Elizabeth Stark: The Wonderwood Belle

This article was written and contributed by Johnny Woodhouse. 



Wonderwood by the Sea, her 375-acre estat in East Mayport, eventually grew to more than 20 buildings, including the Ribault Inn, a lodge and dining facility. Her two-story, white stucco manor that overlooked Ribault Bay was known as “Miramar,” which means sea view in Spanish.

 Wonderwood By the Sea featured a 1,000-foot fishing pier, riding stables, a swimming pool, ball fields and an artificial lake. It was once the setting for a 1916 silent film. That same year, Stark was credited with organizing the first Girl Scout Troop in the Jacksonville area, Cherokee Rose Troop 1, made up mostly of girls from Mayport. During World War I, the Girl Scout troop played an active role in civil defense by patrolling local beaches on horseback.

In the ensuing years, Stark hosted numerous dignitaries at Wonderwood by the Sea, including Franklin D. Roosevelt, U.S. Senator Duncan Fletcher, Baron and Baroness DeWitt of Denmark, Colonel William Gaspard of France, and Jacksonville Mayor John Alsop.

Many of these prominent guests came to Wonderwood By the Sea as a result of her brother, Herman Hoffman Philip, an American diplomat and a former Rough Rider with Teddy Roosevelt.


But in 1940, life at Wonderwood by the Sea – and for Mayport as a whole – changed forever when the U.S. government waged an eminent domain battle for Stark’s land.

In 1926, Stark’s properties were worth an estimated $2 million. In 1940, the U.S. government offered her less than $40,000.

When Stark refused to leave, U.S. Marines forcibly occupied the Ribault Inn and later carried her out of her home tied to a chair. With her government settlement, Stark purchased 30 acres of undeveloped property south of the base, off what is now Pioneer Drive. She dubbed her new home Wonderwood Estates.

Stark spent her remaining years there until her death in 1967 at age 91. Once the belle of many official balls, she died alone and penniless and was buried in an unmarked grave in the Pablo Cemetery. Her husband, Jacob, a former prizefighter, preceded her in 1956.

In 1975, the Beaches Neighborhood of Girl Scouts, spearheaded by Brownie Troop 446, raised funds to mark her final resting place with a pink granite headstone etched with the Girl Scouts emblem. In 2010, the Mayport Civic Association recognized Stark’s memorable contributions to the historic fishing village with an additional marker at the foot of her modest grave.


Beaches Museum Unveils New Logo

The Beaches Museum will be wrBeaches Museum Logoapping up its 40th year by rolling out a new name and logo. Started in 1978 as the Beaches Area Historical Society, the organization has been a staple in the community with the mission “to preserve and share the distinct history and culture of the Beaches area”.
Over the years, the name of the organization has caused some confusion.”We have been called every combination you can think of-Beaches Historical Museum, Jacksonville Beach Historical Society, Beaches Museum & Historical Society..the list goes on!” says Chris Hoffman, Executive Director of the Beaches Museum. “Technically, we are the Beaches Museum & History Park, operated by the Beaches Area Historical Society, so it’s no surprise that no one can keep it straight!”
After a year-long strategic planning process, the identity of the organization rose to the top as a major strategic issue. From there, the Board of Directors engaged Wingard, a Jacksonville-based marketing and advertising firm, for the re-branding project. Interviews with key stake holders and focus group meetings guided the process that resulted in the new name and logo.
Going forward, the organization will be known as the Beaches Museum with a new logo and tag line that were selected by the Board.”The logo is modern, fun, and really captured what we were going for” says Hoffman. “The shell as the ‘a’ works on so many levels-it’s a shell, it’s an @, some people see a wave, and the fact that it is yellow ties so nicely back to the Flagler yellow as seen all across our campus”.
It will take several months to roll-out the new branding but the community can expect to see new signage, website, letterhead, etc. Future plans include merchandise in the Museum’s gift shop.

Rutledge Pearson and the Jacksonville Beach Sea Birds

This article was written by Fall 2018 Beaches Museum intern Nick Iorio.

Team photo of the Jacksonville Beach Sea Birds. Dated April 8, 1952.

Team photo of the Jacksonville Beach Sea Birds. Dated April 8, 1952.

