by Tim Gilmore, 6/19/2012
From the back of Episcopal High School, the road curving deeply and quickly, now beneath the high launching pylons and metal green arch of the Hart Bridge overheard, arcs tiny Highland Avenue, from which extends Halliday Lane. The “Lane” is but one lane, “No Through Traffic.” Surrounded by the city and its car noise, Halliday Lane shrouds itself in its own wooded glen. It is a secret place. Don’t tell.
One-lane road walled in with dark and shaded and lovely green, old longleaf pines, azaleas, and vines, there are slight hills here. A hill is a very rare thing in this town. In the strange, little bubble of a world that is Halliday Lane, the lane drops down from the walls of vegetation on each side and the modest inclines up which grows the green. In the woods here, plant life pulls old chicken wire into the earth. The vibrant purple-red of French mulberries points up from lush contoured hillside, tall white lilies whitely blooming.
Old white steeply peaked house, lot deeded for the year 1899, house built in 1909, oak tree crashed down across the grass in 2009 and honeysuckle climbing it.
Beatdown chain link fence in the green, green shade, opens up for a dirt road before a white two-story house built in 1915. Motorcycle. Basketball goal rotten in the thickets.
Deeded ground is now owned by Halliday Lane Family Partnership Ltd, so much of this earth just off the St. Johns River.
These properties stemmed from the Spanish Reuben Hogan’s land grant. Somewhere nearby a Spanish fort defended itself against the English and the French and Floridian rebels until 1817. If any part of that fort remains, it’s in the soil, or it’s ingested into the trees and blooming wisteria way up in the tops of the pines. In the bluffs in these woods between Miller’s Creek and Pottsburg Creek three sawmills were burnt to the ground during the Civil War. If any part of those mills remains, they’re in the hills and the oak rings.
To the east of Halliday Lane Family Partnership land, on the peninsula of Oak Haven, between the Arlington River and Little Pottsburg Creek, in 1901, carpenter Chip Halliday built a two story house with a wraparound verandah and, on the second floor, a recessed balcony in a grand exterior arch. He built the house for a Detroit transplant named William Campbell. Campbell family relatives still own this rustic house, as well as a mid-20th century house on Halliday Lane.
Halliday built a house on Campbell Avenue, and the Campbells own a house on Halliday Lane.
The old Campbell house hides at the very back of narrow and winding Campbell Avenue. What was all woods turned to subdivided lots and modestly large homes in the 1950s and 60s. The houses on one side of Campbell Avenue lean back against Little Pottsburg Creek. At the end of the lane that winds and lowers toward the creek, a fortress of dark old trees cuts off the road with imposing brick stanchions on either side of a narrowing driveway back toward the house Chip Halliday finished building in 1901.
Stopped the car on Halliday in front of an old two-story house. Probably the yellow-streaked Florida Box Turtle would have made its way across the road without harm. This car was the first one here in hours. But the high school math teacher stopped the car in the road, got out, scooped up the little turtle, and set him back down in the weeds off the road. The turtle had retracted its head and its legs within its shell. There, the weeds in the trees off the side of the single lane existed. Beach and Atlantic Boulevards did not exist.
Today, Sunday, the high school math teacher will drive back down Highland Avenue from Art Museum Drive, where there is no art museum, but a lot of business enterprises with names like Art Museum Apartments and Art Museum Cleaners. He will drive down Highland with his wife, a landscape painter who sells her canvases at “antique malls” and flea markets, and they will park in the lot beneath the massive skyward pylons of the Hart Bridge, a short walk from the school auditorium. They will take the picnic basket from the car, and the old nylon camping blanket, and they will set it out on the grass directly underneath the bridge, 15 feet from the St. Johns River. The river will be vast and ancient and right there before them, theirs, alone with them. The white blooming morning glories will have climbed the banks and berm toward the pylons. The small city skyline will stand geometrically cubed and arced and white and brown and blue and lit and unlit across the St. Johns. Its reflection will ripple across the water from them. They will eat bananas, plums, half a loaf of Cuban bread, and they will drink half a bottle of North Florida muscadine wine. Somewhere in the woods nearby, a box turtle. Somewhere nearby, a Spanish fort, three sawmills, a rotting basketball goal. It’s a secret place. Don’t tell.