THE BEACHES WE KNEW
Businesses and Other Things
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, JACKSONVILLE BEACH, NEPTUNE BEACH, ATLANTIC BEACH, MAYPORT
These few pages are an attempt to help people understand Fletcher Junior-Senior High School and its environs in 1950-60. It is not comprehensive but it should help people see what the Jacksonville Beaches were once like. There are navigational links at the bottom of each page. If you have comments or additional information, send them to me.The geographical setting
Jacksonville Beach is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on the east, Neptune Beach on the north, Ponte Vedra Beach and St. Johns County on the south. In the 1950s, the western boundary did not extend very far. Penman Road (about 14th Street) was a functional boundary north of Beach Boulevard and much of it was unsettled both in Jacksonville Beach and Neptune Beach. South of Beach Boulevard, settlement patterns varied more. For example, one could drive south on 10th Street through the black section down to something like 16th Avenue South, shortening the drive to Ponte Vedra which began after 37th Avenue, and there were almost no houses for most of the way. In fact, west of 3rd Street (Highway A1A, the main north-south artery) there was very little settlement except, of course, the stores which lined A1A. The area had numerous dirt/sandy roads. Young people used to park back there at night. In other words, the farther south one went in Jacksonville Beach, the less populated it was.
Jax Beach extended on a north-south axis from 20th Avenue North south to what would have been 40th Avenue South. Avenues ran east-west. Between 1st Avenue North and 1st Avenue South, there was Pablo Avenue and then Beach Boulevard. South of Beach Boulevard, came 2nd Avenue South, etc. Pablo Avenue was the boundary for north and south streets.
Ponte Vedra Beach was small as well. It huddled around the Ponte Vedra Inn and Club to which one had to belong to live there. A family had to have an above average income to live there. Robert Maytag of the Maytag Corporation lived there. It was said that Elvis Presley was turned down. Even if that story is not true, its telling does show that money wasn’t enough. Ponte Vedra was so small and so far from anything else except Palm Valley, then a swampy backwoods area with a few people, that St Johns Country paid for Ponte Vedra and Palm Valley kids to go to junior-senior high school at Duncan U. Fletcher at the northern end of Jax Beach.
Neptune Beach, a very small town, was about a mile long, north-to-south, and only a few blocks wide. There was almost nothing west of 3rd Street except for the cluster of houses at Penman Road and Florida Boulevard. At the water treatment plant, the area which is now Jarboe Park, boys sometimes went skinny dipping in two ponds there. It was a clear view to A1A but they assumed that the distance would keep anyone from seeing. A hundred yards west, it was wilderness until one got to Penman Road. South of Florida Boulevard and west of 3rd Street, there were houses westward a few blocks. That stretched from Florida Boulevard south to 20th Avenue North, which was called Seagate Avenue where the street bordered southern Neptune Beach. East-west streets in Neptune Beach were named instead of numbered—Lora, Davis, Walnut, Cherry, Pine, and Bay, for example. Between 1st Street and the ocean, a narrow street, the Strand, sometimes existed. Why this little street or, better, lane existed is a mystery. It’s so narrow that today it’s one-way. But there were vacant lots along the ocean and 1st Street from Davis Street south six blocks to 20th Avenue.Except at its northern end where it met Atlantic Beach with Atlantic Boulevard as the boundary, there was no commercial development in Neptune Beach except Pete’s Bar, the Sea Horse Motel, Silver’s Drugstore, Roy Young's Bar & Grill, Ed Smith Lumber Company at 200 Atlantic Blvd., Walt's Neptune Tavern, Howard's Garage at 218 Atlantic, The Dallas Shop which sold casual wear, and a few other businesses. Across the street in Atlantic Beach there were also stores including Campbell’s Pharmacy, Floyd's 5 and 10, a real estate agency, and a grocery store. Nice House of Music; Joe's Plumbing & Appliance, June Wright Real Estate. North of Atlantic Boulevard were Le Chateau Restaurant (eventually destroyed by a storm) and the Atlantic Beach Hotel. The Fletcher swim teams used its pool.
Atlantic Beach started in the south at Atlantic Boulevard and extended northward. The houses ran out long before the northern boundary. Eventually, one just traveled on Seminole Road to the jetties at the mouth of the St. Johns River, passing few houses along the way. Going westward, it was considered a distance before on got to Mayport Road, which went to the little fishing village of Mayport. Atlantic Beach was old by Florida standards and the first good road to the beaches was Atlantic Boulevard. It was much like Neptune Beach except larger. Until San Pablo Elementary opened in January, 1953, kids went to the Atlantic Beach-Neptune Beach Elementary School as did kids from the northern part of Jacksonville Beach. San Pablo, behind Fletcher, took the load off Atlantic Beach Elementary.
Mayport was different from the other beach communities. It had a riverfront not a seafront. To cross the St. Johns River without going twenty miles into Jacksonville, one could take the ferry which docked there. That was the route to Fernandina Beach, one of Fletcher’s football rivals. The village was more known as the home of a fishing fleet. Shrimping was a mainstay, an occupation which required very hard work and could be dangerous. The other fleet was at the Mayport Naval Station. Aircraft carriers—five—were stationed there. When a carrier came home, thousands of sailors would come to the beaches in search of amusements.
The beaches were on a long barrier island and the western boundary of that island was the San Pablo River which was part of the Intracoastal Waterway. Slightly to the west of the San Pablo River was San Pablo Road, an artery which ran from Beach Boulevard north to Atlantic Boulevard. The Isle of Palms, with its canals, had been built in the late 1950s west of the river and south of Beach Boulevard and was a portent of the development to come south but San Pablo Road was virtually deserted. Most of the houses that were there were very small even by 1950s standards. From San Pablo Road to Southside Estates, there was so little development that the speed limit was 65. On Atlantic Boulevard, there wasn’t much between Mayport Road and Arlington.
Most business were clustered in Jacksonville Beach north of Beach Boulevard as the mid-1950s photo shows. Beach Boulevard cuts diagonally across the photo. Arnot’s Bakery, on the corner of 1st Street North and Pablo Avenue, is in the left foreground a block from the beach.
This earlier photo shows 1st Street North looking north. The cars appear to be late 1930s models. Some of the storefronts had changed little by the 1950s.
The information on these pages was taken from a variety of sources. Advertisements in the 1955-60 yearbooks, the Senator, were a major source. Mike Carter '57 and Roy Havens '60 were kind enough to mail me their senior yearbooks so I could scan photos from them. Tom Ravoo '59 is a goldmine of information about the beaches and where businesses were. Reggie Watterson '59, Hank Wilkinson '60, Bill Greenwood '60, Sandra Smith '65, Fred Mabry '56, and Clint Sykes '43 helped. I also relied on my own memory. Photographs and postcards came from a variety of sources, mostly from the Web. The Jacksonville Public Library has a postcard collection online. The Florida Memory Collection has a postcard and a photographic collection, both searchable. Hank Wilkinson obtained some photos for me from the Beaches Area Historical Association where Dwight Wilson was archivist. Some are mine. No doubt I am forgetting people and sources.
Beaches We Knew Aerial Photos (1960) Downtown Jax Beach and Beach Blvd South of Beach Blvd
North of Beach Blvd Atlantic-Neptune-Mayport Early Fletcher Miscellaneous Questions
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