by Tim Gilmore, 9/26/2015
The first grave of the founder of the city lay two and half miles south of its present location.
A thin brick pyramid tapered 35 feet into the air just east of Laura Street, between State and Orange Streets, a block west of where in 1966 the Heart of Jacksonville Motel rose in the depths of Downtown’s and and historic Springfield’s morass of boarding-house social rot and desperation.
So the Heart of Jacksonville took shape beside the site of the long ago desecrated grave of the Hart of Jacksonville.
Isaiah Hart shows up in the swamp that later becomes downtown in 1821. There are few settlers and one general store. Hart builds wealth by kidnapping slaves and selling them over the Georgia line. Other settlers follow and Hart leads the survey of a new town in 1822.
As T. Frederick Davis writes in his 1925 History of Jacksonville, Florida and Vicinity, 1513-1924, “At one time or another he owned nearly all the land now known as the old city, and the most of Springfield.”
Hart owned slaves, a plantation called Paradise at Cracker Swamp in Marietta, Florida, log cabins at Bay and Market Streets, then Laura and Forsyth.
Hart built his Laura Street tomb as cairn. It’s a Scottish word, but the rough stone towers above graves are found in ancient indigenous cultures across the planet.
He built the tomb in 1852, nine years before he and his wife Nancy died, and inscribed it: “When I am dead and in my grave, / And these bones are all rotten; / When this you see, remember me, / That I may not be forgotten.”
In 1896, 35 years after the Harts’ deaths, grave robbers broke into the towering tomb and stole unnamed valuables, as well as the cairn’s silver nameplates.
The desecration prompted a newspaper investigation that reported the somehow previously unknown information that the Hart Monument, as it had come to be known, contained nine graves.
The monument held the bodies of Isaiah and Nancy Hart, a granddaughter, and the Harts’ children, several of whom gave their names to the streets of the center of the city.
Besides the children Lodusky and Daniel and Nancy, “an invalid [who] met the sad fate of being burned to death” out at Paradise, Laura’s and Julia’s names became those of central streets downtown, and mid-1800s’ debates concerned whether downtown’s Ocean Street took its name from Isaiah’s and Nancy’s son Ossian.
The Great Fire of 1901 torched the Hart Monument, but left it standing. The following year, the blasted cairn was dismantled, and the Hart graves—except for that of Isaiah’s son Oscar, whom he wrote out of his will—were moved northward to Evergreen Cemetery.
Through grave desecration and municipal fire, the burial cairn and central monument to the slaveholding founder of the city of Jacksonville disappeared 50 years after Isaiah Hart built it, 41 years after his death, one year after the Great Fire of 1901, 113 years before I write this sketch.