Honeymoon / Rural Home

by Tim Gilmore, 5/15/2016

cont’d from Eco Relics (North Riverside or Mixon Town)

Just across Stockton Street from Eco Relics, what once was Seewald’s Subdivision rises on a slight hill toward the eastward and earlier Honeymoon, and most likely, earlier than that, Rural Home Plantation.

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1868 map of the neighborhood called Honeymoon

For millennia, McCoys Creek, long before its name (for which it still has no regard), has flooded its plains. Today perhaps a dozen people call Honeymoon home, not that they know the old neighborhood’s name. Hogweed, scuppernongs, and air potatoes scale a house or two left on a hill.

Where the land rises, the trees memorialize the long-ago loss of Honeymoon, and before that, Rural Home.

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In 1853, Lucius Hardee, who’d soon gain the honorary title of colonel after his vigilante militia role against indigenous fighters in the Third Seminole War of 1855-1858, built a plantation called Rural Home on the inherited land of his wife Esther.

Hardee grew cotton at Rural Home, then in 1860 organized a vigilante Confederate posse he called the Duval Cowboys, soon conscripted by the Confederacy to man one Duval County riverfront battery after another.

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When the South lost the war, Lucius Hardee returned to the ruins of Rural Home. The plantation had been burnt and Hardee’s slaves had been freed.

But Hardee maintained his landed wealth, reinvested it, and rebuilt Rural Home as a wheel-shaped estate centered on a three-story plantation mansion spread into open-air verandas on the first and second floors.

When Lucius’s brother-in-law William visited Rural Home, built after all on his sister’s and his own family land, with a new and historically unnamed bride, Lucius renamed the plantation “Honeymoon.”

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Joel McEachin, head of the Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission, believes the plantation stood in central Seewald’s Subdivision, just south of Dennis and just east of Stockton.

A modest hill rises from McCoys Creek up through these few streets and Spanish Moss drips motionless from the great wooden arches of old live oaks that roof the roads. These hills harbored citrus groves and dark green herbaceous gardens. Even today, Harper Street splits around a great-girthed oak.

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The Hardees employed former slaves on the Honeymoon grounds and dedicated a “tramp room” in the kitchen house, set off in the norms of the time from the main house in case of fire. As millions of former Civil War soldiers became refugees in their own country, the North American landscape crawled with desperate men. Many of them were amputees, since amputation was the primary method of dealing with Civil War wounds. Hardee’s “tramp room” remained open at all times to the landscape’s desperate drifters.

Hardee died of malaria in 1885 and Honeymoon Plantation took fire the following year and crashed to the scorched earth. A decade later, a neighborhood called Honeymoon spawned small carpentered houses across five blocks, west to east: Grape, Lemon, Orange, Peach, Plum.

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Orange Street soon renamed itself Hardee, and Peach Street quite quickly became Esther. By the 20th century, railroad companies foreclosed most Honeymoon.

Today, those industrial yards and rail lines lean eastward toward downtown through long vanished neighborhoods like West Honeymoon, Campbell Hill, and Campbell’s Addition to LaVilla. Patches of woods thrive on dead rail lines, decline hastily to McCoys Creek.

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The oldest waterways know no trespass. Nor the tall white wading birds. Yet though I walk these lowlands and find no downslopes of cotton fields, several canebrakes of Arundo Donax, Giant Reed or Wild Cane, sequester carbon from our filthy city air. Whatever plants grow greatest and most dynamic funnel human pollution toward cleanliness in green leaves and powerful connecting rhizomes.

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McCoys Creek has flooded the railroad lines.

The plantation burned twice.

Neighborhoods assumed names that mocked the lives that preceded them.

Railroads cut slight curves. Demographics died.

Massive oaks spread branches like gravestones.

Honeymoon’s gravestones are great old oaks. The gravestone oaks still span the streets and, just as calmly, push patiently through the deep underground.