Keystone Bluff: Spite Fence, Wooden Bowling Alley, Octagon Room

by Tim Gilmore, 7/28/2012

photo by Judy Davis, early 1980s, courtesy Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission

1890s, Charles Cummings builds a wooden bowling alley right at the property line with the Armstrongs. He doesn’t like L.H. Armstrong, New Yorker, councilman from Newark, fights with him almost as much as he does with his wife. He situates the bowling alley to make sure Armstrong can hear the striking of the pins and the drunken card games late at night, then adds a spite fence high enough and long enough to block the Armstrongs’ view of the St. Johns River.

The bowling alley ends in an octagonal room, with a tall and pointed roof looking something like a witch’s hat. 1940s, Episcopal Children’s Home uses the witch’s hat room for a chapel. When the Children’s Home closes in ’53, the diocese lops off two thirds of the bowling alley and moves it back from the river. Now the strange truncated building sits marooned alongside a baseball diamond, marinating in its memories of vitriol and lost drunken hilarity.