Monterey after the opening of the Mathews Bridge during the early 1950s. Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida.
At the age of 20 in August 1766, Joseph Louis Francois of Florence, Italy stepped on a young lady’s dress and was challenged to a duel by her companion. After winning the duel, Francois fled the country to avoid being prosecuted for murder. Settling in Saint Domingue, he operated a plantation cultivating coffee and sugar and became referred to as Sir Joseph Louis Francois dit Richard.
On the eve of the Haitian Revolution, Richard fled Saint Domingue and landed in Charleston in August 1791. Anglicized to Francis Richard I, with 22 enslaved and in need of land to cultivate, Richard headed to Spanish East Florida, signing an oath of allegiance to the King of Spain in order to apply for a 400-acre land grant. By 1819, along with his oldest sons, Richard had acquired over 22,000 acres throughout present day Duval, St. Johns and Putnam counties. Another son owned land in Alachua County and Glynn and Camden counties in Georgia.
Richard’s son, Francis II, soon established a water-powered sawmill in the vicinity of Strawberry Creek and Red Bay Branch. Located on the banks of the St. Johns River and Pottsburg Creek, Strawberry Plantation produced Sea Island cotton, rice and provision crops. By 1837, this property came under the ownership of New York shipbuilder John S. Sammis after the death of Richard II. Married to the youngest daughter of Zephaniah and Anna Jai Kingsley, Sammis eventually became one of Duval County’s largest owners of the enslaved.
In 1832, Elizabeth Ann Richard, the granddaughter of Francis Richard and Jacksonville founder Isiah Hart, married Robert Bigelow. Following the wedding, the couple settled on land granted to Richard roughly a mile north of Strawberry Plantation known as Floral Bluff. Featuring a half-mile of riverfront and ravines, Floral Bluff used enslaved African labor to cultivate sea island cotton, sugar cane, corn and oranges.
An 1880s map of Jacksonville and Arlington. Present day Monterey is located between the communities of Floral Bluff and Arlington in this map. Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida.
In 1873, the remnants of Strawberry Plantation was acquired by a New Jersey-based religious group and developed as a sectarian resort known as the Florida Winter Home. Quickly failing, the property was then purchased by William Matthews and rebranded the community of Arlington Bluff Association. Using a steamer named Clifton to access Jacksonville, this area of Arlington eventually became the neighborhood of Clifton.
At the former Floral Bluff Plantation, much of the land was platted by Gilbert Shepard as the community of Floral Bluff in 1887. A country road paralleling the river, connected these communities with Chaseville to the north. With the May 1888 opening of the Jacksonville, Mayport and Pablo Railroad and Navigation Company (JM&P), Floral Bluff emerged as a major centralized steamboat landing for rural communities on the east side of the river. Operating between Arlington and Mayport, the JM&P would not last long. By 1895, the railroad had closed, leading to the decline of the small communities along its path.
20th Century Monterey
The Mathews Bridge as seen from Arlington’s Riverton Tower.
On May 3, 1901, the City of Jacksonville was largely destroyed by fire. The result was a building boom during the first decade of the 20th century that transformed Jacksonville into Florida’s first major city. Despite Jacksonville’s growth, the Arlington area remained rural and undeveloped due to its isolation and lack of direct access to the urbanizing city. In 1913, much of Francois Richard’s original land grant between the two former plantations was purchased by the Alderman Realty Company. Alderman was organized by Frederick Bruce and H.L. Sprinkle in 1911.
Between the riverfront and Chaseville Road, Alderman platted this strip of land as Arlington Heights. At the foot of St. Johns Street (present day Arlington Road), Alderman established a ferry to provide fifteen minute service between the community and Downtown Jacksonville at the foot of Beaver Street. During this era, the area became a desired filming destination for many of the city’s silent film studios. Connecting the ferry landing to Atlantic Beach Road, where Arlington Road met Chaseville Road became known as a small commercial center known as the Crossroads.
The Mathews Bridge under construction. Built between 1951 and 1953, it was dedicated to Judge Mathews who had advocated building the bridge since the early 1930s. It measures 7,382 feet long, and consists of six main panels and 59 approach spans.
Through 1950, Arlington was known more for its moonshine stills than the ranch houses that dominate its streets today. This would change with the construction of the Mathews Bridge. Discussed for years, ferry service to Arlington was discontinued in 1938 to build support for the bridge’s construction. With the help of John E. Mathews, a state legislator and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the steel cantilever bridge opened on April 15, 1953. For the next twenty years, Arlington emerged as the fastest growing community in Duval County. What was once a rural area between two former plantations was rapidly transformed into a mid-century community known as Monterey. Built at the height of the Mid-Century Modern design movement, the neighborhood features a compat mix of custom built residences, American Ranch-style houses, apartments and commercial uses around the interchange of the Arlington Expressway and University Boulevard. In 1968, the Arlington area became a part of Jacksonville through the consolidation of the city with Duval County.
Today, Monterey’s Mid-Century Modern architecture is historic in its own right. Nevertheless, a walk down its streets will reveal the remnants of late 19th and early 20th century communities of Floral Bluff and Arlington Heights.
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