History of Jacksonville, Florida and Vicinity: 1513 to 1924

T. Frederick Davis, Florida Historical Society, 1925

The first full historical account of Jacksonville, Frederick Davis’ book presents a valuable overview of the region’s early history. Written by a white Southerner at the end of the period known as the nadir of American race relations, it contains numerous problematic interpretations of the events of the Civil War and Reconstruction that were characteristic of historical writing at the time. On other topics, Davis was a meticulous researcher who consulted many obscure historical documents that were not well known at the time. Despite its flaws, the book is worth checking out today. Now in the public domain, it can be read online here.

Secret Jacksonville: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful and Obscure

Bill Delaney, Reedy Press, 2021

Written by Jaxson co-owner and editor Bill Delaney, Secret Jacksonville is a guidebook to unusual and underknown spots and stories from Jacksonville, St. Augustine, Fernandina and the rest of the First Coast. The book pulls together 86 places touching on little known history, folklore and everything in between. To purchase a copy, go here.

Jacksonville and the Roots of Southern Rock

Michael Ray FitzGerald, University Press of Florida, 2020

Though long overlooked, Jacksonville was the epicenter of Southern rock, a subgenre whose heyday was the late 1960s and 1970s, and remains popular today. Throughout this period, Jacksonville produced an unparalleled stream of musicians of national prominence, including Gram Parsons, the Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet, 38 Special, Cowboy, and Blackfoot, as well as more recent acts carrying on the legacy. In this book, FitzGerald, an academic, writer and former professional musician, goes a long way toward giving Jacksonville its proper due in the annals of rock history. To purchase a copy, click here.

Lost Restaurants of Jacksonville

Dorothy K. Fletcher, The History Press, 2013

In Lost Restaurants of Jacksonville, Dorothy K. Fletcher takes a food history tour with stops at some of the most beloved eateries from Jacksonville’s past. From humble spots like Morrison’s Cafeteria to family favorites like the Homestead to classy joints like Le Chateau, Fletcher covers a wide array of Jacksonville dining.

Duncan Upshaw Fletcher: Dixie’s Reluctant Progressive

Wayne Flynt, Florida State University Press, 1971

The definitive biography of Duncan U. Fletcher, a long serving Jacksonville public servant. He served two terms as Mayor of Jacksonville from 1893–1895 and 1901–1903; during his second term, he led the rebuilding of Downtown Jacksonville after the Great Fire of 1901. He was also a member of the Florida House of Representatives and served four terms in the U.S. Senate from 1909–1936. Among his activities in the Senate, he led the Pecora Commission’s investigation of the 1929 stock market crash, which led to new reforms in the U.S. financial sector. Duncan U. Fletcher Middle and High Schools in the Jacksonville Beaches are named for him.

The Great Fire of 1901

Bill Foley and Wayne Wood, Jacksonville Historical Society, 2001

Written by Florida Times-Union editor Bill Foley and local historian Wayne Wood, this book chronicles the Great Fire that destroyed over 90% of Downtown Jacksonville in 1901. Using historical sketches and contemporary accounts, Foley and Wood tell the story of one of Jacksonville’s darkest days.

Cora Crane: A Biography of Mrs. Stephen Crane

Lillian Gilkes, Indiana University Press, 1960

This biography chronicles the life and times of one of the most interesting people in Jacksonville history. Cora Crane, nee Taylor, first came to local prominence as the proprietor of the most prestigious brothel in Jacksonville’s red light district, and in 1896 she began a romance with Stephen Crane, author of The Red Badge of Courage. Cora accompanied Stephen on assignment to Europe where she launched her own writing career and became one of the world’s first female war correspondents. After Stephen’s death in 1900, Cora returned to Jacksonville where she opened more high end brothels and continued her writing.

The Book of Isaiah

Tim Gilmore (author), Shep Shepard (illustrator), CreateSpace, 2017

Tim Gilmore is one of the best known and most prolific writers in Jacksonville today. A Florida State College at Jacksonville professor by day, he has written 20 books, most about his hometown; he is also a regular contributor to The Jaxson. Here we’re including just a sample of his many works.

The Book of Isaiah is a work of literary nonfiction about Isaiah D. Hart, the founder of Jacksonville. Hart got his start as a slave raider who kidnapped free and enslaved Blacks and sold them into bondage in Georgia; he later used his ill-gotten gains to become one of North Florida’s biggest real estate owners. In 1822, he led the push to carve the town of Jacksonville out of his holdings. The book offers a unique look at Jacksonville’s shadowy early days and the eccentric figure who founded it. To purchase a copy, click here.

Murder Capital: Eight Stories, 1890s – 1980s

Tim Gilmore, Independently published, 2020

Tim Gilmore’s 20th book is some of his best work. For more than a century Jacksonville has suffered from a high murder rate, and in Murder Capital, Gilmore explores eight particularly notorious killings from the city’s history. Each murder has roots that go far deeper than the specific circumstances that led to it, and Gilmore uses his accounts to explore the time, place, and milieu in which they occurred. To purchase a copy, click here.

Augusta Savage: Renaissance Woman

Jeffreen M. Hayes, Giles Press, 2018

Sculptor Augusta Savage grew up in Green Cove Springs, where she made her first sculptures with local clay. In 1920, she became one of the many locals to relocate to New York and take part in the Harlem Renaissance. Among her best known works is “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” or “The Harp,” a monumental sculpture inspired by James Weldon Johnson’s famed hymn. A plaster version was displayed at the 1938 World’s Fair, but Savage was never able to make a permanent bronze version. Hayes’ book discusses Savage’s life and impact and features images of all her surviving works.

