Sugar Hill history
The Abraham Lincoln Lewis residence at 504 8th Street. Lewis was the longtime president of the Afro-American Life Insurance Company who also founded American Beach in Nassau County. He was said to be one of the city’s first African-American millionaires.
The epicenter of Jacksonville’s Black middle class community, growth came to Sugar Hill with the arrival of the North Jacksonville Street Railway, Town and Improvement Company. Owned and operated by several prominent members of the Black community, the streetcar service connected Northwest Jacksonville with LaVilla.
Bolstered by the Cookman Institute, Duval County Hospital, St. Luke’s Hospital and Brewster Hospital, the hill quickly became a desired residential location, leading to subdivision names such as Hendersonville, Springfield Heights, West Greeleyville, Highland Heights and College Heights. By the end of the 1920s Florida Land Boom, Sugar Hill’s West 8th Street was lined with mansions and elegant residences of Jacksonville’s black businessmen, attorneys, architects, doctors, educators and other professionals.
Unfortunately, considered blight because of its demographic makeup, much of Sugar Hill was razed and paved over for Interstate 95 and the present day medical campus of UF Health Jacksonville. Despite the significant loss of local cultural heritage and pride a small part of Sugar Hill still remains. Here are a few surviving residences with a little information about the families that once called them home.
The Sugar Hill that still survives
1926 Davis Street was built in 1924. It was originally occupied by Clarence and Olive Smith. Clarence Smith was employed as a Pullman Porter. Exclusively Black, dating back to emancipation, Pullman porters were hired to work as porters on sleeping passenger railroad cars. Pullman Porters were widely credited with contributing to the development of the Black middle class in America during segregation.
1940 Davis Street was built in 1922. It was originally occupied by Thomas and Marie Broome. Thomas Broome was an agent for the Afro-American Life Insurance Company. Founded in 1901, the Afro-American Life Insurance Company specialized in helping Black Americans obtain life insurance and mortgages. The company played a major role in the development of Jacksonville’s Black middle class community.
2028 Davis Street was built in 1933. It was the residence of Dr. William L. Redmond and wife Bessie. Redmond was a business league executive.
919 11th Street West was the residence of Samuel and Alecia Harper. Sam Harper was employed as a Pullman Porter. Harper was also the president of the local Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. A close associate of A. Philip Randolph, under the leadership of Randolph, the Brotherhood was recognized as the first all-Black labor union in 1925. At the time, the Pullman Company in Chicago employed about Black 200 maids and over 10,000 porters.
2121 Davis Street dates back to 1928. This was an early home for Herman and Rosa Flagg. Herman Flagg was employed as a laborer with the Armour Fertilizer Works in Talleyrand. While the meat packing industry is well known for its impact on the American Midwest, Jacksonville was an important early 20th century meatpacking center. In the midst of a cattle shortage, Florida jumped on Chicago-based Armour & Company’s radar in 1912 when the company was offered 5,000 heads of grass cattle in Kissimmee. After purchasing the cattle and shipping it to St. Louis, Armour sent representatives to scout the area and found prospects for beef production so good that they considered locating a plant in the state. Once this became known, prominent businessmen of Jacksonville reached out and convinced the company to open a meatpacking and fertilizer plant at the intersection of Talleyrand Avenue and West 8th Street. Today, the former Armour plant site is occupied by Southeast Toyota.
The residence of Bishop Henry Young Tookes at 1011 8th Street. Tookes was known for spreading the Gospel and philanthropy. During his administration at Edward Waters College, the school gained accreditation.