Lost history: Saving what's left of Sugar Hill

February 7, 2017

In honor of Black History Month, here's rare images and the story of Jacksonville's Sugar Hill neighborhood. Prior to largely being destroyed by desegregation, highway construction, medical center expansion, and urban renewal, Sugar Hill was the epicenter of black prosperity in Northeast Florida.


Owned and operated by Pedro Howard, this neighborhood retail building has been located at 4th and Francis Streets since 1919.  It's one of the few remaining early 20th century commercial structures still standing in Sugar Hill.


Sugar Hill's John E. Ford Elementary School is the only public English and Spanish Montessori School in the Southeastern United States. John E Ford is located at 1137 Cleveland Street, on the site the former Astor Motel (photograph on page one). According to the 1956 The Negro Traveler's Green Book, the Astor was described as one of Jacksonville's finest accommodations for blacks during segregation.


This row of 972 square foot shotgun houses on Cleveland Street was constructed between 1921 and 1922.  They are a throw back to the dense late 19th and early 20th century working class shotgun neighborhoods that once surrounded downtown's industrial districts, manufacturing plants and railyards.  This row of houses was located across the street from Sugar Hill's Standard Oil Company, Inc. plant along the Seaboard Air Line Railway (now S-Line Urban Greenway).


Emmett Reed Park is a 12.5-acre neighborhood park located on land donated to the city from E.J. and Mary E L'Engle in 1941.  This park was formerly the Mount Herman Cemetery.


The Emmett Reed Tennis Facility opened in 2008. Funded through an Urban Park Renewal and Recovery Program grant, the tennis facility was constructed on the site of the city's former 5th & Cleveland Incinerator.


1077 and 1081 Reiman Street were built in 1921 and 1923.


1840 Francis Street was completed in 1914.


A part of the Hendersonville plat, 1045 Scriven Street was built in 1928.


Intact residences along Moncrief Road, just west of I-95. 2036 Moncrief Road (left) was completed in 1937.  2040 Moncrief Road (center) is a duplex that was built in 1924.


2118 Moncrief Road is a 2,490 square foot residence that was completed in 1923.  


The Mount Herman Cemetery is gone but the residential vibe of Mount Herman Street, north of West 8th Street, is still in tact.  2018 Mount Herman Street (left) was built in 1925.  2024 Mount Herman Street (right) was completed in 1918.  Both make up an intact block of occupied early 20th century Sugar Hill residences.


Frazier Street is one of many streets of Sugar Hill's original street grid that were largely eliminated by the construction of Interstate 95.


2119 Davis Street (right) is a 2,321 square foot house built in 1921.  Next door, 2121 Davis Street (left) is a 3,120 square foot residence completed in 1928. They make up two of a few structures on the east side of Davis Street that have not been razed for medical center parking.


2124 Davis Street is a 3,120 square foot residence that was completed in 1930.


This 2,700 square foot residence at 1926 North Davis Street was completed in 1922.


The intersection of West 8th and Davis Streets today. Prior to the construction of Interstate 95, 8th Street was a narrow street lined with residences.


The Sugar Hill area is highlighted in the image above. The area highlighted in Orange still contains a significant number of residences from the neighborhood's time as African-American district of economic prosperity.

As the images in this article show, much of Sugar Hill no longer exists. However, there is an intact 10-block section of Sugar Hill roughly bounded by West 8th Street, Davis Street and the S-Line Urban Greenway.  Given the age of Sugar Hill, it's quite possible that this neighborhood is one of the earliest large-scale examples of urban black residential prosperity remaining in Florida. It may be in Jacksonville's best interest to do everything possible to preserve and rehabilitate the remains of a neighborhood that just as historically significant as any within the region.

Article by Ennis Davis. Contact Ennis at edavis@moderncities.com

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