Jacksonville Beach has a population of around 20,000, which is amazing considering it was once three, but things changed thanks to the visions of one man and his railroad.
The glass display of a locomotive near the end of Beach Boulevard rests on property donated from the city of Jacksonville Beach to the Beaches Museum and History Park, a spot once home to the areas first train station. The museum takes you on a ride through Jacksonville Beach’s history, from the land’s first inhibitors, to becoming the most desirable vacation spot on the East Coast.
“We have over 30,000 photos, documents, artifacts and maps of the area,” Services Coordinator Josh Pate said. “Basically, if you want to know anything about the area you come here (Beaches Museum and History Park).”
In the early 1880s, the only way to Jacksonville Beach, or Ruby Beach at that time, was by boat. Ruby Beach’s occupants were three members of the Scull family. William and Eleanor pitched a tent they called home, and named the deserted land Ruby Beach after their daughter Ruby. The Sculls would be a small part of the largest population boom and commercialization this land has ever seen.
The visions of one man, Henry Flagler, soon would transform the deserted land into a weekend paradise. Partners with Rockefeller and also loaded with oil wealth, Flagler helped transform the 22-miles of marsh land – thanks to a whole bunch of money.
Murray Hall was the first and most elegant hotel to be constructed. Built in 1886, the hotel advertised electrical bells, hot and cold baths, bowling and a billiard – top notch for that time. The problem was Murray Hall’s visitors (the rich), weren’t fond of the transportation to get there. This is where Flagler comes into play.
In 1888, Flagler purchased 36 miles of railroad in Jacksonville, St. Augustine and the Halifax River (part of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway). This would be the first leg of what would later become the Florida East Coast System – extending from Jacksonville to Key West.
“He (Flagler) helped develop all of Florida though his railroads, which created tons of jobs,” Pate said. “If it wasn’t for him Florida wouldn’t be what it is today.”
About 10 years later, Flagler purchased the Jacksonville and Atlantic Railroad, giving Pablo Beach (changed from Ruby Beach in 1888) an accessible land access, and converted these railroads to standard gauge.
Fun Fact: Docent Keith Baker, at the museum, said the standard gauge tracks are 4 ft. 8 ½ inches wide. The length was designed by the Roman Empire, he said. Rumor is, the standard gauge is the width of two horses standing side-by-side, and it was also the width of Roman roads. Now back to the story…
Flagler knew with the right accommodations extending a railroad east to Pablo Beach could bring a big return, he was right. The standard gauge tracks, ran straight down Beach Boulevard, and allowed for a nicer locomotive and passenger carts, making Murray Hall and the trip much more desirable.
In 1900, as Flagler continued to feed his railroad appetite, he built a railroad inward from Jacksonville to Mayport, Fla. Just as life began to flourish, Flagler died.
Shortly after his death, a boardwalk was constructed (1910s) near 4th street south. Things like an amusement park, dancing and boxing matches began to attract flocks of people.
These flocks made way for things like the first cross-country flight (1922), by James Doolittle from Pablo Beach to San Diego.
In 1925, the slice of paradise would again be changed to Jacksonville Beach. The city of Jacksonville was already well-known, and the name Jacksonville Beach was thought to more attractive. The beach would go onto host the nation’s first barrel races, and so much more.
The museum takes you much further back then this 50-year span, and includes much more within this era, from the areas first inhibitors (Timucuan Indians), to the Sculls and onto today’s modern Jacksonville Beach. As Pate said, if you want to know anything the Beaches Museum and History Park is the place to go.
(So this article is longer and newsier than my others, that’s because it was written for a Ponte Vedra, Fla. Paper. Regardless, I hope you enjoyed.)