Walkable Jacksonville: Moncrief

Jacksonville's urban core is home to a number of historic pedestrian scale neighborhoods. Many are a direct result of the city's former electric streetcar network that operated between 1880 and 1936. Today, The Jaxson highlights an area known as the District of Soul: Moncrief.

Article by Ennis Davis, AICP

History of Moncrief

The story of what would become the neighborhood of Moncrief dates as far back as to the 1870s, Peter Jones developed a tourist attraction several miles north of Jacksonville. Called Moncrief Park, the attraction was developed near Moncrief Springs. According to legend, the spring was named after wealthy French pawnbroker, Eugene Moncrief, who was said to arrive in Florida in 1793. Burying nine chest of jewels near the springs, Moncrief removed one chest before being murdered by Native Americans.

During its initial years, Moncrief Park included a racetrack, dancing pavilion, bowling alley, baseball field, restaurant and bathhouses. To connect his attraction to the city, Jones built Jacksonville’s third paved road (present day Moncrief Road) as a toll road.

By the early 20th century, the undeveloped land between LaVilla and Moncrief Park began to fill up as Jacksonville’s Black community swelled in population growth following the Great Fire of 1901. The North Jacksonville Street Railway, Town and Improvement Company was a significant reason for continued growth in the area. Launched on August 22, 1903, the Black-owned streetcar company provided a direct mass transit connection from the Moncrief Park area to Downtown Jacksonville. Known as “The Colored Man’s Railroad”, hundreds attended the system’s grand opening ceremony to ride on cars operated with black motormen and conductors.

Moncrief track with grandstand in background (courtesy of Cardcow.com)

In 1909, a group of businessmen led by lumber mill owner Thomas V. Cashen established the Florida Live Stock & State Fair Association with the intent to create a horse racing facility that would make Jacksonville the winter racing center of the South. Moncrief Park quickly became known as the “Belmont of the South. However, an effort to abolish gambling in Florida succeeded, causing Moncrief Park to close for good in 1911.

Following its closure, Cashen sold the property, leading the development of the Moncrief Park and Speedway Park streetcar subdivisions. Far from the core of a segregated Jacksonville the Moncrief area developed during the early 20th century as a place for the local Black community to establish a self-sustaining environment of its own.

A 1918 map of Jacksonville showing the location of the former racetrack grounds.

At the center of the neighborhood, The Point, the intersection of Myrtle Avenue and Moncrief Road, became a walkable destination with a variety of businesses and services serving the community. It also became a local for the Black community to bury its dead in dignity and party in peace during the height of the Chitlin Circuit.

Like many established historic Black neighborhoods in America, Moncrief was zoned to allow for incompatible land uses and redlined during the 1920s and 1930s. The neighborhood faced further challenges during the 1960s when large parts of the community were razed to construct Interstate 95 and the 20th Street Expressway.

Despite a series of systemic discriminatory public policies and projects over the course of several decades, Moncrief remains one of Jacksonville’s most densely populated historic communities. With a diverse collection of housing styles, mix of uses and a grid street network built for twice the population that it serves today, Moncrief is a culturally rich neighborhood that could serve as Jacksonville’s answer to affordable and market rate housing shortages.

Moncrief Road and 45th Street.

1943 aerial of Moncrief (Courtesy of University of Florida)

1971 aerial of Moncrief illustrating new expressways, a public school built on top of an elementary school and industrial park being approved next to an established residential community as built visible examples of systemic discriminatory public investment during the mid-20th century. (Courtesy of University of Florida)