Years before the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp (which had been known as the Jacksonville Suns) took to the baseball diamond in early 1960s, there was a different baseball team called the Jacksonville Beach Sea Birds. The Jacksonville Beach Sea Birds entertained hundreds of fans from all over Duval County and surrounding areas. Founded in 1952, the Jacksonville Beach Sea Birds played in the South Atlantic League, a minor league circuit commonly referred to as the “Sally” for short. The Sea Birds often played better than most of the other teams in their league, winning the majority of their games overall and even coming close to winning their league’s championship during their very first season in 1952. Even though the Sea Birds played well, the team never gained a substantial fan base and lasted only three seasons until their disbandment in 1954 because of the lack of revenue from fan attendance. Many other teams in the Sally also faced problems keeping fans in their seats, which caused such harsh financial burdens on the league that many teams considered disbanding to relief themselves of the financial hardship.

“Sea Birds, May 1, 1952, Beach News and Advertiser”

Sea Birds, May 1, 1952, Beach News and Advertiser

However, the league found a solution to their financial issues in 1953 when the Sally finally integrated and allowed African Americans players to play in the league, being one of the last baseball circuits in the nation to integrate. With the integration of the league, many African American players in the south left their segregated teams to play in the Sally. This was a beneficial decision for everyone involved because it provided African American players the opportunity to one day play in the major leagues and solved the league’s attendance problems by bringing in all the African American fans wanting to watch their favorite players play in the newly integrated league. The majority of the league integrated relatively smoothly with only a few teams refusing to allow African Americans to play. The Jacksonville Beach Sea Birds was one of those few teams. Through the efforts and support from city officials, citizens, and the American Legion, the Sea Birds never integrated even with the provision of the league. The team denied a number of African Americans to play including Rutledge Pearson. This decision ultimately led to the disbandment of the team.

Mr. Lloyd Pearson and Beaches Museum Director Chris Hoffman admire a plaque honoring Rutledge Pearson at post office renaming ceremony on July 20, 2018.

Mr. Lloyd Pearson and Beaches Museum Executive Director Chris Hoffman admire a plaque honoring Rutledge Pearson at post office renaming ceremony on July 20, 2018.

Born on September 9, 1929 in Jacksonville, Florida, Rutledge Pearson is best known for his civil rights activism because of his many years advocating for civil and social equality here in Northeast Florida until his tragic death in 1967. Mr. Pearson even held the office of President for both the local Jacksonville branch and the Florida state level of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) because of his lifetime dedication to civil rights activism. However, Rutledge Pearson was not always a civil rights leader. Before his leadership role in the NAACP, Pearson was a local history teacher and an African American baseball player that played in segregated teams such as the Birmingham Black Barons. Rutledge Pearson was an excellent baseball player that strove to play in the major leagues and saw the integration of the Sally as his opportunity to not only increase his chances of one day making it to the majors but also as an opportunity to play on a team close to his family and home in Jacksonville, the Jacksonville Beach Sea Birds. Looking to further his baseball career, Pearson asked the Sea Birds to play on their team but the citizens, team manager, and city officials all stood by the decision to keep the team segregated and denied his request to transfer to the team even though Pearson would have brought lots of revenue to keep the team and stadium running for a while longer. This decision ultimately led to the disbandment of the team as park officials closed down the park instead of allowing Pearson to play, a decision that devastated Pearson and led him to dedicate his life to civil rights activism.

Sea Bird Player and Two Beauty Pageant Contestants

Sea Bird Player and Two Beauty Pageant Contestants

The Jacksonville Beach Sea Birds were a talented minor league team in the early 1950s but the support from citizens and the local government to keep the team segregated resulted in the team’s disbandment after only three seasons. The Sea Birds’ time in the South Atlantic League was short and Rutledge Pearson never reached his goal to play in the majors, yet Rutledge Pearson’s experience with the Sea Birds inspired him to dedicate the rest of his life to advocate for social and civil equality, a truly remarkable and influential result


Lt. James H Doolittle and His Record Breaking Flight

  This article was written by Fall 2018 Beaches Museum intern, Alex Morales.

P-185- watermarkedAfter planes were used during the Great War for air-to-air combat, surveillance, and mail carriers, many U.S. pilots began using their skills to push the limits of aviation technology. Some modified their aircrafts to perform in stunt shows. Others, like Charles Lindberg seized the opportunity to create distance and time records. However, he was neither the only pilot nor the first to make a mark in the aeronautical history books. Jacksonville Beach played host to one famous record breaking pilot, Lt. James H. Doolittle, who set a new transcontinental flight record in 1922.

