Hurricane Irma activates Jacksonville's riverfront

Seeking shelter from Hurricane Irma, the First Coast shrimping and fishing fleet brings a little nostalgia back to the days when downtown Jacksonville was known as being an active working waterfront.

A nice shot of wharves and fishing vessels in Downtown Jacksonville taken between 1900 and 1915. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,

Prior to the 1960s, Jacksonville’s downtown waterfront was a place for marine commerce. Along the waterfront, steamboat companies operated passenger and freight terminals, while commercial fishermen docked and unloaded their vessels. As a result, supportive businesses such as shipbuilding and repair, fish houses, seafood restaurants and markets sprouted up around this concentration of complementing maritime-related activity.

A busy day at the commercial fish section of Jacksonville’s Ocean Street market during the 1910s. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,

An example would be the public market that grew up around the foot of Ocean Street. Following the Great Fire of 1901, a commercial seafood market gradually developed at a location where commercial fishing, docking of vessels and related maritime businesses like the Standard Fisheries Company, Consolidated Grocery Cold Storage and G.L. Lewis Company’s crabmeat plant came together. Architecturally, South Ocean Street wasn’t anything special. It was nothing more than a collection of simple brick and frame buildings with awnings over the sidewalks, protecting consumers from the natural elements. However, it was an authentic piece of Jacksonville where one could experience local cuisine and the area’s cultural diversity.

In any event, they say you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. This may be the case with Downtown’s once vibrant working waterfront. By the end of World War II, the containerization of shipping, proliferation of supermarkets, aging infrastructure, crime, and the disbursement of the city’s population base had taken their toll on the waterfront’s health. Determined to clean up what had become known as “Skid Row”, remaining businesses were relocated in order for the city to replace the working waterfront with riverfront parking lots and governmental buildings.