Resuscitating Klutho’s Last Downtown Design, the Florida Baptist Convention Building

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For 40 years, the Florida Baptist Convention Building served its religious and office functions. For 60 years, it moldered, abandoned. Now architect Brooke Robbins is bringing the old building, the last downtown design by architect Henry John Klutho, back to life. Recently I wandered with Brooke up the stone stairwell, through the building’s history, to its rooftop.

Possum Head Swamp at Thanksgiving and Christmas

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Grant and D.J., five and eight years old, built forts and defended them in Possum Head Swamp. Their mother and grandmother made the Christmas Light Trail from the boys’ house to their grandparents’. The seasons rearranged the paths and switched the waters and the lands and taught D.J. that the wetlands behind and beneath and before the city were bigger and older and therefore more real.

The Napoleon Bonaparte Broward House at Pilot Town by Fort George Island

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In its century and a half, the Napoleon Bonaparte Broward house has been empty more than lived in. It hoists its widow’s walk from the roof at Fort George Island. Built by a New York dentist in the 1870s, now the hq of the Timucuan Parks Foundation, the house will forever be associated with Broward, the Duval County sheriff, Jax city councilman, state representative and Florida governor who smuggled guns to Cuba and wanted to drain the Everglades and start racial apartheid.

The Forgotten History of Snyder Memorial Methodist Church

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Last year would have been the church’s 150th anniversary. There was no one to celebrate its incredible history. Founded by Northern abolitionists, Snyder Memorial Methodist Church played an important role in Jacksonville’s Civil Rights struggle a century later. Whether Reverend Hinkle committed suicide nobody said. And whether police shipping the homeless man one-way to L.A. was really a good deed is doubtful. Now the church waits, abandoned, for its next chapter.

Eulogy for a “Heretic” at Collins Road Baptist Church

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It’s been 36 years since I’ve set foot in the church. I hadn’t expected a third of the congregation to be Mennonite. I hadn’t expected the eulogist to refer to the deceased as suspected heretic. I’d come to honor the memory of this smiling, wise, knowledgeable towering figure from my childhood who died from Covid-19. And for the memory of my childhood itself.

 

The Jax Gene Leedy House. It’s the story of an architectural mystery. And of ghosts and spirits. Happy Halloween.

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Robert Leedy never knew Jax held one of his father’s architectural designs. It’s laid out like the house Gene Leedy called home for half a century in Winter Haven, but inverted. The house has strange properties Better Homes and Gardens never mentioned. Mary Jane Williamson grew up in the house, her mother holding regular dinner table meetings to discuss the latest spirit activity. She says she saw her first ghost when she was three.

The Saga of the Heart of Jacksonville Motel

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It’s the saga of the Heart of Jacksonville Motel: pop bands and robberies, boxing promoters and unsolved murders. And those t-shirts the cops printed there after one of their own was a suspect. Fire after fire after fire. The motel’s gone, but people still come and stay.

The Carling / Hotel Roosevelt: Deadly Fire, Tongue Sandwiches and Saturday Night Dances

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It was the deadliest single-building fire in the city’s history, day after the Gator Bowl. Now the Hotel Roosevelt bears its original name again, the Carling, a beautiful place to live and one of five highrises remaining from Jacksonville’s “Year of the Skyscraper,” 1926. Once you could get a tongue sandwich here for a quarter and a whiskey cobbler for 35 cents. 

The Strange and Tortuous Tale of the Bolles School

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The story of the Bolles School, one of the most prestigious private schools in Florida, includes the failure of a hotel built like a Spanish castle, a businessman who sold underwater farmland sight unseen, the “grievous angel” of country rock, and soul-rocking existential questions of women’s studies and white privilege. It’s a world unto itself.

Willie Browne on the Lost Communities of Fulton and Lone Star

January 1967, Old Willie Browne, who will soon donate his hundreds of acres of forest and bluff to conservation, discusses lost communities with Father Frank Dearing. You’ll find the two stories below:

1) Here’s the lost town of Fulton, Willie’s friend Captain Hole, stories of moonshiners and buried treasure, the digging up of Fulton Cemetery.

2) And here’s the lost black community of Lone Star, one of many in the Arlington area. Here, at least the cemetery remains. Its oldest occupant was born before Jacksonville.