JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Despite being a major center for black commerce and culture during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, not much is known about Jacksonville's significant African-American history, heritage and culture.
This is especially true when it comes to recognizing the contributions of early African-American architects and buildings in the development of the city that we know today. With this in mind, here are five early 20th century African American architects/builders, and a few examples of their work still standing just outside of downtown Jacksonville.
Joseph Haygood Blodgett (1858-1934)
Born in 1858 in Augusta, Georgia, Joseph Haygood Blodgett moved to Jacksonville during the 1890s with one paper dollar and one thin dime. Initially working for the railroad for a dollar a day, Blodgett went on to start a drayage business, a woodyard, a farm and a restaurant before becoming a building contractor around 1898.
Following the Great Fire of 1901, Blodgett built 258 houses, keeping 199 to rent, eventually becoming the first black millionaire in Jacksonville. His own residence, Blodgett Villa, was said to be one of the finest owned by an African American anywhere. Famed guests at Blodgett Villa included Booker T. Washington.
Blodgett's design trademark was the inclusion of a small upper porch above a large lower porch that often extended around the side of a house. Philadelphia merchant, John Wannamaker was astonished that a black man could accumulate such a fortune in the south without capital and a formal education.
Most of Blodgett's work was situated in the Sugar Hill neighborhood and largely lost to the incremental expansions of UF Health Jacksonville. Although Blodgett died in 1934, a few examples of his work still stand.
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