Panama Park's Main Street
Jacksonville's urban core is home to several neighborhood commercial districts that were originally developed with the pedestrian in mind. Located four miles north of downtown, Panama Park's Main Street was Jacksonville's northern gateway prior to the opening of Interstate 95.
Panama Park History
Panama Park brochure during the real estate development boom following the Great Fire of 1901. (Jacksonville Public Library Special Collections Department)
A popular destination for fishing, sailing and picnicking, the first plat of Panama Park came in 1879. A year later, the Fernandina & Jacksonville (F&J) Railroad established a depot at Panama Park on its new route between Yulee and Jacksonville. In 1896, recognizing the value of Florida cypress and timberlands, Wellington Willson Cummer founded the Cummer Lumber Company at Panama Park. Cummer’s sawmill quickly grew to become the Jacksonville area’s largest employer. With business going strong, in 1899 Cummer completed the Jacksonville & Southwestern Railroad (J&SW;) between his Panama Park sawmill and timber lands near Newberry, FL.
Following the Great Fire of 1901, the rapid development of Springfield and Brentwood quickly filled in the undeveloped gap between Jacksonville and Panama Park. By 1905, George W. Clark, the owner of Clark Real Estate Company and developer of North Springfield, eyed the development of a “railroad suburb” at Panama Park. Unlike streetcar suburbs, which formed continuous corridors stretching outwards from city cores, late 19th and early 20th century railroad suburbs tended to form in pockets around railroad stations.
The Main Street Bridge at Panama Park in 1956. (State Archives of Florida)
At Panama Park, Clark acquired, improved and provided modern amenities for 50 acres surrounding the fishing village’s railroad depot. Clark’s development also included a laundry list of restrictions that were binding for ten years. Restrictive covenants included 25’ front yard setbacks, limiting commercial activity to certain lots and the prohibition of livery stables, public automobile garages, blacksmith shops and liquor related businesses. In addition, houses had to connect to his sewer system before occupancy and residents were not permitted to maintain a herd of cattle, hogs, sheep, mules or allow poultry to run at large. Served by four Seaboard Air Line trains and two steamboat landings per day, Clark began selling lots at his Panama Park railroad suburb in 1910. In addition, 30 minute bus service was also provided from Panama Park to the nearest streetcar line at Phoenix Park (Florida Ostrich Farm).
Historic aerials illustrating the development of Panama Park’s North Main Street between 1943 and 1960. (University of Florida)
Prior to the completion of Interstate 95, Panama Park’s location as the city’s northernmost neighborhood led to significant commercial development along North Main Street with most of the development taking place between the end of War War II and 1960. Following the opening of Interstate 95, Main Street’s era as the primary north-south thoroughfare in the city came to an end. Over time, commercial development trends resulted in other Northside throughfares gaining prominence of Main Street. However, North Main Street survives today as a location of several longtime local businesses and a scene that encapsulates authentic Jacksonville culture.