davis, 324, 330;Johnston, Architectural Resources, p. 59; Bill Foley, "Tough Decision: Boxing or Swimsuits?  "Florida Times-Union, June 3, 1998; Johnston, Architectural Resources, pp. 60-62. The school was Jacksonville Beach Elementary School which was eventually demolished. What was the elementary school for African-Americans then was named Jacksonville Beach Elementary School. Bill Foley, "Millennium Moment: July 24, 1923: Possibilities for Pablo Beach were endless, " Florida Times-Union, July 24, 1999.
16. Johnston, Architectural Resources, p. 59.
17. David Chalmers, "The Ku Klux Klan in the Sunshine State: The 1920's ," Florida Historical Quarterly 42:3, 210-216.
18. Oesterreicher, pp. 91-95.
19. Bill Foley, "Ilana, The Dreamers Resort That Never Was," Florida Times-Union, November 22, 1997.
20. Phillip Warren Miller, Greater Jacksonville's Response to the Land Boom of the 1920s, MA thesis, University of North Florida, 1989, pp. 91-92, 119ff. We get a glimpse of housing costs in 1915 from "Estimates of a Bungalow in Florida," The National Builder, March, 1915, pps. 69-72 as being $2206.04. In 2005 dollars, this was $42,634.77. The configuration of such a house is unknown.
21 Bill Foley, "Millennium Moment: February 9, 1925," Florida Times-Union; Johnston, Architectural Resources, p. 58.

<< 2: Pablo Beach, 1886-1907 || 4: The World's Finest Beach, 1925-45 >>