Neptune Beach


Neptune was named by land speculator Eugene Gilbert in 1885. His advertisement called Neptune, “The City By The Sea”. He touted beach life and promised a hotel, railroad line and depot. Gilbert did not fulfill those promises, for a number of reasons chief amongst them a failure to sell more than 40 lots. He was persistent, however and hard work on his part and his son, Fred Gilbert, led to the construction of Atlantic Boulevard in 1910.

Mr. John E. Gilbert and another man pictured with four cylinder Franklin no. 15. Mr. Gilbert won a silver trophy for racing at 80 miles per hour

Mr. John E. Gilbert and another man pictured with four cylinder Franklin no. 15. Mr. Gilbert won a silver trophy for racing at 80 miles per hour

From the beginning, Neptune was technically, a part of Pablo and later, Jacksonville Beach, but it had its own distinct identity separate from the larger tourist-oriented area 2 miles south.

Neptune achieved national fame in 1922 when Lt. James L. Doolittle began his record-setting cross country flight on the beach at Neptune.

National press and successive land speculators failed to build on Gilbert’s plans. By 1924, there were only 29 cottages in Neptune.  The next few years, however, saw growth and by late 1931, there were approximately 70 cottages.

The cottages were summer residences, owned largely by Jacksonville residents. Many of them were lawyers and real estate agents. In 1931, they led a movement to secede from Jacksonvllle Beach. The initial impetus was a revolt over a special tax levy. Jacksonville Beach rescinded the levy. The movement continued in large part due to resistance to Jacksonville Beach pressure for consolidation and desire for better civic services. On August 11, 1931, Neptune property owners went to the Gulf filling station on Atlantic Boulevard and voted 113-31 to separate from Jacksonville Beach.

The city leaders set out to create a city by the sea, calling it a “resort town”. They planned a business district to which they were prepared to welcome everything from Ferris wheels to bakeries, bath houses to organ grinders (with monkeys). Like their predecessors, these plans largely failed to come to fruition.

Historic Pete’s Bar – First Street Neptune Beach, 1948

Historic Pete’s Bar – First Street Neptune Beach, 1948

In the 1940s, a few hotels/motels offered accommodations, meals, and liquor to visitors. Most people, however, made their way to Pete’s Bar on First Street. Pete Jensen moved to the beaches in the 1920s and opened a market that sold everything from live animals to moonshine. When Prohibition ended in 1933, Jensen acquired what may be the first liquor license in Duval County and opened Pete’s Bar. Still going strong over 80 years later, Pete’s Bar is a testament to longevity.

For its first 45 years, Neptune grew slowly. Even after a burst of building in the 1930s and 1940s, the town failed to attract tourists and businesses to serve them in significant numbers. Today, Neptune residents appreciate their residential community and just like Gilbert’s pioneers, live here for the beach life.

Atlantic Beach

Florida East Coast Depot

Historic Florida East Coast Depot at the Continental Hotel in Atlantic Beach, 1901-1902

Although intimately associated with rail magnate Henry M. Flagler’s Continental Hotel, Atlantic Beach has a long history of its own.

It is believed by many scholars that the first permanent, year-round Native American settlement in North America was located at what is today Atlantic Beach near the mouth of the St. Johns River in 3,570 B.C.E. The abundance of food and the benign climate encouraged successive native cultures such as the Timucua to settle in the area as well.

The research that established this date has since found similar sites in Florida that date approximately to the same time. Therefore, the Atlantic Beach site should still be considered “one of the oldest” permanent, year-round native American settlement sites in North America.

The Continental Hotel

Classic Fun at the Continental Hotel, 1907

While the tourist industry in Atlantic Beach remained the focus for the area during the early 1900s, the completion of Atlantic Boulevard in 1910, connecting Atlantic Beach with south Jacksonville, allowed for a prosperous residential community to grow. The citizenry eventually changed from a seasonal population to full-time residents creating a year-round town peppered with architecturally significant homes.

The Town of Atlantic Beach incorporated in 1926 with the governor appointing Harcourt Bull as the first mayor. The hotel business continued to bolster Atlantic Beach. Tourism provided employment and supplied essential infrastructure such as electricity, which was provided to the community by the Atlantic Beach Hotel, successor to Flagler’s Continental Hotel until 1938.

Stewarts Bar & Grill

Historic Stewarts Bar & Grill, owned by Alex T. Stewart at 171 Atlantic Blvd.


Historic Mayport Coal Wharf, 1900

Mayport is French by birth, Spanish by upbringing, but decidedly American with the United States Naval Station Mayport dominating the present day community.

On May 1, 1562, French Admiral Jean Ribault sailed into the Rivère de Mai, later named the St. Johns River, claiming all before him for his motherland, France. From that day forward, Mayport and environs saw several hundred years of power struggle with control alternately being held by France, Spain, England, Spain again and, finally, the United States.

Historic St. Johns Lighthouse, Mayport, Florida, 1900

Historic St. Johns Lighthouse, Mayport, Florida, 1900

By 1827, with governmental intervention relating to river pilots on the treacherous St. Johns River, the population of the existing fishing community increased, and a lighthouse was constructed.Called Hazzard on early maps and documents, the settlement became known as Mayport Mills, homage to the French naming the river after the month of May.

The following year, the United States acknowledged the land grant awarded by Spain to the Dewees family. In 1841, part of the Dewees Land Grant was sold to David Palmer and Darius Ferris who laid out the plat for modern Mayport. In those days, lumber was king in Mayport Mills and the “white gold” was brought by boat, cart or raft to the mills.

Buccaneer Trail Ferry

Historic Buccaneer Trail Ferry at Mayport, FL

As railroads pushed deeper into the South, the importance of Northeast Florida was recognized. The extension of the Florida East Coast Railway to Mayport in 1900 spurred the growth and economy of the town. Coal powered trains were able to load coal directly from the docks; the old hazardous mouth of the St. Johns River had been tamed by jetties, built by the government, reaching miles into the Atlantic Ocean. Mayport was a two way traveling town: lumber and naval stores were carried away by schooner while settlers, tourists and health seekers were carried in by steamboat.

In 1913 Elizabeth Starke bought a 375-acre estate she called Wonderwood. The estate was later acquired by the federal government to establish a naval station on its site.

When the trains stopped running in 1932, Mayport returned to its roots, fishing and shrimping. The community continues to coexist with US Naval Station Mayport, a military base established prior to World War II and one of the largest and most sophisticated military bases in the world. Today, what was once an historic, picturesque fishing village is giving way to modern development like all the other communities at the beach.

Beaches Museum
381 Beach Boulevard
Jacksonville Beach, Florida 32250