Great Fire Festival commemorates Jacksonville's history

Rotary Club launches inaugural event 118 years after Great Fire of 1901

By Quan McWil, News4Jax news intern
Quan McWil, News4Jax news intern

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The Rotary Club of Jacksonville held a community event Friday, which marked 118 years since the Great Fire of 1901 that burned through downtown Jacksonville. 

The inaugural Rotary Club of Jacksonville Great Fire Festival commemorated the city's history and celebrated the continued revival of downtown after the fire on May 3, 1901. 

"In the course of eight hours, it destroyed 146 city blocks, as well as approximately 2,400 structures in Jacksonville," said Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department Community Affairs Officer John Bracey.

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.

"I am a fourth-generation native of Jacksonville, so it’s just ingrained as part of our community and history of Jacksonville," said event Chairwoman Kelley Shaw. "So it’s been amazing, generationally, to go back and see how the fire has actually impacted the city."

On Friday night, the Rotary Club of Jacksonville celebrated this history for the first time. 

"So much going on in downtown Jacksonville right now. We're undergoing such a transformation, and we really want to embrace that and just celebrate," said Rotary Club of Jacksonville President Traci Jenks.

It may seem fun, with all the food and live performances during Friday's event at the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts, but leaders and community members are working to rebuild and transform Jacksonville.

"It’s good to remember Jacksonville rebounded from a tragedy," Bracey said.

The event raised money for Rotary Foundation Charities' mission to advance world understanding, goodwill and peace through the improvement of health, the support of education and the alleviation of poverty. Click here for more information. 

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