A mule-drawn streetcar on Main Street during the late 1880s.
Jacksonville’s affiliation with streetcars date as far back as 1879 when railroad tycoon Henry B. Plant and his associates formed the Jacksonville Street Railway Company. This investment would ultimately shape the historic urban core mixed-use districts we know and love today. Soon his mule-drawn streetcars connected downtown with Fairfield, LaVilla and what would become Riverside’s Five Points. In 1895, the streetcar system was converted from mules to electricity and extended north of Panama Park. Plant would also acquire Springfield’s Main Street Railroad, giving his companies 15 miles of streetcar lines throughout the city.
A Jacksonville streetcar shortly after being assembled by the Philadelphia-based J.G. Brill Company.
Significant growth came as a result of the Great Fire of 1901. With the core of the city largely destroyed, developer backed streetcar lines fueled the growth of streetcar suburbs such as Riverside, Murray Hill, Durkeeville, New Springfield, Brentwood, Ortega, Phoenix and South Jacksonville (San Marco). Popular 21st century commercial districts such as Five Points (Riverside), Park & King (Riverside), 8th & Main (Springfield), San Marco Square (San Marco), the First Block (Murray Hill), and Myrtle Avenue (Durkeeville) are all mixed-use commercial districts that popped up around streetcar lines serving their respective neighborhoods. Other streetcar stimulated corridors include LaVilla’s Broad Street, the Eastside’s A. Philip Randolph Boulevard, Lackawanna’s McDuff Avenue, the Rail Yard District’s West Beaver Street and San Marco’s Hendricks Avenue. In 1911, the Jacksonville Traction Company was established through the consolidation of several smaller independently operated streetcar companies. In 1912, over 13,828,904 passengers rode the system. In 1924, the opening of South Jacksonville’s line was celebrated by 10,000 citizens. The impact of the car line was immediate, leading to 100 percent increase in new home and business construction in one month. At its height, the Jacksonville Traction Company operated as Florida’s largest streetcar system, with over 60 miles of track throughout the city.
A map of Jacksonville’s former streetcar network. Courtesy of Robert Mann.