Print this pageHistorical Text Archive © 1990 - 2013
Florida has long planted Yankees to earn money; they moved to the peninsula for a variety of reasons--weather, low taxes, cheap land, and opportunity. Frederick William Bruce was one such Yankee, a New Hampshire man, who moved for these reasons in the 19th century to the frontier state of Florida. His life is a case study of why people migrated.
He was the son and nephew of United State Army soldiers who helped conquer the Confederacy in the 1860s during the Civil War. He made his life in Florida. The contrast between the two locales was dramatic. Lempster, Sullivan County, New Hampshire, where he was born birth on May 10, 1856, was not only rural (only 415 people lived there in 1790 and only 667 in 1950) but also hilly (the highest point in Lempster is Bean Mountain at 2,326 feet), forested, landlocked, largely, if not entirely, Protestant, and homogenous. Small farms dotted such terrain. New Hampshire hosted many mills.
Source: Cleve Powell
Funding was erratic because Congress vacillated over the propriety of the project so Bruce was assigned other duties in the interim. Eventually five jetty contracts involving an expenditure of about a million dollars were made. In between funding, Bruce surveyed various rivers and harbors in the Florida District, principally in Mayport, the Ocklawaha and Upper St. Johns Rivers, and elsewhere in the state. He was sent to the far south, Key West, in December, 1897 to work on Fort Zachary Taylor, a fort which played an important role in the Civil War and the Spanish American was in guarding the United States from its enemies with its 10-inch guns with a range of three miles.
Source: Cleve Powell
Bruce supervised the construction of modern gun emplacements under tough working conditionsstorms, isolation, and dengue fever. He commented on some of the problems to his supervisor, Captain C. H. McKinstry.
Key West, Fla.
August 16, 1899
I have the honor to acknowledge receipt today of letter dated August 10th and marked confidential, on losing a copy of the report on barracks site signed by Captain Harlow as President. This will receive the earliest possible attention.
I would report that C. M. Brown is sick and confined to his bed with Dengue fever, and I see no way but that I will have to inspect the jetty work until his recovery, as there is no one here that has ever had any experience whatever on similar work.
(signed F. W. Bruce)
Captain C. H. McKinstry
Corps of Engineers, U. S. A.
St. Augustine, Florida
Serving over 500 miles from St Augustine was a real hardship and he did not want to maintain a third home in addition to the ones he had in St Augustine and Mayport. District Engineer Captain C. H. McKinstry, moved to the District office in St Augustine, leaving Bruce in Key West. Bruce also worked on the Sand Key Lighthouse seven miles southwest of Ft. Taylor.
Bruce is standing on the left holding a brace Source: Cleve Powell
Bruce grew tired of living so far from home and wrote McKinstry to that effect.
Key West, Fla. August 28, 1899
I have the honor to acknowledge receipt of your personal letter dated August 25th. I am as anxious to get away from Key West as ever, and thank you for your interest in the matter, but I do not expect to be relieved so long as it is to the interest of the work for me to remain here. I readily understand that private wishes have no influence on official demands and possess myself with patience.
The last few weeks have been very warm and, unless there is soon a period of cooler weather, I fear very much there will be an epidemic of dengue fever as there was last year. There are many cases around town now, but the employees of this office have not been attacked except C. M. Brown, who is now nearly recovered though he has not been to the jetty since being sick.
(signed F. W. Bruce)
Captain C. H. McKinstry
Corps of Engineers, U. S. A.
St. Augustine, Fla.
The letter worked for, by September, 1899, he was back in St. Augustine in the U. S. Engineers office, having deposited a thousand dollars in a Jacksonville bank. From his home in Mayport, he only had to go about eight miles upriver to do a survey of the gun batteries complex on St. Johns Bluff.
1918 Map St. Johns mouth Source: U. S. Corps of Engineers
The Spanish American War of 1898 frightened some with the possibility of invasion by Spain. So the military built a gun emplacement which included the requisite support system on St Johns Bluff. No enemy war ship could have passed to attack Jacksonville, not that the Spanish had the capability or intention of doing so. The war was over in a matter of months. After the hysteria passed, the guns, never fired, were removed. The built structures remained. Disputes arose about land ownership. Bruce J. W. Sackett started a topographical survey on November 14th; the final drawing is dated December 6, 1899. It showed the dock, RR, empty gun emplacements and buildings as well as the area leased. Bruces survey became important. At the same time, he also had to be concerned with the Mayport jetties.
