The Colored Man’s Railroad

Aerial and locator map of Durkeeville in 1943. The red lines represent the neighborhood’s streetcar routes that operated from 1903 to 1936.

Myrtle Avenue largely owes its existence to the establishment of the Colored Man’s Railroad following the Great Fire of 1901. On August 22, 1903, the North Jacksonville Street Railway, Town and Improvement Company began streetcar service to Jacksonville’s Black population. Organized by several prominent members of Jacksonville’s Black community (R. R. Robinson, H. Mason, F. C. Eleves, Walter P. Mucklow, George E. Ross and Frank P. McDermott), the streetcar system became known as “The Colored Man’s Railroad.” Hundreds came out for the system’s grand opening ceremony to ride on cars operated with black motormen and conductors.

Initially, the North Jacksonville Street Railway ran from downtown’s Bay Street north on Clay to State and Kings Road before heading north on Myrtle Avenue. It returned to downtown via Moncrief Road through Hansontown. Black ownership ended a few years later when the system was acquired by Telfair Stockton, allowing it to be extended to the Eastside and Talleyrand. Stockton then sold the system to the Jacksonville Electric Company. Despite the change in ownership, the Colored Man’s Railroad was heavily utilized by the Black community and was among the last routes to be abandoned in December 1936.

The Black-owned streetcar system connected what would become Durkeeville, Moncrief, New Town and Sugar Hill with LaVilla and Downtown, paving the way for the area around Myrtle Avenue to develop into a segregation era Black middle class community. Walkable, mixed use and full of locally owned small businesses, Myrtle Avenue is one of the most authentic areas of old school Jacksonville that continues to survive today.

Myrtle Avenue Today

This 42,000 square foot brick warehouse was completed in 1924 at 2702 Myrtle Avenue North for the Ridgell Furniture Company. Founded by David E. Ridgell, the business was incorporated in 1923 with $50,000 in capital stock to manufacture furniture. Ridgell remained in business in this location until 1963 when the company relocated to Murray Hill.

It was then occupied by Joseph G. Kennelly, Jr’s Kennelly Moving & Storage to transport household goods between various areas in Florida and Georgia. Kennelly, Jr. served as a two-term state legislator from 1966 to 1968 and 1970 to 1972, fighting against forced school busing and supporting property tax relief. He also served on the Jacksonville City Council from 1947 to 1955.

Looking east from Myrtle Avenue towards I-95 and New Springfield. The Atlantic, Valdosta and Western Railway built this railroad line crossing Myrtle Avenue to connect the railroad with the docks east of downtown. On July 18, 1901, the St. Johns River Terminal Company was incorporated to take over the AV&W east of Grand Crossing. A year later, on October 16, 1902, it was acquired by the Georgia Southern and Florida Railway. The line, which once served the former Jax Brewing Company on West 16th Street just west of Myrtle Avenue, is now owned by Norfolk Southern.

Organized in 1919, Mount Ararat Missionary Baptist Church is located at 2502 Myrtle Avenue North. Under the leadership of Rev. Dallas J. Graham, this structure was rebuilt in 1958. Here, on March 19, 1961, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “This is a Great Time to Be Alive” sermon at an event sponsored by the Duval County Citizens Benefit Corporation and the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance. The message centered around the promotion of nonviolent resistance. At the time, Jacksonville had become a racial powder keg as the Black community had began to stand up to local segregationist.

2424 Myrtle Avenue was built in 1957 and once occuped by the Wilson Building & Supply Company. The Wilson Building & Supply was a general contracting company owned and operated by Rev. Robert Wilson. Today a portion of the building is occupied by the B&SUN; Arts and Culture Center. The B&SUN; Arts & Culture Center was founded on November 1, 2016 by Leo Ashanti Gathings as a response to the lack of extracurricular programs for the future generation in the community. Leo opened the doors of the center to youth and seniors (the young of heart) alike bringing a sense of community to the area. At B&SUN; individuals are allowed to learn, practice, and experience success in a safe environment.

