1. The Florida Baptist Academy

Graduates of the Florida Baptist Academy in 1907 | University of North Florida

In 1892, the Florida Baptist Academy was established by the Rev. Matthew Gilbert, the Rev. J.T. Brown and Sarah Ann Blocker. Originally located on East 6th Street between Harrison and Franklin streets, the higher educational institution was founded to espouse education in industry, teaching, agriculture and mechanics, along with “domestic arts” and religious training. John Rosamond Johnson, the composer of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” was a noted faculty member of the college, recruited by then President Nathan White Collier. Zora Neale Hurston was an early student. Eventually expelled, she went on in life to become an internationally known folklorist, anthropologist, author, and key figure of the Harlem Renaissance.

In 1918, the Florida Baptist Academy relocated the Old Homes Plantation in St. Augustine. The school also changed its name to the Florida Normal and Industrial Institute. In 1941, the school merged with Live Oak’s Florida Baptist Institute, changing from a junior college into a four-year liberal arts program. There, Hurston spent time as a part-time professor while completing her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road. The early 1960s brought another name change – this time, to Florida Memorial College. In 1968, the school relocated to present-day Miami Gardens. And in 2006, Florida Memorial College changed its name to Florida Memorial University.

2. Matthew W. Gilbert High School

1424 Franklin St.

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The Eastside suffered a cultural and educational loss when its only school, the Florida Baptist Academy, relocated to St. Augustine in 1918. The community then lobbied the Board of Education of Duval County for a replacement school on the former Baptist Academy site. As a result, the Franklin Street Public School No. 146 opened its doors in 1927. The two-story brick structure was designed by local architect Roy Benjamin. Originally an elementary school, the public school was expanded into a junior high in 1939 and, in 1944, the school’s name was changed to Matthew William Gilbert in honor of the president of the Florida Baptist Academy and pastor of Bethel Baptist Institutional Church.

In 1950, the school was converted into the Matthew William Gilbert Junior-Senior High School. Notable alumni include Henry Lee Adams, Jr., the first African American judge in the federal Middle District of Florida, and Bob Hayes, the only athlete to win both an Olympic gold medal and an NFL Super Bowl ring. Forced to integrate its school system in 1971, the Duval County School Board closed the high school in 1971 and reverted the property into a junior high.

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3. C.M. Shaw Funeral Home

915 East Union Street

A view of the C.M. Shaw Funeral Home on the 900 block of East Union Street. | Ritz Theatre & Museum

Now the home of Buster Ford Checkerboard Park, the property at the intersection of East Union Street and A. Philip Randolph Boulevard was developed between 1989 and 1995. In coordination with the city of Jacksonville, the Eastside Legacy Business Council, LIFT Jax and other community stakeholders are working on a plan to renovate the park as a part of ongoing efforts to revitalize the A. Philip Randolph Boulevard corridor.

4. Willie Smith’s Florida Cut Rate Pharmacy

1230 Florida Ave.

A view of Willie Smith’s Florida Cut Rate Pharmacy. | Ritz Theatre & Museum

Willie Smith operated pharmacies in the Eastside and LaVilla neighborhoods, just outside of Downtown Jacksonville. This building at 1230 Florida Ave. was completed in 1937. Here’s a view of its interior:

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5. The Debs Store

1478 Florida Ave.

For nearly 100 years, the red brick building at the southwest corner of Florida Avenue and East 5th Street was an important symbol of vitality and life in the Eastside. Built in 1913 by African American contractor Edward D. Mixson, the Debs Store operated as an old fashioned neighborhood grocery market for the Eastside community. During the late 1920s, the property was acquired by Nicholas and Rosa Debs. Prior to the purchase and moving their family into the second-floor apartment, the Debses briefly operated their grocery business a few blocks east at 1738 Franklin St. after arriving in Jacksonville from Lebanon during the early 1920s.

Over the decades, the Debs Store grew into a neighborhood institution offering fresh produce, meats, dairy and other products. Generations of neighborhood kids grew up knowing to “go to Debs” for their groceries, sundries, newspapers, and any family necessity even if it meant putting the cost of the items “on the book” until such time as the family could pay. These same kids sent their kids and their kids’ kids to Debs daily to buy everything from fresh greens to handkerchiefs.

It also became a place where neighborhood children were hired to stock shelves and make deliveries by bike. Following the end of World War II, sons Nick and Eugene Debs took over the business. The brothers continued to operate the Debs Store until they became too ill to maintain the business. When Eugene Debs passed in 2006, the family arranged for the funeral procession to travel along Florida Avenue and stop in front of the store, allowing a block of neighbors and friends lined on both sides of the street to greet Gene as he passed the store for the final time. Nicholas continued to run the business until falling ill shortly before his death in 2011.

This historically significant site in the Eastside community is currently being restored into a grocery market and financial services hub designed to honor the past while also contributing to the economic stabilization of the surrounding community.

6. Anderson Department Store

965 A. Philip Randolph Blvd.

A view inside the Anderson Department Store

Dating back to 1909, The Anderson Department Store was operated by Richard Anderson. Charlotte Scott Anderson Lewis, Richard’s mother, was married to the father of A.L. Lewis, the longtime president of the Afro-American Life Insurance Co. Born enslaved on the Sessions Plantation in Savannah, Georgia, and known to many as “Aunt Charlotte,” she became one of Jacksonville’s most wealthy African American women by the early 20th century. Her assets included land in what is now Arlington, Jacksonville Beach, several properties throughout the Eastside, a laundry business, a truck garden, store and warehouse. Despite not being able to read and write, Aunt Charlotte amassed a fortune by the time of her death in 1928. On property that she acquired, her son Richard lived above and operated the store until his death in 1960.