Key West haunted him for he felt compelled to write to M. T. Reybold about his attitude towards him.
September 5, 1900
Mr. M. T. Reybold
U. S. Engineer Office,
Key West, Fla.
I have had to my attention frequently called to remarks and criticisms made by you concerning myself with reference to the neglect of my official duty and honesty to the Government. Also criticisms of my ability, authority &c., in fact nearly everything that would be detrimental to a desirable reputation, especially from a business view.
In justice to myself I will have to ask you to discontinue all such remarks in future or it may become necessary to call upon you to substantiate or refute your statements.
I have friendly feelings towards you and this letter may be considered as strictly personal, except that the derogatory remarks and statements continue to come to my attention.
(signed F. W. Bruce)
One wonders what happened but it probably relates to engineering disagreements at Fort Taylor such as these:
Key West, Florida, August 19, 1899
Captain C. H. McKinstry,
Corps of Engineers, U. S. A.
St. Augustine, Florida.
In reply to your letter of August 10th. and marked Confidential, I have the honor to report as follows:
The entire water front between the North and South gun Battery is about the same elevation and forms a ridge averaging 85 feet in width, back of which it is lower and of nearly equal elevation. All of this lower portion is subject to standing water for a period after heavy rains or storm tides. The width of the ridge, however, has been widened somewhat where the office stands by filling.
As to natural advantages, I see none except it be in favor of a location further south where if buildings were built on the ridge referred to, they would certainly be further from the ponds concerning which there is apparently much alarm. If the ponds are unsanitary, the office certainly is in a bad location as it is directly in the lea of the worst pond, (that is in front of the Mortar Battery), with the prevailing S. E. winds, while to move them further south would be an improvement in that respect with no perceptible greater danger from the night soil dump which would be still one third mile away and never been a source of annoyance to any part of the reservation to my knowledge.
I think the statement in the report of the board, that the washings from the most unsanitary part of the city are deposited in the depressions on the reservation wholly an error as an inspection of the ground should show, but that the said wash is all deposited in the pond back of the office.
The statement in the report that the area in front of the Mortar Battery is unsuitable for reasons there stated, is not tenable as it is easily drained, which the pond back of the office cannot be, and if built upon in the middle would give a greater distance from Insanitary spots than any other, while if utilized is near the water front as the office is it would be the farthest possible distance from all objectionable points.
The statement that barracks at the present site of office would be most centrally located , is questioned especially if due weight is given to the importance and magnitude of the various batteries, which point would be obviously further south.
I have not been able to find any old maps bearing upon the locations of engineer buildings giving more information than that enclosed today with another letter. I have searched through the old records and find nothing bearing upon the project.
I shall supplement this letter at as early a date as possible with what information that can be obtained from old citizens.
(signed F. W. Bruce)
The District Office moved back to Jacksonville in 1900. From 1884 until 1888 it was in Jacksonville, the logical locale, but moved to St Augustine because of the yellow fever epidemic there. Much of the Corps work concerned the growing port of Jacksonville. Bruce followed in 1906, moving to the City of South Jacksonville, across the river from Jacksonville. Then, in 1912, he moved to Arlington, a community also south of the river but closer to Mayport.
The remainder of his career working for others involved engineering dock facilities on the banks of the St. Johns River. He retired from the U.S. Corps of Engineers in 1913 at age 57 to work for the Jacksonville Port Commission, designing and constructing the Jacksonville Municipal Docks . Then, in 1917, Bruce took charge of the building of the South Side Shipyard owned by the Merrill-Stevens Company.
The Merrill-Stevens shipyard was a large and important enterprise not only for Jacksonville but also for the United States. Its predecessor was Jacob Brocks shipyard o founded in the 1850s. When Brock died in 1877, Alonzo Stevens bought it; ten years later it became the Merrill-Stevens Engineering Company. The great Fire of Jacksonville in 1901 destroyed it but it was rebuilt. "Merrill Stevens Shipbuilding bought an 80 acre site, which was the old Hudhall farm and, with F. W. Bruce as supervisor, built boat slips, marine rails, dry-docks, a water tower made of concrete, a huge pattern loft, and a total of nine buildings including, a generator building, pattern building, and offices". It became on sources of barges used in building the Panama Canal. By 1918 in the midst of the First World War, Merrill-Stevens employed 1,500 persons. Because of Merrill-Stevens, Jacksonville played an important role in both WWI and WWII in the construction and repair of ships for the war effort. During the latter war, 82 Liberty ships were constructed.
