Platted in 1841 by David Palmer and Darius Ferris, the community was initially known as Mayport Mills with an economy based around the lumber industry and fishing. Early settlers came from the island of Minorca, Portugal and France, working as bar pilots and fishermen.
Growth came with the extension of railroads to community, allowing coal-powered trains to load coal directly from its docks. However, disaster struck in 1917 when most of the town was destroyed by fire. During the Great Depression, the Florida East Coast Railway abandoned its line. Following the departure of the railroad, fishing and shrimping took over the community, which remained relatively until 1940 with the establishment of what is now Mayport Naval Station. The construction of the naval installation also radically changed access into the community, which was originally entered from the east.
While 19th century shrimpers used rowboats to cast their nets in in-shore waters, new technology allowed shrimpers to harvest bigger, mature shrimp offshore leading to the birth of the commercial shrimping industry. By the mid-20th century, Mayport’s Ocean Street had become lined with a number of seafood restaurants, fish houses, and markets, attracting both local residents and tourist.
A 1970s aerial view of Mayport Village looking southwest over the St. Johns River Ferry terminal. Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida.
Mayport’s fortunes began to decline during the 1980s due to a variety of factors including rising fuel costs, government regulation and foreign competition. In 1998, the community was one of the first three waterfront communities designated by the State of Florida as being in need of revitalization. A decade ago, another significant blow was dealt when JaxPort acquired much of its waterfront in anticipation of developing a cruise ship terminal. Razing former restaurants, fish houses, and docks as a result, remaining fishermen lost several places where they could unload their catch, take on ice, water and fuel. With nowhere to dock, many shrimp boats and businesses relocated to other area waterways.
Ultimately, JaxPort’s proposed terminal failed to materialize and the property was recently acquired by the City of Jacksonville. Seeking to re-energize the fishing village, a plan is being created to activate the core of Mayport with the facilities necessary for it to become the epicenter of Northeast Florida’s shrimping industry. Plans call for the neglected JaxPort property to be developed with a variety of new uses including a commercial fish processing plant, restaurants, retail, recreational space, and new docks. In addition, Jacksonville University is considering developing a world-class shark education center and relocating its OCEARCH research vessel to the property. To facilitate this vision, the City of Jacksonville has recently awarded a contract to the Haskell Company to develop a master plan for the property. The City has also budgeted $1.96 million for the design and construction of new floating docks and $2.2 million for a new Mayport community center.
Today, the community remains a local favorite because of its laid back atmosphere, waterfront setting and excellent seafood. However, it appears this series of improvements by the City of Jacksonville and community advocates could result in Mayport strengthening its status as one of the oldest fishing villages in the region.
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