Arlington Oil Docks and Storage Tanks and potable Water Supply Before 1918 to after 1968

Written by Cleve Powell
Originally Published in the June 2006 edition of the OAI Newsletter

It has been said many times that most of the original residents of Arlington were involved in the maritime industry. One such endeavor was the oil storage tanks and dock that were located in the Chaseville area on the bluff overlooking the river at the west end of Gilmore (now Ft. Caroline) Road where it intersects University Boulevard. (Sec. 38, Twp. 2 S., Rge. 27 E.). This location was probably selected for the deep water near the shore and for the height of the bluff, which was 40+ feet above the river at mean tide. This meant that oil (bunker C) could be pumped from a tanker or barge into the tanks on shore, and then gravity fed into ships that were there to refuel or into barges to be towed to military and commercial locations. The west side of the river has a much lower elevation and would not be as well suited.

In doing research on this subject I talked to Richard Steeves (who has lived in Arlington since 1917), who told me that the original storage tanks (huge oil storage tanks the kind you see on Talleyrand Avenue) belonged to the Clyde-Mallory Steamship Lines. The 1918 quad sheet shows a single tank located on a hill with sloughs both to the north and south of the point the tank was located on. Richard said that the facility was operated by Chester Fulkerson, who was killed c-194- when a water tank, 10′ x 10′ square, and high enough to have a shower underneath, fell on him when they were replacing one of the posts. Richard remembers taking showers under the tank after swimming in the river. He remembers having a Sunday School picnic there and everyone swimming in the river “Good Old Days.” Richard also remembers that a leak was discovered in one of the oil tanks, and they dug a tunnel under it and repaired it with welding equipment. Richard said that the oil was brought in by “Mexi-Pet.”

After talking about the oil dock, Richard said that Mr. Coppedge had a water tank or spring south (possibly north) of the oil dock where they filled the vessels with fresh water. He remembers a black man named Cotton Wright who worked for Coppedge. He said sometimes if they gave out of fresh water Cotton just dropped the suction hose in the river to finish filing the ship’s tanks.

Page 405 of the “Jacksonville Family Album” by Wayne Wood has a photograph entitled “TERMINAL FIRE” It is taken from the river and shows a luxury liner with smoke rising behind it to the sky. The caption reads: In one of the most spectacular downtown fires since the Great fire of 1901. The Clyde-Mallory Steamship line’s docks were destroyed by fire on June 8, 1941.

My Great Grandfather, F. W. Bruce was from New Hampshire and C-1928, He and my Mother went to visit the family by way of the Steamship line. My great Grandmother, Clara Bruce, who lived on River Bluff Road wrote in her diary that she watched them go to town on the ferry to catch the ship and then watched the ship steam from town by Arlington on its way to New York. The view of the river from Arlington has been very interesting through the days of wooden sailing ships, steamships, paddlewheel river boats and then the navy ships during WW II.

I also called John Wright who now lives in New Jersey. In 1947 John’s father, who was with the Southeastern Oil Company, moved from Fort Lauderdale to a house at the Arlington Oil Docks located in the Chaseville area. At the time the oil docks were owned and operated by the Southeastern Oil Company of Jacksonville, Florida. Later in 1950-51` Mr. Wright, along with other business associates at the Southeastern Oil Company, bought out the terminal division of Southeastern, which included the oil docks, and formed the Southern States Oil Company. The Southern States Oil Company owned the docks until 1968 at which time the company was sold to a division of Kerr-McGee of Oklahoma. Throughout the entire period when the oil docks were under the ownership of Southeastern and the Southern States Oil Company, it was used as a “black oil terminal” from which bunker “C” oil was barged and transported to utility plants as far away as Sanford and Gainesville. The oil docks were also used to bunker ships. The oil was purchased from Eastern States refinery Houston, Texas and occasionally Mexico. It was transported to Jacksonville in converted Liberty ships (possibly built in Jacksonville). John said that the Liberty ships drew about 20 to 25′ of water and had no problem pulling up to the dock. There was a boiler house at the foot of the forty foot bank on which there were two large storage tanks with coils in the bottom of the tank. During the winter months steam had to be pumped into the coils thereby making it possible for the thick bunker “C” oil to flow by gravity into the barges and ships that were being bunkered. John said an afro-American man named Cotton Wright worked for his father and was in charge of the boiler house.

John said there was a warehouse on the site that went back to an earlier period when the Clyde-Mallory Steamship Company owned and operated the oil docks. In the warehouse there were some large posters used to advertise the Clyde-Mallory Steamship company which sailed from Jacksonville to New York, the Bahamas and South America. Clyde Mallory used the docks for the purpose of bunkering their passenger ships and taking on supplies before going to the docks in Jacksonville to board their passengers. John noted that Mr. W. T. Coppedge, who owned and operated the Coppedge Tugboat Company in Jacksonville owned land on both sides of their property.

Jacksonville has come full circle with the “cruise” ships that are now docking near Blount Island. A resurgence of the days when steamships graced our shores on their way to exotic places.