Located in Riverside, Silvertown was a small community bounded by present day King, Gilmore and Green streets, along with a change in the street grid just north of where Barrs Street meets Haldumar Terrace. Straddling the former Jacksonville, Tampa & Key West Railway, Silvertown materialized as part of an 1880s westward expansion of nearby African-American communities south of McCoys Creek such as Brooklyn, Campbell Hill and West Lewisville.
Early development in the vicinity predated the 1822 platting of Jacksonville. In 1815, 150 acres were granted by the Spanish government to Robert Hutchinson along the St. Johns River for the creation of a plantation. By 1836, William McKay owned what had grown to become a 500 acre property called Magnolia Plantation. At Magnolia, 50 enslaved cultivated the land, producing sea island cotton.
In 1850, the plantation was acquired by Elias Jaudon. Producing cotton, sugar cane, sweet potatoes, corn, sheep and cattle, Jaudon expanded Magnolia into an operation covering more than 1,000 acres of land. Jaudon and Peggy, enslaved by Jaudon, were charter members of what became First Baptist Church and The Bethel Church. Following the civil war, the suburbs of LaVilla and Brooklyn were immediately established and populated by former black Union soldiers and emancipated enslaved just west of Jacksonville. Still considered the frontier, Magnolia Plantation was sold and divided into several truck farms.
In 1881, the Jacksonville, Tampa and Key West Railway was completed between Jacksonville and Palatka. In 1899, it became a part of Henry B. Plant’s Plant System. Plant, who started Jacksonville’s first streetcar line in 1880, was the railroad tycoon responsible for connecting Jacksonville to the north by railroad, enabling the city to become a tourist resort during the 1880s. This railroad would bring an end to the steamboat era along the St. Johns River. However, it would spur new development along its path. With LaVilla and Brooklyn rapidly filling up, by the 1880s, Jacksonville’s increasing African-American population expanded west and east of the city. This westward expansion resulted in the platting of African-American neighborhoods of Campbell Hill and West Lewisville along the JT&KW; Railroad.
Just south of West Lewisville, German immigrant, Brooklyn resident and merchant August Buesing, acquired land for an additional black community on the edge of town. Buesing, an advocate of equal rights for women and people of color, named his new community Silvertown. Like many other 19th century settlements catering to the region’s Gullah Geechee population, although not directly located on the St. Johns River, Silvertown was situated near a marshy area that was connected to the river by a small creek, enabling its residents an opportunity to live off the land and water, similar to their ancestors before them. Residents of Silvertown included Isaac and Lula Hamilton. Employed by the city’s street cleaning department, Isaac Hamilton married Lula Young, a laundress, in 1921. The couple moved to Silvertown soon after where the family would reside through the 1980s at 741 King Street.
Located adjacent to the railroad, the area north of Silvertown became an early location for planing mills and heavy industry. Industries included the Schelle-Sasse Manufacturing Company and the Dinsmore Dairy Company. Schell-Sasse manufactured millwork, sash and doors for a number of clients including George E. Merrick and his Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables. Establishing an openly pro-desegregation dairy plant next to Silvertown in the 1930s, the Dinsmore Dairy Company was the most famous retailer of dairy products in North Florida by the 1950s. Owners Charles and Earl Johnson were involved with the NAACP, SCLC, the Human Relations Council, Urban League, Brewster Hospital, the Clara White Mission and Eartha White Nursing. Because of their work, the local KKK and white citizen council groups organized a boycott which destroyed the business in 1959.
An early example of displacement, Silvertown was quickly engulfed by Riverside’s growth and by 1930, only a handful of original residents remained in the neighborhood. By the 1960s, an adjacent African-American neighborhood just north of Silvertown had been razed for the construction of Interstate 10, creating a physical barrier between Riverside and the majority African-American population neighborhoods of West Lewisville and Brooklyn. Today, Silvertown is no more. However, the reconstruction era community’s streets and a couple of residences remain, fully integrated into the Riverside/Avondale Historic District.
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