Palm Valley

Travis Hayman and Two Deer

Travis Hayman pictured with two deer he killed with one shot in Palm Valley on December 26, 1935

Long before the first Spanish settlers arrived, there was an Indian village in what we call Palm Valley today. Several Indian mounds have been uncovered revealing points, pottery and human skeletons. Early Franciscan missionaries constructed a mission in the area called The Nativity of Our Lady of Tolomato.

By 1703, Don Diego Espinoza had settled in what is today the Palm Valley area. His vast ranch and the surrounding territory was known as Diego Plains. In the 1730s, the ranch was fortified to protect its inhabitants from Indian attack. By 1739, Great Britain and Spain were at war and trouble was brewing for the Diego Plains settlers.

British General James Oglethorpe was commissioned to harass the Spanish settlements south of the colony of Georgia so the Spanish governor fortified the Diego farmhouse which was already being called Fort San Diego. After Oglethorpe’s failure to capture St. Augustine, the Spanish military abandoned Fort San Diego, but other inhabitants moved into the area, living off the land and the cattle.

Cracker Landing

Cracker Landing on west side of Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway in Palm Valley; dredging the canal, April 1916

In 1908, a canal was dug through Diego Plains connecting the San Pablo River to the north with the Tolomato River near St. Augustine to the south. This intracoastal canal made access to the valley much easier for the residents that had settled in this area. In addition to raising cattle, they farmed, logged, and sold palm fronds to religious groups. The many palm trees growing in the region led some of the settlers to decide on the name Palm Valley for their community.

Prohibition turned some of the valley residents to another source of income – moonshine. The abundant water supply and deep woods areas in the valley were ideal for the concealment of illegal whiskey distilling. The moonshine industry thrived even after the Volstead Act was repealed in 1933, but the rising price of sugar finally brought the illegal whiskey industry to an end.

Deputy Sheriff Everett Heaney

Deputy Sheriff Everett Heaney destroying illegal Still and Equipment in Palm Valley, ca 1955

Palm Valley remained a quiet area of the Beaches, between A1A and U.S. 1. There were many farms where produce and livestock were raised. The development of the Beaches has also affected Palm Valley. Today most farms in the valley have disappeared, opening the land for luxurious residences overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway.

Ponte Vedra Beach

Historic Buckman & Pritchard Sand Plant at Mineral City, ca. 1922

Historic Buckman & Pritchard Sand Plant at Mineral City, ca. 1922

Ponte Vedra Beach has enjoyed a rich 400-year history, with a different flare than the other Beach communities. Since the establishment of St. Augustine by the Spanish in 1565, and the founding of Fort Caroline by the French to the north in 1564, soldiers have traveled the sands of Ponte Vedra Beach vying for a foothold in Northeast Florida.

This area has been rich in rattlesnakes, alligators, mosquitoes, and minerals. The National Lead Company mined for minerals in the sand for years, and at that time there were as many mules as people in Mineral City.

Original Ponte Vedra Country Club

Original Ponte Vedra Country Club – 3-story log cabin, 1935

When it became less profitable to extract minerals from the sand, the National Lead Company brought in the Telfair Stockton Company to begin a real estate development of the site. Since the area was being developed for an affluent clientele, one of the first tasks was to change the name from Mineral City to something with a little more widespread appeal. An article on Ponte Vedra Beach, Spain, and its claim to being the birthplace of Christopher Columbus (inaccurate), swayed the decision. The name Ponte Vedra Beach was chosen. The last vestiges of the mining past were obliterated, the slate cleaned, and Ponte Vedra Beach was on its way!

Benny P. Buza, Jr., O.D. and J. Gallagher, members of U. S. Coast Guard in Ponte Vedra, August 15, 1943

Benny P. Buza, Jr., O.D. and J. Gallagher, members of U. S. Coast Guard in Ponte Vedra, August 15, 1943

The remoteness of the Beaches was still a problem. The developers offered initial buyers deep discounts to encourage development and a small, existing golf course was greatly improved. As residential development increased, the State of Florida completed the road from Jacksonville Beach south to St. Augustine, opening the last segment of the East Coast Scenic Highway. Ponte Vedra Beach was in the conceptual stage in 1928 when the owners of the land actually set up plans for serious development of the area as a resort.

By 1942, National Lead Company sold its interest in Ponte Vedra Beach to the locally driven Ponte Vedra Beach Corporation. The community rapidly developed into a year-round resort community with a substantial permanent population. Today, Ponte Vedra Beach is considered one of the most luxurious recreational and residential locations in the country, offering over 153 holes of golf, 60 tennis courts and miles of fabulous and famous white sand beaches.

Ponte Vedra Beach Timeline

Jacksonville Beach

Cars On Beach

Classic Cars on Jacksonville Beach, 1955

Ruby, Pablo Beach, or Jacksonville Beach – no matter what it has been called, this special place has been the hub of Beaches life since the early days of the 1880s. This was the beach for fun and festivities, of the railroad, and the beach that set the tone for the development of the other beaches. This is the Famous Beach.

In true Florida style, Jacksonville Beach began here with the dream of development: to turn this “oak scrub beach” into the tourist and entertainment hub of the Atlantic Coast. Beginning as a tent city for a few hardy souls, Jacksonville Beach has become a business, resort and residential community able to thrive on change and recognize adversity as an opportunity.

American Red Cross Volunteer Life Saving Corps Station

American Red Cross Volunteer Life Saving Corps Station, 1940s

In 1884, William and Eleanor Scull set up their tent home at the beach to help survey the area for the coming railroad. Eleanor opened the first general store and post office on the beach, thereby bestowing the name Ruby on the area. The little community grew. In 1899, Henry Flagler purchased the faltering Jacksonville & Atlantic Railroad, converting it to regular gauge and spearheading the development of the area. Some 20 years later, the boardwalk had become a major attraction and the Beaches population grew. Racing, aviation, dancing, eating and frolicking in the waves became hallmarks of Jacksonville Beach!

Jacksonville Beach Pier Boardwalk

Historic Boardwalk and pier, July 4, 1928
Boardwalk and pier, July 4, 1928

Today, the sense of community is very strong here as Jacksonville Beach experiences growing pains. The city is growing vertically with old landmarks being replaced by modern cement “sand castles” and an influx of new residents. The atmosphere is still warm and friendly as a small town would be. The Jacksonville Beach welcome is still strong after some 110 years. Old friend or new friend, we are glad you are here.

Jacksonville Beach
Jacksonville Beach Timeline

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