Zora Neale Hurston: A Literary Biography

Robert E. Hemenway, University of Illinois Press, 1977

Using Hurston’s autobiography Dust Tracks on a Road and many other sources, Hemenway reconstructs the life of literary icon Zora Neale Hurston, who lived for many years in Jacksonville. An anthropologist, novelist, and leading light of the Harlem Renaissance, Hurston left a long legacy on American and Black literature. In addition to being a thorough chronicle of Hurston and her literary output, this biography contains much information about Eatonville, Jacksonville and other locales as she experienced them.

It was Never about a Hot Dog and a Coke!: A Personal Account of the 1960 Sit-in Demonstrations in Jacksonville, Florida and Ax Handle Saturday

Rodney L. Hurst, Wingspan Press, 2008

In 1960, a 16-year-old Rodney L. Hurst led the NAACP’s Jacksonville Youth Council as they organized sit-in protests at whites-only lunch counters in Downtown Jacksonville. Hurst personally experienced Ax Handle Saturday, the dark day when a group of white racists bludgeoned the demonstrators and then turned their attacks on every black person they came across. This book serves as Hurst’s personal account of events that pushed Jacksonville from Jim Crow into the modern era.

Dust Tracks on a Road: An Autobiography

Zora Neale Hurston, J. B. Lippincott, 1942 (first edition, reprinted several times)

Multifaceted novelist, anthropologist, and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston came to Jacksonville in 1904 at the age of 13 to attend boarding school. Largely cut off by her father after her mother’s death, Hurston wrote of the ordeal, “that hour began my wanderings.” She spent the next decade living with family members in Jacksonville and elsewhere before throwing herself into her academic and literary career. She traveled widely but frequently returned to the First Coast, and her experiences in Florida shaped much of her work. First published in 1942, her autobiography Dust Tracks on a Road features many sections on Hurston’s time in Jacksonville and Northeast Florida, offering a picture of African American life in the region in the early 20th century.

Jacksonville Greets the 20th Century: The Pictorial Legacy of Leah Mary Cox

Ann Hyman, Ron Masucci (photo editor), University Press of Florida, 2002

In the 1890s and early 20th century, Leah Mary Cox shot thousands of photos around Jacksonville that were virtually unknown before they were rediscovered nearly 50 years after her death in 1953. They have since become some of the most important visual resources for early Jacksonville. Written by former Florida Times-Union book editor Ann Hyman, the work includes 61 of Cox’s images as well as a narrative of her life.

Along This Way: The Autobiography of James Weldon Johnson

James Weldon Johnson, Viking Press, 1933 (first edition; reprinted several times)

James Weldon Johnson (1871 – 1938) is one of the most celebrated people ever to come from Jacksonville or Florida. The pioneering author, lawyer, educator, diplomat, civil rights leader and songwriter left his mark with such contributions as the song “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” and the groundbreaking novel The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man. Johnson’s autobiography – not to be confused with his fictional novel – contains much valuable information on life in Jacksonville during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the period in which the city Johnson considered “a good town for Negroes” devolved into “a one hundred percent cracker town” that obliterated the progress African-Americans had made during Reconstruction.

James Weldon Johnson: Black Leader, Black Voice

Eugene Levy, University of Chicago Press, 1973

Other than Johnson’s autobiography Along This Way, Levy’s biography is the best available source for the life of Jacksonville’s foremost native son. Relying heavily on Along This Way, the book adds additional detail gleaned from Johnson’s papers and other sources.

World’s Finest Beach: A Brief History of the Jacksonville Beaches

Donald J. Mabry, Arcadia Publishing, 2010

Donald Mabry, a Beaches native and Mississippi State University emeritus professor, offers an excellent account of the development of the Jacksonville Beaches. The Beaches communities – Mayport, Atlantic Beach, Neptune Beach, Jacksonville Beach, and Ponte Vedra Beach – have pasts just as eclectic as their presents. Mabry describes how these communities grew from summer resorts for the Jacksonville elite into thriving communities and tourist attractions, and the many changes they’ve faced along the way.

Streetcars of Florida’s First Coast

Robert Mann, History Press, 2014

In this book, author and transit guru Robert Mann pays tribute to the lost electric streetcar system that helped build Jacksonville. From 1893–1936, Jacksonville had the state’s most comprehensive urban railroad, with 60 miles of track connecting nearly every part of what’s now known as the Urban Core.

A Quiet Revolution: The Consolidation of Jacksonville-Duval County and the Dynamics of Urban Political Reform

Richard Martin & Chris Hand, Jacksonville Historical Society, 2019 (first edition 1968)

Journalist Richard Martin, who reported extensively on the movement to consolidate the Jacksonville and Duval County governments in the 1960s and later served the city as Chief of Public Relations, was the perfect choice to pen this landmark account of the events back in 1968. The book has been periodically updated to cover the years since. For the 50th anniversary, Chris Hand, a writer and former Chief of Staff for Mayor Alvin Brown, edited the modern version with material covering the last decade. A Quiet Revolution provides a thorough and incisive look at the past, present and future of Jacksonville’s government.

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