Shrimp boats on the St. Johns River.
Looking to cash in on the region’s real estate market and the natural beauty of Duval’s sea islands, Heckscher bankrolled the $1.5 million construction of Heckscher Drive, having the road pumped in from the river, creating a chain a small man-made islands along the road’s path that exist today. Completed in 1926, the 16-mile toll road connected Old Fernandina Road along the north bank of the St. Johns River with Batten Island through the inclusion of seven bridges. Three years later, the road was expanded to nearby Fort George Island. The completion of Heckscher Drive was a testament to the dream of Heckscher and the Bay Shore Company that making these barrier islands accessible to motorist would open 17,000 acres of coastal land to new real estate development opportunities.
Also known as the Mayport Ferry, the Saint Johns River Ferry is an automobile ferry between Fort George Island and Mayport that dates back to 1874.
'’We are of those who can wait,’’ said the internationally known capitalist. ‘‘We know that Jacksonville, bound to grow by leaps and bounds, will in time appreciate what we have accomplished. Let us face the future with confidence.’’ – August Heckscher
The Browns Creek Bridge. The local tradition of bridge fishing is still alive and well on Heckscher Drive.
Ultimately, Jacksonville did grow by leaps and bounds. However, Florida’s first real estate bubble was already in the process of bursting when Heckscher was in the process of making his big investment in the region. While his plans for a hotel and casino never came to fruition, the construction of Heckscher Drive did become an important connection between Jacksonville and Nassau County’s Amelia Island. In 1944, three years after his passing on April 21, 1941, the road was acquired by the state of Florida. In 1988, much of the environmentally sensitive land along the Heckscher Drive corridor became a part of the 46,000 acre Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve.
George Gibbs III established Atlantic Marine in 1964. Now Jacksonville’s largest shipyard operator, Atlantic Marine was acquired by BAE Systems in 2010 for $325 million.
Despite Jacksonville continuing to grow leaps and bounds and its tendency to overlook the importance of historic and cultural preservation, the Heckscher Drive corridor remains one of a few coastal areas in Jacksonville where the region’s historic cultural make-up and identity is still alive, well and noticeable. Here, you find everything from natural beaches, coastal forest and fish camps to active shipyards, marinas, seafood restaurants and bridge fishing. If you want to get a taste of old Jacksonville’s authentic historic and cultural identity, a trip down Heckscher Drive is a necessary requirement.
In business to capitalize on the area’s booming shrimp market since 1954, the Sandollar Restaurant & Marina is one of several waterfront seafood restaurants and bars along Heckscher Drive.
Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at firstname.lastname@example.org