Before breaking flight records, Doolittle was a flying instructor with the Army Air Service in Eagle Pass, Texas where he performed border patrol duties. After years of planning, Doolittle prepared his military issued DeHaviland plane to withstand the long distance flight across the U.S. He stripped it of excess weight so it could support a 285 gallon fuel tank and still remain light. On August 6, 1922, at Pablo Beach (present-day Jacksonville Beach), a large crowd of well-wishers and spectators gathered to see him take off. As his plane taxied across the beach, it got caught in soft sand making it veer into the ocean.

Although embarrassed by the faux pas, Doolittle made the necessary repairs to his plane to try again. On September 4, 1922 at 10 pm, with just kerosene lanterns to illuminate the beach, Doolittle soared into the skies and into history. Twenty-one hours and nineteen minutes later, he touched down in San Diego and broke the transcontinental flight record. Making only one stop in San Antonio, he averaged a speed of 105P-186 -watermarked miles per hour and stayed at an altitude of 3,500 feet.

Pablo Beach figured greatly in aviation history due to its location. The distance between San Diego and Pablo Beach is the shortest transcontinental route—a distance of 2,270 miles. The southern route contained fewer mountain ranges and provided relatively better weather conditions for flying. With more military bases along the route, it also ensured that pilots had more opportunities to land safely, refuel, or to seek assistance and shelter in emergency situations. Additionally, beaches served as a prime location for airplanes as the long stretches of sandy shoreline provided an area for pilots to land and take off.

Before Doolittle, Robert Flowler’s flight on October 20, 1911 was the first southerly coast-to-coast flight to land in Pablo Beach. His endeavor took 115 days. Albert D. Smith and his group took 18 days to land in Pablo Beach in 1918. The following year, Major J. T. McCauley flew from coast to coast in 25 hours and 45 mins. Two years later in 1921, Lt. William DeVoe Coney landed in Pablo Beach from San Diego iDoolittle 1 -watermarkedn 22 hours and 27 minutes.

After making aviation history, Doolittle went on to become a Lieutenant General in the United States Air Force. On April 18, 1942, he and his crew, the Doolittle Raiders, flew 16 bombers leading the first surprise raid on Tokyo. His actions during WWII earned Doolittle military distinctions.

Years later, the Beaches Area Historical Society sought to commemorate the military hero for his role in the history of Jacksonville Beach. On September 4, 1980, the Society invited Lt. Gen. Doolittle back to Jacksonville Beach to unveil and dedicate a marker honoring his historic flight in 1922. The marker continues to stand tall in the Museum’s history park.

Beaches Tidings Fall 2018

Fall 2018The Fall 2018 issue of Beaches Tidings, The Newsletter of the Beaches Museum & History Park, is now available.  Click here to read this edition of Beach Tidings.

“To Plan a Future for Our Past”


By: Alex Morales, Summer Intern

In the late 1970s, the City of Jacksonville Beach moved forward with plans to further urbanize the area. With urbanization efforts in full swing, Jacksonville Beach resident, Mrs. Jean McCormick, became concerned for the lack of historical preservation efforts and available information regarding her hometown’s past. On February 22, 1978, Mrs. McCormick and her Husband, J. T. McCormick invited a group of friends over to their house for cherry pie to celebrate President George Washington’s birthday.

She discussed the need to increase community awareness, preservation efforts to protect significant structures and landmarks and, most of all, to celebrate the rich history of the Beaches. With that, the friends formed the Beaches Area Historical Society. Their mission became “to plan a future for our past.” With that mission in mind the group set out to create a comprehensive history by designating Mayport, Atlantic Beach, Neptune Beach, Jacksonville Beach, Ponte Vedra Beach, and Palm Valley, Florida as the Beaches Area.

Gathering local support and funding became a forefront issue. The Society spread their mission through 2word of mouth, letters amongst friends, running newspaper articles, as well as networking with other historical preservation groups and city council members. Likewise, the Society became heavily involved in local community activities. The April Opening of the Beaches parade signaled an early turning point for the Society. With a massive community turnout, an unexpected explosion of a nearby buggy during the parade ignited community awareness of the Society. Mr. Charles Cook Howell, Jr. wrote in a small note to Mrs. McCormick stating, “a true Champion has started the society off with a bang! This certainly argues well for the future.”

In the following months, the Society saw a jump in membership and elected their first Officers and Board Members. In July, they created an official logo and drafted their first newsletter to mail members in the community. By October, the Society organized their first historical exhibits. Not having a facility or museum did 3not stop them from putting one together. They utilized two small spaces in the Ocean State Bank and Beaches Guaranty Bank to display two exhibits “full of Memorabilia” that even included a 100,000 year old mammoth tooth.

