Arlington, the St. Johns, and Henry Ford

Written by Cleve Powell
Originally published in the July 2009 edition of the OAI Newsletter

At the turn of the twentieth century two unrelated projects would bond and result in Jacksonville becoming the little Detroit of Northeast Florida. Henry Ford was designing gas powered tractors to help America boost its crop production, and Jacksonville, with federal assistance, turned the St Johns River up to Jacksonville into a deepwater port with a channel depth of 18′.

Ford continued to develop trucks and automobiles (even race cars), and by September 27, 1908, the first Model T was produced. Jacksonville started construction of the Municipal Docks on Talleyrand Avenue in 1913. The community of Arlington was directly across the river and had become a viable growing neighborhood. A ferry began service from Arlington to Fairfield near the docks in 1914. By 1916 the channel was being deepened to thirty feet in depth and three hundred feet in width. Many of Arlington’s early settlers worked on the improvements on the river and the docks. Now it was time to benefit from the industrial port they had created.

These improvements undoubtedly brought Ford to Jacksonville and produced a byline in the March, 1925 issue of Ford’s monthly newsletter:

style=”text-align: center;”>“Ocean Transportation of Ford Products; Facilities for Other Shippers Provided by Large Dock”

The article heralds the opening in Jacksonville in November 1924 of a full Ford assembly plant with a capacity to build 150 Model Ts in an eight hour day. The building was of standard Ford assembly plant design 200′ x 560′ and was located at the foot of Wambolt Street, just north of where the Mathews Bridge would be built in later years. Both are still standing today.

The plant employed an estimated 600 men, many of whom lived in “East” and South Jacksonville or Arlington. Energy for the production line was electricity supplied by a Ford designed generator station. It was powered by steam heated by fuel oil and used water filtered from the river. The steam was also used to heat the paint drying ovens.

The plant had excellent rail and water transportation facilities with a rail line going directly into the building and another to the end of a 300′ wide concrete dock that extents into the river 460′. The S. S. OneidaArlington’s Schools through the early years – Original 2006-08 –>