Opening its doors in 1927, the Wilder Park Library was the first branch location of the Jacksonville Public Library system. During the mid-1950s, Wilder Park was paved over for the construction of Interstate 95. The Dallas Graham Public Library Branch at 2304 Myrtle Avenue North opened as a replacement for the lost library branch in 1957.

Named in honor of General Edwin McMasters Stanton, an outspoken abolitionist and Secretary of War under President Lincoln during the Civil War, the Stanton Normal School opened in April 10, 1869 as the first school for the formerly enslaved in Florida. In 1877, President Ulysses Grant visited the school during a tour of Florida. During the visit, a six-year-old student named James Weldon Johnson raised his hand from the crowd and Grant shook it. Johnson would go on to become the school’s principal in 1894, and expanded it to become the only high school for Black students in the city. While serving as the principal, Johnson wrote “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which his brother Rosamond put to music. This song would later become known as the Negro National Anthem. Then known as New Stanton High School, in 1953, this school replaced the older Stanton building in LaVilla. During Durkeeville’s early years, this site was the location of the the corporate offices and car barns for the Colored Man’s Railroad. In addition, the property served as a streetcar park for Black residents called Mason’s Park. Today, the school is known as the Stanton College Preparatory School.

Families of Slain Children, Inc. (FOSCI) was established in 2006 to support the well being of families who have lost a family member due to violence and homicide. FOSCI occupies a building at 2212 Myrtle Avenue North that was constructed for DUCOTE Federal Credit Union.

The Harvest Ministries Worship & Community Center at 2225 Myrtle Avenue North is in the process of being renovated. The structure was built by early Black architect and contractor James Edwards Hutchins in 1956 for the St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church. A member of St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church, which dates back to 1869, Hutchins was employed as a carpenter with the Dawkins Building and Supply Company several years before establishing his own construction company in the 1930s. One of the few local African-American contractors that also designed their buildings, Hutchins is responsible for several African American churches and residences in the neighborhood. After World War II, Hutchins worked with the Veterans Administration to train African-American carpenters, brick masons and architects. In addition, Hutchins was one of the owners of A.L. Lewis’ Lincoln Golf and Country Club.

Generally bounded by Myrtle Avenue, McConihe Street, Payne Avenue and 13th Street, the encompasses 49 acres and includes 209 contributing buildings completed between 1934 and 1969. Platted between 1934 and 1944, the district is dominated by the Minimal Traditional architectural style and a lasting reminder of the quality work of African-American architects and builders such as James Edwards Hutchins and Sanford Augustus Brookings.

Completed in 1942, 1905 Myrtle Avenue North is a 2,158 square foot residence that was built for Theo L. and Elizabeth Redding. Redding was an agent employed by the Afro American Life Insurance Company.

2022-24 Myrtle Avenue is a mixed use structure that was originally built in 1920 along the Myrtle Avenue streetcar line. For many years, the ground floor was a tavern operated by Lawrence Perry. During the 1950s and 60s, it was occupied by the Baby Brown Bar-B-Cue tavern.

The Kozy Korner is a market located at 1831 Myrtle Avenue North. The building dates back to 1948 and was once a part of a series of storefronts on this block related to the Walker Vocational & Commercial College. The school was established by Julia Walker-Brown in 1916 to training Black residents in various occupations such as typist, bookkeepers, clerks and secretaries. Walker operated an upholstery training department in this structure in 1950. Other businesses that have used this space in the past include Rahaim’s Sundries and a food products manufacturer called Instatwhip North Florida.

The owners of Renegade Art Studio tattoos pose for a picture in front of their storefront at 1831 Myrtle Avenue North.

The building with two storefronts at 1823-25 Myrtle Avenue North was completed in 1950. Early tenants included Kelly Cleaners and the Lemmie Lee barber shop.

Completed in 1950, 1815 Myrtle Avenue North was once occupied by the Walker Vocational & Commercial College. During the 1950s and 60s, it also was the location of the U.S. Post Office’s Carver Station.