Early history: from Thigpen to Baldwin
Dr. Abel Seymour Baldwin. Courtesy of DigitalFGCU.
The town of Baldwin, located in western Duval County about 20 miles from Downtown Jacksonville, was born through transportation. By 1835, a weekly stagecoach line was operating on the road between Jacksonville and Tallahassee, and a man named Thigpen built a tavern as a waystation for travelers. By 1839, a small community named Thigpen had grown up around the station. In 1851, work began on a plank road to improve travel on the soft ground between Jacksonville and Thigpen, but a planned extension to the town of Alligator (modern Lake City) was never completed.
Lillie Winn Breare on the porch of a country store in Baldwin circa 1926. Courtesy of Florida Memory.
Further growth came in the 1850s as the town became a crossroad for railroads. Dr. Abel Seymour Baldwin, a physician whose practice spread across Duval County, was elected to the Florida Legislature in 1852 and successfully chartered the Florida, Atlantic and Gulf Central Railway, which ultimately ran from Jacksonville to Alligator with a stop in Thigpen. He subsequently served as the railroad’s first president. In 1860, David Levy Yulee’s Florida Railway opened between Fernandina and Cedar Key, also with a stop in Thigpen. About this time, residents renamed their town Baldwin in honor of their benefactor.
During the Civil War, Baldwin became an important hub for the Confederacy, as it was key to controlling railway supply lines from southern Florida to Georgia. In 1864, Union forces in Jacksonville pushed the Confederates out of Baldwin as part of the Olustee campaign but were unable to hold it due to their loss at the Battle of Olustee. Five months later, the Union returned and destroyed Baldwin’s railroad tracks.
Consolidation and independence
US 301 in Baldwin in 1956. Courtesy of Florida Memory.
Baldwin rebuilt after the war, and was officially chartered as a town in 1876. It continued to serve as a transportation hub for road and rail traffic through the 20th century, with major thoroughfares like Interstate 10, US 301, and US 90 passing through or near the town. In 1968, Baldwin residents voted in favor of the consolidation of the Jacksonville and Duval County governments while also electing to retain their independent city government. As such, Baldwin gets county level services from the City of Jacksonville and votes in Jacksonville elections, but retains control over various local functions.
Baldwin’s railyard in 1979. Courtesy of Florida Memory.
Today, the town has a population of about 1,500. Though increasingly surrounded by the continued growth of Jacksonville’s Westside, Baldwin retains its identity as a small town with history and architecture that can’t be replicated anywhere else.
Next page: Photo tour of Baldwin