Merrill-Stevens Shipyard Source: Cleve Powell
F. W. Bruce, Merrill-Stevens shipyards Source: Cleve Powell
Engineering was not his only endeavor. He held appointments as Justice of Peace under Governors Sidney Catts (1917-21) and Cary Hardee (1921-25). Along with H. L. Sprinkle, George Spaulding, and John Alderman, he started the Alderman Realty Company, which developed the subdivisions Arlington Heights, Arlington Heights Addition and Alderman Farms, north of the present-day Arlington Expressway (Florida 115). Arlington was unincorporated and tied to Jacksonville and South Jacksonville by a ferry started by the realty company.
In 1912, Frederick Bruce, John Alderman, George Spaulding, and H. L. Sprinkle organized the Alderman Realty Company. Intensive settlement began in the area later known as the heart of Arlington, the blocks to the east and west of the intersection of Chaseville Road, now University Boulevard, and Arlington Road. The company purchased 1,100 acres of land that was part of the original Richard Mill grant north of Strawberry Creek. This property was subdivided into blocks and lots for further development known as Arlington Heights and Alderman Farms. The firm established a ferry service to better market the area to prospective buyers. The ferry landing was located at the west end of Saint Johns Street, now Arlington Road. The ferry ran to the foot of Beaver Street in Fairfield.
Source: Found on the Arlington Business Society. http://arlingtonbusinesssociety.org/page5a.html which was based on the Old Arlington Neighborhood Action Plan. See coj.net.
The partners created a government in the form of the Arlington Community Club. The Club successfully lobbied for a public elementary school built by the Duval County school system, and public water works. Bruce and Sprinkle donated the land for a community ball park in 1924.
Throughout his life, he was driven to learn more. As a young man in St. Augustine, the self-taught civil engineer purchased books to increase his technical knowledge. He invented and patented a rotary steam engine on March l0, l892, He learned about whichever community in which he lived. While supervising the construction of the Merrill-Stevens shipyards, he discovered the archeological remains of Fort St. Nicholas in South Jacksonville. He wrote a short history, Arlington, Past, Present and Future, for the Arlington Community Club in 1924.
F. W. Bruce never became a household name in Florida but he accomplished enough to be honored in Jacksonville, a city to which he had contributed so much.
Bruce Park is referenced at http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WM2XZN_Bruce_Park_Jacksonville_FL.
The jetties he built have been augmented time and again. The United States Navy has swallowed almost all of the Mayport he knew. Arlington grew rapidly after the Mathews Bridge opened in 1953 and spurred suburban development; by the late 20th century, it reached almost to the ocean.
His story is one of a man who saw possibilities and then availed himself of the existing opportunities through his intelligence, risk taking, and drive. He overcame a spotty formal education with independent study. He did not accomplish success by himself. His family played an important role. His father and uncles were artisans, enjoying advantages over the average person. His father-in-law was a mill owner. Family loyalty worked in his favor. He went to his carpetbagger uncle in St. Augustine, Florida when told to do so and, then, years later, with his wife and child, when his parents moved there. He worked for governments most of his lifethe Corps of Engineers of the United States government and then the city of Jacksonville. At the end of his work career, he constructed the Merrill-Stevens South Side docks. Finally, he was a land developer in Arlington, an area adjacent to the cities of Jacksonville and South Jacksonville. His life is an American success story.
F. W. Bruce and family, 1914 Source: Cleve Powell
Frederick William Bruce died at home in his beloved Arlington on December 18, l932.
 Known as F. W. Bruce.
 Descendants of immigrants from the Balearic Islands of Spain, Italy, and Greece, brought by Dr Andrew Turnbull to his colony of New Smyrna south of St. Augustine. When the colony failed, the colonists went north to St. Augustine.
