Aerial of West Lewisville in 1943. ( University of Florida Digital Collections)
Home to industry during a period when very few environmental standards existed, Mixon Town ultimately faced severe pollution problems. For years, residents complained about animal blood running off into McCoys Creek from the Draper’s Egg & Poultry Company’s chicken processing plant on McCoys Creek Boulevard. This now defunct company received attention in 1978, when, as a part of his workdays program, Governor Bob Graham spent a full day cutting the hearts and livers out of chickens. A few blocks east stood the Jones-Chambliss meat packing plant on Forest Street, whose waste flowed also flowed into McCoys Creek. To top it off, the City of Jacksonville operated a municipal solid waste incinerator in West Lewisville between 1910 and the 1960s, covering the neighborhood with toxic ash for five decades. After the incinerator’s closure, a park and elementary school for West Lewisville was constructed on top of the contaminated site; these are now closed for obvious environmental reasons.
Aerial of West Lewisville in 1960. ( University of Florida Digital Collections)
Like many African-American inner city neighborhoods developed during the height of Segregation, West Lewisville’s fortunes declined in the second half of the 20th century. The construction of Interstates 10 and 95 effectively cut the neighborhood off from adjacent Riverside and Brooklyn. The construction of the I-95/I-10 interchange also destroyed the neighborhood’s “town center” that had developed around streetcar lines along its border with Riverside and Brooklyn. Desegregation also altered the aging neighborhood’s economic base as residents who could afford to leave relocated to areas of town once prohibited to people of color. To finish the neighborhood off economically, its manufacturing base significantly declined as the aging factories that once provided thousands of jobs to area residents relocated or shut down operations altogether.
Located on the “wrong side” of Jacksonville’s interstate highway system, not much has changed in West Lewisville over the last few decades. Seeking to breathe life back into the area, in 2003, the City of Jacksonville adopted the North Riverside Neighborhood Action Plan. However, the recommended improvement strategy for West Lewisville called for remaining residents to be relocated and the 20-block district to be redeveloped as an urban industrial park. Time has proven that similar urban renewal strategies in LaVilla and Brooklyn have led to gentrification or a significant loss of cultural history and existing building stock.
Luckily, although deteriorating and economically challenged in many ways, West Lewisville retains an amenity that continues to disappear in more popular areas of the urban core: early 20th-century building stock. Recent plans for the Rail Yard district and interest in restoring McCoys Creek into Jacksonville’s version of Atlanta’s Beltline could jump start revitalization in this historically significant part of Jacksonville, and aid the city’s development into a major American metropolis.
Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at email@example.com