The intersection of Beaver Street and Acorn Street in New Town. (State Archives of Florida)
With Downtown Jacksonville being rebuilt as a metropolis of concrete and steel during the aftermath of the Great Fire, its industrial base began to expand around the conglomeration of rail lines west of the city. By the 1910, the area around the intersection of Enterprise (Beaver Street) and Myrtle Avenue had become home to a cluster of naval stores and forest product manufacturers including ACME Naval Stores Company, National Transportation & Terminal Company, Jacksonville Lumber Company, Doscher Gardner Company Lumber, Enterprise Lumber & Box Company. With LaVilla being built out and Jacksonville being segregated, new subdivision plats such as Lincolnton, West End, Smith Allotment, Heselton & Paynes, Nooney’s and Harris & Bradys began to emerge in a compact triangular area bounded by railroad lines and the Kings Road streetcar line.
CSX’s Moncrief Yard serves as New Town’s western border.
Sparsely populated during its early years, this collection of small subdivisions became a “new town” for African-American workers with the expansion of the Jacksonville Terminal and associated rail-based operations in 1919. Characterized with an unorthodox street grid where multiple subdivision plats came together at odd angles, New Town was also bolstered by the relocation of Edward Waters College (EWC). Founded in 1866 by members of the AME church as an institution to educate the formerly enslaved, Florida’s oldest historically black college was located in downtown and destroyed by the Great Fire of 1901. 1904 the college obtained property near the intersection of Kings Road and Tyler Street in New Town for a new campus. During the neighborhood’s early years, EWC’s notable alumni included John Jordan “Buck” O’Neil, Jr. and Asa Philip Randolph.
Edward Waters College
Later in life, O’Neil credited Jacksonville as the jump off point for his famous career and lifetime achievements. At the time of O’Neil’s childhood, only four high schools existed in Florida where African-Americans could attend. Seeking a life that offered more the working in celery fields, O’Neil left rural Sarasota to live with Jacksonville relatives in order to complete high school and start college. Moving to Jacksonville in 1929 and playing with city boys at EWC, O’Neil was given the nickname “Country” because of his rural upbringing. Under the guidance of legendary coach Ox Clemons, he excelled, eventually leaving town in 1934 to play for the Miami Giants, Memphis Red Sox and Kansas City Monarchs during the course of his Negro League baseball career. Becoming a Negro League manager and scout in 1948, he sent more African-Americans to the Major Leagues than any other individual during his career. In 1962, this culminated with the Chicago Cubs making O’Neil the first African-American manager of a Major League team.
Raised in the Eastside, Randolph briefly attended EWC before moving on to nearby Sugar Hill’s Cookman Institute. In 1911, a young Randolph frustrated by there being little economic opportunity in Jacksonville for African-American men outside of low wage manual labor jobs, left the city for Harlem in hopes of becoming an actor. Instead, he went from being labeled the most dangerous black man in the country to founding the country’s first black labor union and organizing Martin Luther king Jr.’s March on Washington in 1963.
Tyler Street’s New Bethel AME Church was designed and built by James Edward Hutchins.
New Town is also home to a collection of buildings designed and constructed by prominent African-American architects such as James Edward Hutchins. After arriving in Jacksonville from Blakely, GA, Hutchins worked as a Pullman Porter and carpenter with New Town’s Dawkins Building and Supply Company several years before establishing his own construction company in the 1930s.
One of the few local African-American contractors that also designed their buildings, Hutchins is responsible for several African American churches and residences in New Town and surrounding Northwest Jacksonville neighborhoods. After World War II, Hutchins worked with the Veterans Administration to train African-American carpenters, brick masons and architects. New Town also was the home to Florida’s first black-owned bottling company, 50-50 Bottling. 50-50 was founded by Abraham Lincoln Lewis, a human rights pioneer, entrepreneur, humanitarian, philanthropist and one of Florida’s first black millionaires. The son of former slaves, Lewis spent his lifetime overcoming racial inequities, including establishing American Beach (a National Historic Landmark today), the Lincoln Golf & Country Club, financially supporting HBCUs, co-founding the Afro-American Life Insurance Company and several cemeteries for Jacksonville’s black community.
A ghost sign marks the location of the first Jenkins Bar-B-Q location on Kings Road in New Town. In 1957, Melton Jenkins, Jr. and his wife, Willie Mae, opened their first Jenkins Quality Barbecue with $125 and a secret sauce handed down from his father. Initially the business was advertised by word of mouth and “smoke signals”. Sixty-two years later, Jenkins Quality Barbecue still feeds hungry Jaxsons with a simple menu - ribs, chicken, pork, beef, wings and a handful of sides, cooked over an oak wood-fired pit and wrapped in butcher paper at three locations across the city.
Today, New Town survives as one of the urban core’s most densely populated unprotected historic neighborhoods. Located immediately northwest of Downtown and north of the Rail Yard District. It is bounded by Kings Road to the north, Myrtle Avenue to the east, CSX’s Moncrief Yard to the west, and Beaver Street to the south.
Next Page: A Photo Tour Of New Town