River port and seafaring community

Written by Cleve Powell

In recording the history of Arlington the most important view is from the St. Johns River and estuaries that feed into it. That was almost exclusively the view that the early explorers and settlers saw and the means utilized for transportation. In addition boat building and repairs and fishing were one of the main industries up until the invasion of the Mathews Bridge.

The location of Jacksonville and South Jacksonville was prompted by the shallow part of the river that separated them (Cows Ford, the connection for driving cows between SaintXAugustine and Georgia). Arlington, once known as “the eastern shore”, enjoyed naturally deep water along its shoreline in many places as well as bluffs and natural landings both of which added to the adaptability for docks and flat areas to pull craft out of the water. The creeks also provided hiding places and places to float repaired boats out at high tide. It also provided means to float logs to the water-powered sawmill on Strawberry Creek.

For the purpose of this write-up, we will start at SaintXJohns Bluff, which is the eastern tip of the peninsula for which “Historic Arlington” occupies the western half. The original French settlers arrived by boat and built Ft. Caroline ca. 1564. They reportedly built ships on site to return to France after many of the settlers were killed by the Spanish and their ships destroyed by a hurricane. After the improvements to the jetties in the late 1800s approximately 300′ of the bluff washed away probably including the Fort, There is an island originally separated from the bluff by marsh on the east and “Ship Yard Creek” on the west, which has been known as both “Ship Yard Island” and “Caylipso Island.” It is possible that that was where they built their boats and in later years (ca. 1950) there was reportedly a small boat yard adjoining the “Fulton Fish Camp.” which may have been on the Island after it was expanded by fill. The Fulton Fish Camp was actually the heart of a small community, and had dockage and reportedly a fish packing house.

Following the river westerly along the southern shore (prior to the Fulton/Dames Cutoff) you rounded a large tidal marsh known as “Coon Point” and entered into “Mill Cove”. Don Juan McQuen may have had a water-powered sawmill where “Jones Creek” flows into the cove in the early 1800s, which would have undoubtedly brought boat traffic to the mouth of the creek. Legend has it that the mill wheel turned in one direction on the incoming tide and the other on outgoing. This “may” have been the origin of the name of the cove.

Continuing west in Mill Cove you come to the community of “Gilmore,” which was settled by Archibald Gilmore in 1885. The Gilmore’s have always been and still are known as a knowledgeable river folks and fishermen. Beyond their docks was “Manning’s Fish Camp” during the forties, which is now the site of the YMCA.

Continuing you will come to a very large Indian mound (Grant Mound) that now has been partly removed. It was so large it was noted in the 1856 navigation chart of the river as a landmark. Many a “dugout” has been pulled out of the mud along the Arlington shore by adventuresome teens and the entire shoreline was once dotted with mounds.

Next you come to “Newcastle Creek,” which was the center of the Fatio Plantation by that name. On the eastern side of the creek were several fish camps and small boat repairs were reportedly done there. William Bartram visited Newcastle plantation in his early travels. The place later belonged to the Petrenovich family and is the site of the “Parson’s Cemetery” where the Mother of Florida’s Governor Broward is buried.

Continuing west you will come to the old site of the Jacksonville Outboard Club where boat races were once held. There have been several families that lived on Edenfield Road near the Outboard club who were in the boat repair business, the Andersons and the Drigers.

Next comes “Reddie” or “Chaseville” Point, which has been the home of several marine oriented families. The land was originally granted to Francois Richard but was later occupied by Zephaniah Kinsley’s nephew Charles McNeill who had a plantation on the point. Adjoining him to the south was the plantation of Oran Baxter and Martha Kingsley Baxter Zephaniah’s daughter. Their plantation was known as SaintXIsabel. Baxter was reportedly a boat builder in New York before coming to Florida and marrying Kinsley’s daughter. There may have been a boat yard there; there were docks for the plantations.

At the west end of Ft. Caroline Road on the river were the oil docks that I believe were originally owned by Mr. Coppedge. This was a refueling and water depot for ships. To the south, where JU is now, was Anna Kingsley’s plantation known as Chesterfield. It later became Merrill’s Berry farm with a dock from which they shipped blueberries.

Next just north of Floral Bluff Road was Morrel’s boat yard for both building and repair of vessels. Next was the Floral Bluff dock, which was originally part of the Bigelow plantation. In the 1880s it became a ferry stop and had Friskee’s store as well as a woman’s club. The area is still used by fishermen and for boat repairs. South of Floral Bluff was another Bigelow Dock in the 1800s.

The premier access point to the river for Arlington is the end of Arlington Road. On the north side in the early 1900s was Seaboard Dredging Company, which became Parkhill Goodlow Dredging. This was a place of employment for many Arlington folks and is now used for marine storage. From ca. 1914 to ca. 1938 the Arlington Ferry to downtown Jacksonville docked there. Richard Jaques kept his tugboat there and there were several stores and a Post Office next to the ferry landing. On the south side from ca. 1920 was Olson’s Shipyard, which also employed many local folks. It became Anderson’s and is now Cross State towing.

Next (about 500′ south) in the late 1800s and early 1900s was a dock for shipment of turpentine from the “still” and camp that was located on the bluff. This enterprise also provided employment including a barrel maker.

About 1,100′ south of Arlington Road was the J. M. & P. Railroad dock from 1888 until 1895. The train ran between the community of Mayport to the dock (and later to South Jacksonville) and carried passengers, mail, and goods including phosphate.

Next, about where the Mathews Bridge crosses, was a large dock shown in the 1856 navigation chart, which may have been the western terminus of a road labeled “Beaches to Jacksonville.” On an 1830 GLO survey the east end crossed the Intracoastal Waterway where Atlantic Boulevard now crosses, and it swung to the north near Fulton and then back near the current location of Lone Star crossing University where the Town and Country Plaza is now located.

The next dock was for the Strawberry Hill Plantation of Richard and later John Sammis, (Sammis married Mary Kingsley, daughter of Z. Kingsley and Anna) who bought part of his estate in 1840. This area was believed to have been the origin of the name Arlington when Sammis sold it ca. 1870 and it was named Arlington Bluff. The dock was used for the transportation of folks from Jacksonville on the launch “Clifton” which now is the name of that portion of Arlington. It was also used for shipment of naval goods and oranges.

Turning east in Pottsburg Creek (Arlington River) there was a boat building facility just east of the point that reportedly built seagoing ships capable of going as far as Africa. They would have used the lumber produced at Richard’s and later Sammis Mill. Oran Baxter may have been the boat builder. One of the Arlington teens, J. C. Olson found a very large timber buried in the mud in that location in the 40s.

Following Arlington River and going easterly up “Strawberry Creek” you would see in the 1820s that the creek had been channelized to the west of a water powered sawmill, grist mill, cotton gin, and cane mill. To provide power the headwaters of Strawberry Creek and Red Bay Branch were dammed and the dam later became the bed for what is now Arlington Road. Strawberry Creek is also known as Mill Creek. The mill pond covered about 150 acres of land and was held at about the 10′ contour above MSL.

Both Big and Little Pottsburg Creeks were probably used to bring logs and goods to the mill that was in operation from ca. 1820 – ca. 1870.

It should be noted that many of the citizens of Arlington worked at Gibbs, Jacksonville, and Merrill Stevens shipyards during WWII. And there are still some who are commercial fishermen, boat builders, or Dredge employees.

This is a very rough draft as of this date July 19th, 2005. I encourage anyone who reads it to let me know of the errors I’ve made.