5. American Fibre Company
By the turn of the century, Waldo W. Cleaveland had become quite the local businessman. Residing at 416 West Forsyth Street, he was the proprietor of the Hotel Geneva at 419 West Forsyth Street, the Cleaveland Furniture Company at 421-27 West Forsyth Street, and the American Fibre Company in LaVilla. Located at the northwest corner of Beaver and Davis Streets, the American Fibre Company manufactured bed springs and mattresses.
It was here on May 3, 1901 around noon, a spark from a small wood-burning stove would set ablaze Spanish moss laid out to dry at Cleaveland’s factory. Eight hours later, 146 city blocks, 2,368 buildings and seven lives had been lost, resulting in nearly 10,000 homeless Jaxsons. Known as the Great Fire of 1901, the fire was the largest metropolitan fire recorded in the American South, with a black plume of smoke being seen as far north as Raleigh, NC. While a major disaster, Jacksonville would never be the same again as the rebuilding effort transformed the city into Florida’s first city to surpass 100,000 residents.
Like many, Cleaveland did rebuild the American Fiber Company after the fire. However, the rebuilding effort resulted in LaVilla becoming an early Blues and Jazz destination, turning the mattress factory block into an entertainment destination by 1913. Today, nearly 30 years after a failed urban renewal effort, this historic city-owned block remains vacant.
4. Hogans Creek
Hogans Creek forms downtown’s north and east borders as it stretches from the St. Johns River to the medical campus of UF Health Jacksonville in Springfield. Once known as Jacksonville’s “Grand canale,” the creek is named after the Hogans family. In 1823, the Spanish government validated John Hogan’s claim to the Springfield area, which was then known as Hogans’ Donation. The adjacent Eastside neighborhood was a part of the 225-acre Spanish land grant provided to Daniel Hogans. If not for the creek and its marshes stopping the Great Fire of 1901 from extending north and east of Downtown, the 19th century suburbs of East Jacksonville, Fairfield, Oakland, and Springfield would have also likely been destroyed by fire.
3. James Weldon Johnson Park
Set aside in Isaiah Hart’s 1857 survey of Jacksonville and originally called City Park, this space was rebranded as Hemming Park in 1898, following the donation of a Confederate Monument by civil war veteran Charles C. Hemming. During the Great Fire of 1901, many residents of the city placed their belongings at the base of the monument hoping that their possessions would be saved from the fire. That plan did not work as the fire also consumed the park, causing the base of the monument to possess a red glow during the fire. Although a portion of the Confederate Monument was removed during summer 2020, the base of the monument in the heart of what is now known as James Weldon Johnson Park, is one of the few structures in downtown Jacksonville to survive the Great Fire of 1901.