It was not until March 1, 1979 that the Society became a registered nonprofit organization. With an official title in hand, they arranged quarterly talks for members and invited the extended Beaches community to listen to lectures on local history. In May, Jacksonville Beach City Council approved the Society’s petition for a flat-ironed shaped property located between Beach Blvd and Pablo Ave to establish a historical park. They lastappropriately named it Pablo Historical Park after Jacksonville Beach’s previous name. The park eventually became home to five “at risk” structures, items, memorials, and markers representing and celebrating the bygone era of the Beaches Area. However, the addition of the Beaches Museum and History Center in 2006 ushered a new phase of the Society’s role in the community.

After forty years, the Beaches Area Historical Society continues to be a staple of the Beaches Area community. Despite the passing of time and a changing landscape, the spirit of the Society continues to endure with its new mission: “to preserve and share the distinct history and culture of the Beaches area.”



Beaches Tidings Spring 2018

Spring 2018The Spring 2018 issue of Beaches Tidings, The Newsletter of the Beaches Museum & History Park, is now available.  Click here to read this edition of Beach Tidings.

History of the Heritage Garden

This article was written by Master Gardener Lee McDonald in honor of the 10th Anniversary of the Beaches Museum Heritage Garden.

April 1, 2018 marks the 10th Anniversary of the Heritage Garden inHeritage Garden - Photo Jacksonville Beach. Located on Beach Blvd at the Beaches Museum & History Park, the garden, a Duval County Extension Demonstration Garden, is maintained by Master Gardener volunteers with the purpose of community education in gardening practices.

On its first anniversary, Jacksonville’s mayor designated the garden as one of the city’s top greenspace revitalization projects. Soil is critical to successful plantings because, as in much of Florida, our soils are very sandy. In by-gone days, soils here were naturally composted by horses, cows, chickens, and more roaming fauna than we see today. Fallen leaves were returned to landscapes and ash from heating and cooking were turned into the sand and soil. These historical practices made soils more suitable for gardening due to rich natural and scheduled amendments.

Composting remains essential to sustainable gardening. Thus, it is not surprising that the first order of business on April Fool’s day in 2008 was to collect composted horse manure from a local farm and plow it into the soil. These soil restoration practices from that initial day have made continued maintenance and development productive at the Heritage Garden.

Heritage Garden - Photo 2Mid-20th century, folks discovered that much chemical fertilization could boost turf and gardens around homes. The last seventy years, however, have taught us that practices, including excessive applications and misuse of certain chemicals in herbicides, fertilizers, and pesticides, damage the water table, successful human habitation, and the environment, creating a less sustainable community. As a learning center, the garden’s goal is sharing best garden practices. Volunteers show Extension recommended practices, observing how plant choices and gardening methods work to support quality of life in our specific environment.

The 2008 Heritage Garden, envisioned to complement the turn-of-the-twentieth-century Foreman’s House, was confined to a space measuring thirty percent less than the 13′ x 18′ space is occupied within two years. Numbering fewer than ten in 2008, MG volunteers now number thirty. Over the past four years, the garden has expanded rapidly; specialized garden areas include the kitchen (vegetable and herb), rose, perennial, butterfly, shade or ginger, and bromeliad gardens as well as specialized plantings of historical native and non-native plants throughout the park. At present, the garden hosts over 240 varieties of plants with new additions every season. It is accessible with paved pathways and ramps meeting ADA standards. Visitors may wander through and observe the garden during museum hours. Tours are available by reservation. School and civic groups regularly schedule visits to tour the garden and museum exhibits.

Heritage Garden - Photo 3In 2012, the Heritage Garden was recognized by UF/IFAS Florida Master Gardener Program as one of Florida’s most outstanding demonstration gardens.  Over the decade, we have faced typical challenges of Florida living, actively engaging in renewal and sustainable practices for both edible and ornamental plant growth.  The garden has weathered development and redevelopment with the addition of two newly moved and restored historic buildings which altered the footprint of the garden as well as storms and hurricanes which served as reminders of the history of our community.  The French first recorded a hurricane here in 1564; but human habitation here at the mouth of the St. John’s spans thousands of years.  The Beaches Museum and Heritage Gardens presents the simple, amazing history of the region we call home. The Heritage Garden is a demonstration of practices which will yield a successful home garden on our island today.

Beaches Museum
381 Beach Boulevard
Jacksonville Beach, Florida 32250