The Mount Zion Community
With Florida under Spanish rule in 1795, an Italian named Francois Richard was the recipient of one of the largest land grants encouraging settlers to live in the area. Richard, who had operated a sugar cane plantation in the Dominican Republic, used his grant to establish the 8,000-acre Strawberry Plantation along the banks of the St. Johns River and Pottsburg Creek. Richard’s plantation produced Sea Island cotton, rice and provisions crops. In addition, The plantation also included a lumber mill, cotton gin, gristmill for grinding corn and a brickyard. In fact, much of antebellum buildings in downtown were constructed of brick manufactured by the enslaved at Strawberry.
Circa 1840, the plantation was sold to John S. Sammis. Born in New York, Sammis worked for prominent plantation owner Zephaniah Kingsley prior to marrying Mary Kingsley in 1830. Mary was the daughter of Kingsley and his African-born wife, Anna Madgigine Jai. Sammis eventually moved away from slavery, freeing some of his enslaved workers and selling others in New Orleans in 1860. Father to a mixed race family, Sammis became an outspoken advocate for the Union during the Civil War. Threatened with violence by Confederate sympathizers, he moved his family to the north in 1862.
Across the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, which spans from St. Johns County north to Wilmington, NC, after the war formerly enslaved families generally settled on land close to the plantation on which they had worked. Known as African-American settlement communities, several formed on land that had been previously a part of the Strawberry Plantation. Along Strawberry Creek, the community of Mount Zion originated as early as 1862 when the White Family Cemeter (also known as Lone Star Cemetery) was established. Organized in 1866, the Mount Zion Methodist Church quickly became the religious and social hub of the community. Far from Reconstruction era Jacksonville, residents lived a self-sustaining life in close proximity to area waterways where they were able to crab, fish, and shrimp and provide food for their loved ones. Linked together with a network of trails and foot paths, Mount Zion’s residents were connected to other Arlington area African American settlement communities such as Chaseville, Gilmore, Cosmo and Causey Lane.
The rural character of Arlington’s African American settlement communities began to disappear after the end of World War II. In 1944, Ira Boyd Humphreys began mining ancient beach sands to produce limenite and titanium at Mount Zion. His company, Humphreys Gold Corporation, served as a major employer for the community between 1944 and 1961. In addition, the 1953 opening of the Mathews Bridge led to the explosive growth of Arlington and the 1967 opening of Regency Square Mall.
In 2003, the land around the church and cemetery was approved for the development of a mixed-use project called Kendall Town Center. Proposed by GL National, Inc., Kendall Town Center was approved to include up to 1,800 residences, 120 assisted living units, 480,000 square feet of retail space, 360,000 square feet of office space and 280 hotel rooms. The portion of the project mostly impacting the remnants of the Mount Zion community has since been developed into the Mill Creek North subdivision. Today, excluding the historic Mount Zion United Methodist Church congregation and Lone Star Cemetery, the community that once straddled Strawberry Creek is no more. The Mount Zion United Methodist Church and Lone Star Cemetery are located at 1238 Ballard Ridge Road.
Mount Zion United Methodist Church
The Mount Zion United Methodist Church was established in 1866. It was the social and religious hub of the Mount Zion community.
Lone Star Cemetery
Burials at the Harvey White Family Cemetery, also known as Lone Star Cemetery, are known to date as far back as 1862.
Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at email@example.com