 Although Jacksonville now encompasses all of Duval County, for most of its history it consisted of many townsJacksonville, South Jacksonville, Baldwin, Pablo/Jacksonville Beach, Mayport, Atlantic Beach, and othersand many square miles of farms, ranches, rivers, lakes, creeks, and marshes.
 She was a Minorcan.
 She married on November l3, l904 in Jacksonville, Florida to Cleveland Johnson. They had three children, Frederick Bruce Johnson, Claris Ruth Johnson Jaques and Mary Louise Johnson. Two grandchildren, Ida Louise Johnson and Ruth Clara Jaques.
 Now the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
His name was Goyathlay but the Spanish and then Mexicans called him Jerónimo (from St. Jerome). See http://www.let.rug.nl/~usa/B/geronimo/geroni17.htm for Geronimos place of imprisonment.
 Liberty Ships, Jacksonville Historical Society, http://www.jaxhistory.com/journal7.html. Retrieved October 11, 2010.
 Old Arlington, Inc., A Brief History of Arlington, http://oldarlington.info/history/a-brief-history-of-arlington. Accessed September 22, 2010.
Note: Cleveland Powell kindly supplied copies of the letters of his great grandfather, F. W. Bruce, photographs, and written materials from his F. W. Bruce Collection. More important, he encouraged me and patiently answered questions.
Bearss, Edwin C. "Military Operations On The St. Johns, September-October, 1862 (Part I)," Florida Historical Quarterly, 42:3 (January 1964), 232-248.
Bearss, Edwin C. "Military Operations On The St. Johns, September-October, 1862 (Part II)," Florida Historical Quarterly, 42:4 (April 1964), 331-351.
Brown, George E., Historical Data, Florida District, Engineer Officers. January 21, 1944. Typescript supplied by Cleve Powell.
Bruce, F. W., letter to Captain A. Anderson, November 16, 1889. Bruce Collection.
Bruce, Frederick, View showing the 82 foot concrete water tower at the Merrill-Stevens shipyard in Jacksonville, Florida, http://ibistro.dos.state.fl.us/uhtbin/cgisirsi/x/x/0/5?library=PHOTO&item_type=PHOTOGRAPH&searchdata1=PR77482.
Buker, George F., Sun, Sand and Water: A history of the Jacksonville District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1821-1975. Washington: Superintendent of Documents, United States Government Printing Office, 1981.
Buker, George F. Spanish-American War Fortifications, Fort Caroline National Memorial. Contract No. PX 531090043.
Buker, George F. Jacksonville: Riverport-Seaport (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1992).
Davis, T. Frederick. "Engagements at St. Johns Bluff St. Johns River, September-October, 1862," Florida Historical Quarterly, 15:2, pp. 78-85.
Davis, T. Frederick. History of Jacksonville Florida and Vicinity 1513 to 1924. Jacksonville, 1925.
Furber, George C., compiler, revised and enlarged by Ezra S. Stearns, History of Littleton, New Hampshire: Genealogy. Published for the Town by the University, 1905.
Information sent the National Cyclopedia of American Biography on F.W. Bruce c-1933. Supplied by Cleve Powell.
Jacksonville Board of Trade, Report, 1887. p.18.
Jetty Fishing in Jacksonville, Florida, http://vic2fish.com/jettyfishing.htm. Retrieved September 10, 2010.
Mabry, Donald J., Worlds Finest Beach: A Short History of the Jacksonville Beaches (Charleston and London: The History Press, 2010).
Old Arlington, Inc., Frederick W. Bruce, Historical Marker, Bruce Park.
Old Arlington, Inc., A Brief History of Arlington, http://oldarlington.info/history/a-brief-history-of-arlington. Accessed September 22, 2010.
Powell, Cleve, F. W. Bruce and the Spanish American War (4-25-1898/12-10-1898), typescript, December, 2004.
Powell, Cleve, World War I- Merrill Stevens South Side Ship Yard, History made on an already Historic Site, typescript, 2010.
U. S. Corps of Engineers, Annual Report of the Chief of Engineers, U. S. Army, to the Secretary of War for the Year 1892. Washington: Government Prininting Office, 1892.
U. S. Government, The Annual Report of the Commissioner of Patents for the Year 1893. Congressional serial set, Volume 3173 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1894),
Donald J. Mabry