by Tim Gilmore, 1/31/2019
cont’d from Pickettville
Great love and heinous crime have called the old house at at 6443 Old Kings Road home. Sometime around 1920, the J.B. Thompsons built the house and bought the surrounding 14 acres of farmland from Harrison Pickett, whose great grandfather Seymour Pickett first built a sawmill here 200 years ago. The Thompsons moved Harrison Pickett into the house and took care of him here until he died in 1928.
The deep and wide front porch stretches the full front of the tin-roofed house near the corner of Soutel Drive. Rusticated masonry blocks front a porch wall and rise into half piers that hold the four fluted porch columns.
For nearly a century and a half, Pickettville was agricultural land. Beside the cow pastures and Pickett Dairy, farmers grew sugar cane, sweet potato and corn. Light industry moved in near the end of World War II and construction of the Pritchard Road exit from Interstate-295 brought still more industry in 1970. Today the constant sound of semi trucks jake braking and roaring down Soutel and Old Kings permeates the old farmland.
“Harrison Jefferson Pickett,” wrote Pleasant Daniel Gold in his 1928 History of Duval County, Florida, “who is not only a resident of Duval County for 74 years but is a living descendant of four generations of Duval County citizens, was born February 17, 1853, on the same land which his great grandfather settled during the Spanish occupation.”
Gold refers to Picketville as centered on “the New Pickett Station on the Atlantic Coast Line Railway.” In addition to Pickett’s lifelong “farming, cattle raising and butchering,” he served as Duval County Commissioner for 12 years. He died the year the History was published and the Thompsons continued to farm the land.
In 1990, 17 year old Alice Withers spent the night upstairs with Patrick Allen Herald, who probably had not yet begun murdering prostitutes. She’d been living in a West Beaver Street trailer park and wanted desperately to go back home to New Jersey. Her father wrote Pat Herald a note, giving him permission to drive his underage daughter across state lines. They would leave first thing in the morning.
That night, they stayed in the Harrison Pickett House where Pat’s father, James Herald, was living. The wind blew through the branches of the camphor trees outside the bedroom window. Alice fell asleep on the bed. Pat lay down on the floor. Sometime later he crawled into the bed and assaulted her.
At the end of 1993, after Pat Herald was arrested for murdering three prostitutes nearby, detectives found piles of women’s clothing and pornographic magazines in the shed behind the Pickett house. His sister-in-law said that when she and Herald’s brother lived here, Pat would walk around naked except for his sister’s and mother’s underwear. Sometimes, court records attest, he’d black out and end up in New York or Nevada wearing women’s clothes and not knowing how he’d got there. Detectives found piles of hair in the shed, which turned out to be Pat’s. He’d stood regularly in the same place, stripped naked, and shaved his entire body except for a “belt” of hair left to encircle his waist.
Seven decades earlier, before Patrick Allen Herald was sentenced to 25 years minimum, the Thompsons took care of old Mr. Pickett upstairs. Having butchered and farmed all his life, now the former Duval County Commissioner felt a sense of communal love and appreciation at the end of his years. The Thompsons thought he’d earned it. Taking care was the least they could do.