Southbank high rises and parking lots now occupy the area where the Coney Island of the South once entertained Jacksonville residents and visitors.
The short-lived Dixieland Park opened on March 9, 1907 in a city still recovering from financial and emotional scars of the Great Fire of 1901. Dixieland Park billed itself as “Jacksonville’s greatest resort” and “Florida’s playground.” Its advertisements promoted the finest merry-go-round outside of Coney Island, the best roller coaster south of New York, “more free attractions than any other park in the South” and a Dixieland band “which is the finest in the South.”
Dixieland Park in 1908. (State Archives of Florida)
Dixieland Park had a 160-foot bamboo slide called the “Dixie Dewdrop.” It had gardens, a theatre, a dance pavilion, a silent movie studio where legendary western star Tom Mix made films and “polite Vaudeville” which charged 25 cents and 50 cents for matinees and 25 cents, 50 cents and 75 cents for evening performances. The park had animal shows, daredevil attractions and exhibitions with motor-propelled balloons and aerial rides. It even had baby incubators, the first ever in Florida. Premature infants from surrounding areas were brought to the park for public viewing and care by trained medical personnel. The park charged a 10 cent admission fee.
The park was on 21 acres with 1,100 feet of riverfront. It was bounded on the east by Flagler Avenue and extended to what now is Prudential Drive. Immediately adjacent to the park were related attractions such as a baseball field and exposition center.
Cafe and Dancing Pavilion in Dixieland Park. (State Archives of Florida)
“Jacksonville has long needed such a park,” the Florida Times-Union wrote on March 16, 1907. “When its gates were thrown open a week ago, there was such a wild rush to the ferry pier, and each proceeding day has brought more business for that popular resort. Two ferry boats, the Dixieland and the Duval, had all the business they could handle yesterday afternoon and night making trips every seven-and-a-half minutes.” (The Acosta Bridge opened about 14 years later.) “With so many new attractions now being added to this particular park it will be equal to any in the states as to amusement features. When the flowers and grass commence to grow, it has been suggested to management to change the name to Fairyland instead of Dixieland.”
Entrance to Dixieland Park during the 1910s. (State Archives of Florida
The park was developed following the May 3, 1901 fire. The fire swept over 466 acres burning 146 city blocks, destroying 2,368 buildings and leaving about 10,000 citizens homeless. The fire occurred across the river from the area which became Dixieland Park.