The Acosta Bridge opened in 1921 with tracks installed in it by the Duval Traction Company. The South Jacksonville Municipal Railway utilized these tracks as a part of its route into downtown Jacksonville when operations began three years later. (State Archives of Florida)</i>
By 1924, South Jacksonville had become known as the “Brooklyn of Greater Jacksonville.” It was also a shining example of an existing city investing in public transportation to usher in economic development. This sentiment is captured in the opening description of South Jacksonville in the 1924 edition of Polk’s City Directory:
Although as old in years as its sister city, South Jacksonville was for more than a decade seriously handicapped in its deserved development because of a lack of adequate transportation over the St. Johns River, and although offering the nearest home-sites on the majestic St. Johns to the heart of the business section of Jacksonville, very little progress was made until Duval County invested in a bridge connecting the two cities, at a cost of $1,500,000, and immediately the connecting link was opened for traffic, home-seekers began to pour across the river. The construction of the bridge, however, only made it more convenient for automobiles, therefore there was still a lack of adequate transportation facilities to attract the man of moderate means looking for a home-site. Realizing this, the City of South Jacksonville voted a bond issue of #100,000 for the purpose of constructing a municipally owned electric railway across the new bridge and running through the city to the city limits, and looping the main business district of Jacksonville, and a celebration was held on May 31st, on the opening of the car line to the public, which was attended by 10,000 citizens of both cities. The effect of the construction of the car line upon the public was immediate, and the building operations, both as to homes and business houses, increased over 100 percent in one month.
As the description suggests, the South Jacksonville Municipal Railway had a dramatic impact on the community. One so dramatic that the San Marco we know of love today, pretty owes its existance to the streetcar infrastructure investment to a city of 6,000 that was gobbled up by Jacksonville in 1932. Prior to the installation of the South Jacksonville car line, the majority of urban development on the Southbank of the river was north of Atlantic Boulevard. Known as Oklahoma during the late-19th century, the City of South Jacksonville was incorporated with a population of 600 in 1907. Outside of maritime related industrial uses, an FEC railyard and Dixieland Park, development was slow to materialize until the opening of the Acosta Bridge.
Forsyth Street between 1910 and 1929. The streetcars pictured here operated on the tracks of four companies: The Jacksonville Traction Company, The Duval Bridge Company, The South Jacksonville Municipal Railway, and the Ortega Traction Company. (State Archives of Florida)
Despite the opening of the bridge, during the 1920s automobiles were a luxury available to a few. In order to become economically viable, South Jacksonville made an additional investment to implement their municipal owned streetcar line from the Acosta Bridge to Miami Road (Prudential Drive) to access the city’s main business district.
Located just south of the Gibbs Gas Engine Company’s shipbuilding complex, South Jacksonville’s core business district was centered around the intersection of Miami Road and Hendricks Avenue. Here, the streetcar tracks were installed along Hendricks Avenue placing the entire city within a 1/2-mile walk of the municipal public transportation system. In the midst of the great Florida land boom, this quickly resulted in Hendricks Avenue developing as a linear commercial spine north of Atlantic Boulevard. In addition, adjacent streets filled with housing stock for the working class.