Document shows church once stood on site where remains found

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A church once stood on one of two Northside sites where skeletal remains were unearthed last week, according to a document.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office said Thursday that it had recovered remains of multiple people at a highway construction site near Main Street at the Interstate 295 overpass and on private property on Eastport Road where crews were recovering fill dirt for the project.

According to the city, “Eastport appears to be the name given to the area where the recent bodies were discovered.”

A plot map shows roads in that location. The area was also called Pollywood and a small African American community was there.

The city says Pollywood and Eastport are likely the same area. A document connected to the Eastport site explains that there was once a church -- named the Wesley Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church -- on the site.

The document even has directions on how to locate the church: “U.S. Highway #17, 4 miles north turn on Eastport Road, 1 1/2 miles turn left, Pollywood, Jacksonville, Duval County.”

The document describes the building as “Meeting-house type, frame building erected and dedicated 1917. Since remodeled into a residence. First settled, and only, pastor, Rev. W.W. Spann, 1917-1922, address unknown.”

Last Thursday, when News4Jax met with Duval County Property Appraiser Jerry Holland to learn more about the land off Eastport Road, he and his staff pulled up plot maps of the land that date back to the 1850s.

The property is zoned timberland. It used to be owned by the St. Regis Paper Company, which bought it from the Broward family. The Browards made their fortune on timber and owned the land for more than 100 years.

The bones could possibly belong to people who worked on the land for the owner, or there is a possibility the bones predate the Broward ownership.

“It could go back even further. A lot of people in this area used prison labor, and sometimes when prisoners died, they buried them on the site. It could even go back to slave labor," Holland said.

Police announced Friday that a marked headstone was found late Thursday afternoon near one of the two Northside sites, and the Sheriff’s Office ceased investigative operations in accordance with Florida laws concerning removing a monument or disturbing a grave. Police said the headstone that excavation crews recovered had a name and military rank on it, and officers were working to track down living family members to notify them. In addition the grave marker, crews found other items consistent with burials: nails, wood, metal and handles.

There is also a petition on change.org to preserve the Eastport/Pollywood site. The petition says it “seeks to appeal to the mayor and City Council to nicely and appropriately landscape the new I-95/I-295 interchange, to name the area “Pollytown Memorial Interchange” and to place a historical marker at the location where the remains were found.” As of Monday evening, the online petition had 238 signatures.

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