The legend of Moncrief Springs

Moncrief Park (State Archives of Florida)

The neighborhood of Moncrief is named after a spring that once flowed along Moncrief Creek. According to legend, the spring was named after wealthy French pawnbroker Eugene Moncrief. Folklore claims Moncrief escaped the French Revolution, with a diamond necklace belonging to Marie Antoinette, and found refuge in Florida. Moncrief then buried several chests of jewels near the springs upon arriving in the area in 1793.

He was soon acquainted with the local native tribes and had fallen in love with a beautiful maiden named SunFlower. Moncrief was so smitten, that he went into the spring and soon emerged with one of his small chests. He opened it and Sun Flower plunged in with both hands to touch all of the beautiful colorful stones and gold pieces. After some time she chose a couple of pieces to adorn her own neck and as night fell, she headed back down the trail to her own home. Eugene couldn’t have known the jealous rage that awaited at the end of that trail, as a native warrior named Gun Powder, set his sights on Moncrief’s head. Within a month, Moncrief was scalped, leaving the location of his remaining chests of jewelry forever unknown.

The land around the springs was developed into a tourist attraction called Moncrief Park during the 1870s. During its initial years, Moncrief Park included a racetrack, dancing pavilion, bowling alley, baseball field, restaurant and bathhouses. To connect his attraction to the city, Jones built Moncrief Road as a toll road. When completed, it was the third paved road in the city.

The Belmont of the South

Moncrief track with grandstand in background. (

In early 1909, led by lumber mill owner Thomas V. Cashen, a group of Jacksonville businessmen established the Florida Live Stock & State Fair Association with $150,000. Their intention was to construct a horse racing facility that would make Jacksonville the winter racing center of the South.

When their Moncrief Park horse racing facility opened, it was the first race track in the Southeast and considered one of the best in the United States at the time. Races were held every day except for Sunday during the season, which was during the winter months. An estimated 6,000 racegoers were in attendance on opening day. When the gates opened on Thanksgiving Day 1909, between 9,000 to 10,000 people attended.

During its operation, the track proved to be an economic asset for Jacksonville. Its promoters estimated that the economic benefit for Jacksonville merchants was over $4 million in trade during the 110 day racing seasons. By 1910, New Yorkers were calling Moncrief the “Belmont of the South” and Jacksonville was being promoted as the place to go on vacation. Furthermore, the historic American Derby, now held annually at Arlington Park near Chicago, was initially held at Moncrief Park.

The last race was held on April 1, 1911. Two weeks after the race, local newspaper editorials denounced horse racing as events that only attracted one class of people who lived off the residents as parasites. It was also claimed that the races did not support the local economy. In Spring 1911, the Florida State Senate passed a bill prohibiting all racetrack gambling by an overwhelming vote of 62 to 1. After the race track closed, the property was sold and redeveloped into a residential subdivision in 1914 that is now known as the neighborhood of Moncrief.

Where the curly fry was invented

Holley’s Bar-B-Q (Holley’s Bar-B-Q)

The historic commercial district clustered around “The Point,” is home to Holley’s BBQ, a Jacksonville culinary institution. Established by Jack Holley in 1937, Holley’s BBQ is the city’s oldest and longest continuously operating barbecue restaurant. In addition, Holley’s is said to be the place where curly fries were invented!

“My dad’s brother Leroy made the machine that curled the fries. I could dig it up. My dad could have had a patent on it, but he couldn’t read nor write, so he got bamboozled.” - Wendy Holley.

That may be a little Jacksonville history that most may not know. In a recently published book written by Mark Winne, “Food Town USA, Seven Unlikely Cities That Are Changing The Way We Eat”, the author visited the Northside hole-in-wall and asked the owner if the curly fry rumor was true. Despite not being officially credited with the invention or largely promoted by the mainstream, Holley’s continues its tradition of serving up ribs and curly fries.

The Point

Looking north on Moncrief Road. (Ennis Davis, AICP)

Prior to the 1960 opening of Interstate 95, Moncrief Road was the main thoroughfare connecting Northwest Jacksonville’s neighborhoods to Downtown. Situated at the heart of the Moncrief neighborhood, the intersection of Myrtle Avenue, Moncrief Road, West 25th and 26th Streets, was once known as “The Point.” From the neighborhood’s formative years until the 1930s, this is where two branches of Jacksonville’s streetcar system, the Davis Street Line and the Myrtle Avenue Line, met. With the direct connection into downtown, the neighborhoods of Moncrief, Durkeeville and Sugar Hill developed as early 20th century streetcar suburbs. As a result, the commercial district surrounding this intersection is an early example of Transit Oriented Development (TOD).

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. comes to Moncrief

1353 West 33rd Street (Ennis Davis, AICP)

1353 West 33rd Street is a mid-century ranch style residence that was built in 1958. It was the residence of community leaders Isadore and Mary Littlejohn Singleton. On March 19, 1961, Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his “This is a Great Time to Be Alive” sermon at Durkeeville’s Mt. Ararat Missionary Baptist Church. Speaking at an event sponsored by the Duval County Citizens Benefit Corporation and the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, King’s message centered around the promotion of nonviolent resistance.

Following the event, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was escorted to the Singleton’s residence at 1353 West 33rd Street to meet with local African-American civic leaders. A lasting impact of King’s visit was that it helped inspire African-American’s to continue their quest for local political offices. In following years, Isadore Singleton attempted but was unsuccessful in his bids for a seat on city council. However in 1967, Mary Eleanor Littlejohn Singleton and Sallye B. Mathis became the first Black woman elected to the Jacksonville City Council.

Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at