Durkee Gardens: Jax's first black historic district
Situated on the opposite side of Interstate 95 from Downtown Jacksonville, Durkeeville is a historic neighborhood that most Jaxsons may not know or have visited. Developed for Jacksonville's rapidly growing middle class black community during the prime years of Jim Crow, a portion of the neighborhood is now designated as a National Register of Historic Places historic district.
Durkeeville largely owes its existence to the establishment of the North Jacksonville Street Railway, Town and Improvement Company in 1902. Called the “Colored Man’s Railroad,” this black-owned streetcar system connected Northwest Jacksonville with downtown, using Kings Road, Myrtle Avenue, 13th Street and Davis Street to form a transit loop north of LaVilla. Opening ceremonies were held on August 24, 1903 with several dignitaries, including Mayor George M. Nolan and former Mayor Duncan U. Fletcher, giving speeches.
The streetcar routes grew to be one of the city’s most used, stimulating African-American oriented transit oriented development along their path through the northwest side of town. By the end of the Florida Land Boom, both LaVilla and Sugar Hill were largely built out.
At the time, a significant plot of nearby land was owned by Dr. Jay H. Durkee. Durkee was a prominent real estate developer and son of Union military officer Joseph Harvey Durkee. Originally from New York, Durkee settled in Jacksonville after the Civil War. The Durkee family initially envisioned their property being used for industrial and railroad related uses adjacent to the new Seaboard Air Line (SAL) Railroad. At one point, to stimulate industrial growth, a rail spur was extended to Myrtle Avenue just south of West 13th Street. After those plans failed to materialize, much of the property was developed to accommodate Jacksonville’s African American professionals and businessmen who were unable to live in affluent white neighborhoods.
Generally bounded by Myrtle Avenue, McConihe Street, Payne Avenue and 13th Street, the Durkee Gardens Historic District encompasses 49 acres and includes 209 contributing buildings completed between 1934 and 1969. Platted between 1934 and 1944, the district is dominated by the Minimal Traditional architectural style and a lasting reminder of the quality work of African-American architects and builders.
In honor of Black History Month, here is a look at a historic district that has survived years of redlining, the construction of Interstate 95 and the wrecking ball.
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