Long history of downtown Jacksonville

From Cowford to Jacksonville; A new city rises from ashes

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The area we now know as Downtown Jacksonville was originally inhabited by Native Americans. In the 16th century the French and Spanish moved in.

Fast forward to the 1820’s ,there was a prominent settler – Isaiah Hart – for whom the Hart bridge is named – who lived here when the town was named Cowford. He convinced some fellow towns people to donate land on the north bank and establish Jacksonville. In 1830, 100 residents called the area home . By 1847, the population jumped to 750. That’s when Florida became the 27th state.

During the Civil War, Downtown emerged with elegant homes and hotels. It attracted the rich and famous. Tourism was a big attraction. The slogan for Jacksonville was a “Winter City in a Summer Land.” By 1870, the population swelled to 100 thousand.

In 1901, the “Great Fire” spread across Downtown and burned 2,368 buildings and 466 acres. It was the largest metropolitan fire in the South. It left more than 8,600 people homeless. Three years later the area was rebuilt. The number of new structures surpassed the number of buildings lost.

Moving into the 20th century, the popularity of shopping malls and suburban housing led to the decline of Downtown. People moved from the urban core into the suburbs. Then in the 1980s and 90s there was a concerted effort to bring people back to the city’s center. It is an effort that continues today. 

About the Authors:

This Emmy Award-winning television, radio and newspaper journalist has anchored The Morning Show for 18 years.