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THE JAXSON | Memory lane: Downtown’s Main Street in 1952

Published on May 15, 2024 at 12:15 pm

Jacksonville was a very different city in 1950. According to the U.S. Census, its was a dense, pedestrian-scale city that was home to 204,275 residents. Twenty-four-thousand workers were employed in the city’s 350 manufacturing establishments. There were 175 parks within city limits, with a total of 1,070 acres of dedicated parkland. Of the city’s 60,050 residential units, only 30% were owned by their occupants. Only about 380 miles of the city’s 641-mile street network were paved. Residents also had access to four daily newspapers.

Looking north on South Main Street in 1952

In 1950, most of the city’s 78 wharves and port terminals were located along the Downtown riverfront. Principal exports were iron and steel, lumber and millwork, naval stores, cotton and fabrics, and wood pulp. Chief imports were petroleum products, fertilizer and materials, gypsum rock, bananas, green coffee and newsprint. To accommodate the port’s growth, the dredging of the river to 34 feet was nearing completion.

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As a result, a decade before the opening of Interstate 95, Main Street had become a congested highway bringing thousands through Downtown on a daily basis. This forgotten scene was captured by T. W. Kines in a series of photographs taken in January 1952, courtesy of the National Archives Catalog.

The intersection of Main and State streets looking north towards Springfield
Looking east at the intersection of Main and West State streets. Today, a 7-Eleven convenience store is located where the Massey Motors building stood.
Looking west on East Union Street toward Main Street.
Looking north toward the intersection of Main and Union streets. Today, the 7-Eleven and Shell gas stations dominate the intersection.
A busy Downtown street scene at the intersection of Main and Forsyth streets. Today, Super Food and Brew occupies the ground-floor storefront in the 11 East Building that was once the Darling Shop.
Main Street and Downtown from the Main Street Bridge
Heavy Main Street traffic headed out of Downtown. The collection of buildings to the left were razed during the early 1970s for the construction of the Independent Life Building. Completed in 1974, the 535-foot skyscraper is now the second-tallest building in Jacksonville.
The Main Street Bridge was completed in 1941.
During the decade before the opening of I-95 in Jacksonville, Main Street was designed with reversible lanes to accommodate rush hour traffic.
Three lanes of heavy southbound traffic on the Main Street Bridge.
An officer with what was then the Jacksonville Police Department directs rush hour traffic at the intersection of Main Street at Miami Road on the Southbank. Today, Miami Road is known as Prudential Drive.

author image The Jaxson Ennis Davis, AICP is an urban planner and member of the city of Jacksonville's Downtown Development Review Board. He is also co-owner of The Jaxson and Modern Cities. Reach Ennis at edavis@moderncities.com.
author image The Jaxson Ennis Davis, AICP is an urban planner and member of the city of Jacksonville's Downtown Development Review Board. He is also co-owner of The Jaxson and Modern Cities. Reach Ennis at edavis@moderncities.com.

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