An old house in Downtown Jacksonville’s Cathedral District contains a fascinating history. 411 Liberty St. was home to Maxey Moody Sr., founder of M.D. Moody & Sons construction company. Moody’s descendant Andrew R. Nicholas tells the story of Moody family and their home.
The house at 411 Liberty St., located about a half-mile west of EverBank Stadium, was built around 1910 for newlyweds Ethel and Maxey Dell Moody. Maxey was a businessman who established a road construction machinery business in 1913 called M.D. Moody; he would go on to be called by The Florida Times-Union the “oldest construction machinery man in Florida.”
Above all, Maxey and Ethel Moody were the parents of four children and later the grandparents of many grandchildren. It was at 411 Liberty where Maxey became the patriarch of the Ocala-Jacksonville Moody family, supplanting his roots and leaving a long-lasting legacy in Jacksonville.
Maxey Dell Moody was born on December 12, 1883, the son of Eliza and the late Dr. S.W. Moody of Ocala. Growing up in Ocala, Maxey grew to become a salesman in various trades ranging from health drugs to railroad stock to cigars. After the Great Fire of 1901, Maxey relocated to Jacksonville, where he learned the trade of road construction machinery. Maxey met Ethel Muller in the 1900s soon after he arrived from Ocala.
Ethel Muller was born on September 28, 1890, to Janey and Gustav Muller. Gustav was a German immigrant who arrived to the United States sometime in the 1860s. In Jacksonville, Gustav planted his German-American roots as a keen businessman. In the 1890s Gustav built a house at Jacksonville Beach for his family. The Muller Beach House still stands as one of the oldest house in Jacksonville Beach. On September 17, 1897, Gustav unexpectedly died at 48 years old, leaving the Muller Beach House to his wife, Janey, who had to then care for their three children.
After the Great Fire of 1901, a two-story house was built in Jacksonville facing Duval Street. The house became 405 E. Duval and later 409 Liberty, and ultimately was the residence of Janey Muller and her three children.
On April 15, 1909, Maxey and Ethel married in Janey Muller’s house with Father Maher of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception performing the ceremony. The couple were not allowed to marry in a Catholic church because Maxey was Methodist while Ethel was Catholic. The newly married couple temporarily lived at 409 Liberty St. until construction was complete on their two-story house next door at 411 Liberty St. Their new house was built in the common Prairie Style still seen throughout the Riverside neighborhood and is referred to by the Jacksonville Historical Preservation Commission as a craftsman house.
Maxey and Ethel lived at 411 Liberty for the remainder of their lives and raised four children, all of whom were born at home. Their children were Dolores “Didi” Moody, born July 2, 1910; Maxey Dell Moody Jr., born June 15, 1913; Muller Pearson Moody, born October 20, 1917; and Ethel Jeannine “Jean” Moody, born April 9, 1930. Ethel was a stay-at-home mom and tended to the home.
In 1928, Ethel’s mother, Janey Muller, died, leaving 409 Liberty to her other daughter Minnie, who was a a widow who had lost her husband in World War I and had to raise their only child alone. Ethel’s older brother Gustav Muller Jr. at the time was a wealthy businessman with a hotel in Miami and two in Jacksonville. Gustav also owned a bottling business on Myrtle Avenue which is now occupied by Myrtle Avenue Brewing.
Maxey Moody’s machinery business was called M.D. Moody and it was located at one of the warehouses of the ACL Warehouse Viaduct in the present-day area of the CSX headquarters on the other side of Downtown from 411 Liberty. In the 1940s M.D. Moody was incorporated as M.D. Moody & Sons. After Maxey’s death in 1949, M.D. Moody & Sons relocated to Philips Highway. The business was in operation for 100 years until its closing in 2013.
Maxey first worked at a road-grader distributor in the early 1910s. Between 1913 and 1918 Maxey began to do business under the name M. D. Moody. His business grew over time to include more road grader brands and machinery into the 1920s with a warehouse called ACL Riverside Viaduct. The ACL warehouses were located at the present-day location of the CSX Corporation headquarters building.
It was also in the 1920s that Maxey became a member of the nearby Scottish Rite Masonic Center. Maxey also had an office at the Morocco Temple on Newnan Street. The drive from 411 Liberty over to the ACL Warehouses, Morocco Temple and Scottish Rite Masonic Center would have made for a short commute. In the 1940s, Maxey’s sons Maxey Jr. and Muller worked with their father at M. D. Moody. In 1946, the business was incorporated to M. D. Moody & Sons and later included cranes.
Maxey Moody Sr. came to not like the growing change to the area of 411 Liberty, so he decided to purchase 15 acres of property on the St. Johns River adjacent to the present-day Reddie Point Preserve in Arlington. However, Maxey’s health had other plans. On July 27, 1949, while Maxey was opening business mail at M. D. Moody & Sons, he had a sudden heart attack and died at age 65.
Today, the 15 acres on the St. Johns River Maxey Moody Sr. had acquired are for sale once again. The current owners want to sell to someone willing to turn the property into a park. If you are interested in preserving the property instead of seeing it possibly developed into more apartments, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Maxey’s death was a sudden shock for Ethel and the rest of the family. Ethel had only two months to mourn before she had to face another tragedy: the death of her older sister Minnie on September 30, 1949. Minnie’s death made Ethel also inherit 409 Liberty. Ethel’s youngest daughter, Jean, who was attending the Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, dropped out to move in at 411 Liberty to care for her widowed mother. Jean was such a faithful daughter that she refused to leave her mother even after an appropriate mourning period.
When Jean married Walter Butler in 1955, she and Walter built another house that adjoined 411 Liberty and faced Duval street, adding another generation to the family compound. Jean and Walter stayed with Ethel until her death March 10, 1976. The dutiful daughter spent 27 years taking care of her mother.
Maxey’s business M.D. Moody & Sons was left to his sons Maxey Moody Jr. and Muller Moody after his death in 1949. The business relocated from the ACL Warehouse Viaduct to Philips Highway in 1951 under their leadership. The business eventually grew beyond Jacksonville to include branches in Tampa, Fort Myers, Pompano Beach and Mobile, Alabama. The business diversified in the 1960s with a new marine business called MOBRO Marine.
On March 10, 1976, Ethel Moody died at 85 years old. The death of Ethel left 411 Liberty St. to her daughter Jean Butler. Jean retained ownership of 411 Liberty St. until her death on July 28, 2001. Jean’s husband, Walter Butler, then inherited 411 Liberty and the 15 acres of land on the St. Johns River. After Walter Butler died in 2011, the properties were transferred to their four children. In 2022, the house was sold to a private owner unrelated to the Moody family. It will forever be associated with the Moodys.
Find Andrew R. Nicholas on X at a_r_nicholas.