JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The city of Jacksonville was founded in 1822, so this year marks 200 years since the River City came into existence, and city leaders decided that was something worth celebrating!
Jacksonville officially turns 200 on June 15, but the party started early Saturday with a string of events to commemorate the major milestone. Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, along with the Jacksonville Historical Society and Airstream Ventures, teamed up for the city’s bicentennial celebration.
ICYMI: Watch our special: Jax200 Bold City Bicentennial
Much of it took place downtown and included a large bicentennial program in James Weldon Johnson Park, ending with, what else? Birthday candles! Well, in a way. A fireworks show starting at 10:30 p.m. will cap the night. We’ll live stream the fireworks display on News4JAX.com and News4JAX+.
WEATHER UPDATE: The start of the fireworks was delayed half an hour because of weather. Click here for live radar
Many of the participants News4JAX spoke to at the celebration on Saturday were newer residents of the city who wanted to join in the bicentennial festivities to learn more about the history of Jacksonville.
“It’s amazing. I love it. I love that I know I can be a part of it. I’m new to the area. I just came from Ohio, and we just moved down here. It’s great to be able to see this,” Katie Pepper said. “I know I won’t be around for the next one.”
The booths at James Weldon Johnson Park included some with an educational focus. And a proclamation from 1822 that gave Jacksonville its start was read at the park.
The descendants of those involved were given special recognition, including Judge Peter Dearing, the great-great-grandson of Isaiah Hart, who was a plantation owner and one of the city’s founders.
“He was one of the original petitioners,” Dearing said. “He actually laid out the streets and gave them names -- like Laura Street and Julia Street were his daughters. So he and several other men got together, laid out all of the street names and were the major property owners in the city.”
Dearing said the property for the park now known as James Weldon Johnson Park was donated by Hart to the city of Jacksonville.
The Ribault High School brass band paraded down the street from that park to Riverfront Plaza, where there was lots more music -- and plenty of food.
Amid the celebration, we asked residents what they would like to tell the founders of Jacksonville if they had the chance.
“Thank you for building such a beautiful city with a rich history,” resident John Paul said. “I just moved here May 9. I’m learning a lot.”
“Thank You for starting somewhere. We had to start somewhere in order for things to go on and be like it is today. And then the people who came after them continued to make it better. I would just like to say thank you,” resident Nancy McMillan said.
SLIDESHOW | Celebrating Jacksonville’s bicentennial: Here are documents from 1822
City Council President Sam Newby shared a personal story Saturday, saying Jacksonville has come far in just one generation.
“Jacksonville’s history hasn’t always been the best. My mom came here as a teenager and the May-Cohens building (now City Hall), she couldn’t go into,” Newby said. “Now her son, just a generation later, is the president of City Council. That shows that Jacksonville is moving forward.”
But some don’t feel it’s moved forward enough. Protesters Saturday said Jacksonville is a tale of two cities -- and only one of those tales is being told during the city’s bicentennial celebration.
Our team has spent two months bringing you features about Jacksonville’s unique 200-year history, complete with historic photos (big thank you to our friends at the Jacksonville Historical Society).
Here are some of your favorites stories (and ours):
For more of our coverage of Jacksonville’s history leading up to the bicentennial celebration, including an interactive timeline, check out our Jax200 page.