Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

City Had Humble Beginnings on the Banks of the St. Johns

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

City Had Humble Beginnings on the Banks of the St. Johns

Article excerpt

The city of Jacksonville began at a tree on the river bank at the foot of what is now Market Street.

That's where David Solomon Hill Miller -- captain of the rural militia of the St. Johns River, District of San Nicholas, husband of Spanish land-grant holder Anna Hogans Bagley, and deputy surveyor -- started platting the streets for a town at the northern bank of the cow ford. Assisting Miller were Francis Ross, Benjamin Chaires (the city's first judge who had also helped in laying out Georgia's first capitals, Louisville and Milledgeville) and John Bellamy. It was June 1822.

The 20-block plat came to be known as "Hart's Map of Jacksonville" because it was Isaiah Hart who, in the first step toward building his fortune and his future, was determined to build a town.

"I think he was not particularly likable," says Christine Dearing Crutchfield. "He had a great deal of foresight, but always to his advantage, to make it worth more."

If anyone should know, it is the 92-year-old Crutchfield, mother of three, grandmother of 12 and great-grandmother of 22. "Isaiah's grand-daughter was my grandmother," she says. "I've lived here 92 years. Not since it was Cowford exactly, but durn nearly. When I was a girl, St. Johns Avenue was a shell road, Lee High School was a dairy farm."

John Warren's suggestion to name the town, until then known as Cowford, in honor of Gen. Andrew Jackson, provisional governor of Florida, was unanimously accepted. In the area at that time there were 250 residents widely scattered up and down the river in farms, plantations and saw mills. A dozen or so lived at Cowford, a few more across the river at San Nicholas, in what is now the St. Nicholas neighborhood.

Lewis Zachariah Hogans, who, according to historian T. Frederick Davis, was Cowford's first settler and the man who owned most of the land to be surveyed, wasn't sure this town thing was a good idea, but went along with the majority. John Brady, who had the ferry concession from the north river bank, also needed some convincing.

Hart, 29, had arrived here from the family plantation in St. Marys with his brother Daniel in 1819. He traded $72 worth of cattle to Hogans for 18 acres, and built a double log house for his family on the south side of Forsyth Street between Market and Newnan. It was the first of many astute real estate deals. At one time Hart owned all land in the downtown area and most in what is now Springfield.

Crutchfield remembers going to Hart's Haven, his plantation in Middleburg, when she was a child. Hart's former carriage boy, Jim Hart, then an old man, used to entertain her with stories of how the family silver had been buried there during the war.

"He always said, 'I don't remember where was it,"' she recalls. "We sure did scratch around but we never found it."

SLOW GROWTH

A metropolis did not immediately emerge from the city fathers' plans. In December 1825, a reporter for the East Coast Florida Herald in St. Augustine, on assignment in Jacksonville to cover the court session, found no reason for civic pride.

"There are not more than eight or 10 buildings," he wrote, "most of which are mere hovels, rudely formed of logs, and affording only a feeble protection against the cold, the wind and the rain. There is not a sash window in the whole town; but few of the houses have even a chimney."

Nor were the inhabitants enterprising.

"There appears to be very little trade of any kind carried on in the place," wrote the unnamed scribe. There "does not seem to be a single working individual in the whole place. No blacksmith, shoemaker, cobbler or tailor. No cultivation of the soil -- not even common vegetable gardens. No vegetation, except for native pines and black jacks. No domestic animals for food except here and there a miserable looking hog -- no poultry. Not even a cow in the place nor a drop of milk to be had. …

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