Arlington was one of the first areas in the United States visited by Europeans; it was the site of the French Fort Caroline, built in 1564-1565. French explorer René Goulaine de Laudonnière, led a contingent of 200 new settlers to Florida. They built Fort Caroline atop a high river vantage point now called “St. Johns Bluff.” But the colony was beset by hunger, Indian attacks, and mutiny. Even so, it looked like an attractive option for the Spanish authorities who considered it a challenge to their control over the area.
Enter the daring Spaniard Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, who violently evicted the French. The French retreated 35 miles south, where they established the first settlement of St. Augustine. Today, Fort Caroline is a National Memorial park, and a great day trip, no more than 30 minutes from just about any spot in the city.
In the 1870s and 1880s, Harriet Beecher Stowe and her family vacationed in what is now North Mandarin, on their St. Johns River estate. While living there after the Civil War, Stowe wrote Palmetto Leaves, arguably an eloquent piece of promotional literature directed at Florida's potential Northern investors at the time. The book was published in 1873 and describes Northeast Florida and its residents. In 1870, Stowe created an integrated school in Mandarin for children and adults. This predated the national movement toward integration by more than a half century.
Elvis Presley put on several shows on August 10 and 11, 1956 at the Florida Theatre, but not without ruffling some feathers. Juvenile Court Judge Marion Gooding warned Elvis after his first show that he must “tone down” his act. Elvis told reporters “I can't figure out what I'm doing wrong”. He modified his show nonetheless, wiggling his little finger suggestively with a gesture that replaced some of his less restrained body movements, but still driving the largely female teenage audience wild. It is said that Judge Marion Gooding sat next to the stage throughout the remainder of Elvis’ performances to ensure that the King’s body movements would not become too “suggestive.”
Originally a farm on the banks of the St. Johns River, the area now known as San Marco was first called Oklahoma. Harrison Reed, a life long Oklahoman, was elected Florida’s governor in 1868. Reed’s sister, Margaret Reed Mitchell and her husband, railroad tycoon Alexander Mitchell, still in love with their native Oklahoma, built their Florida winter home, Villa Alexandria, in Oklahoma Style on 140 riverfront acres, and (oddly) named their new digs and surrounding area, “Oklahoma.” But in 1921, with the construction of the Acosta bridge, which connects San Marco to Downtown, industrialist Telfair Stockton bought 80 acres of land north of the Mitchell estate and the new “San Marco” subdivision name took hold. The name is based on the Piazza di San Marco in Venice, Italy, which had impressed Mr. Stockton on a European trek.
Through the 1960s, Jacksonville, like most other large cities in the US, suffered from the effects of suburban sprawl. To compensate for the loss of population and tax revenue, (and end waste and some corruption here and there), voters elected to consolidate the government of Jacksonville with the government of Duval County. The move was carried out on October 1, 1968, and Hans Tanzler, elected mayor of Jacksonville the year before, became the first mayor of the consolidated government of Jacksonville. This single event earned Jacksonville a distinction it still enjoys today: we’re the largest United States city in land area than any other American city (outside Alaska).
Jacksonville is one of the few cities on the Eastern coast that have been largely spared from the wrath of major hurricanes. However, in 1964 the big one hit. Hurricane Dora caused severe damage, and no part of the city was spared. But, the very next day, on September 11, 1964, over 20,000 fans packed the Gator Bowl (now Everbank Field), to see the Beatles. The lads from Liverpool did not disappoint. They endured harsh winds, but they were undeterred, and so were the screaming fans. (It is rumored that the winds were blowing so hard that Ringo Starr's drum set had to be nailed down to the stage).
It wasn’t the town’s first name. Settled by the English who drifted down from Georgia, they set up shop around a shallow ford across the St. Johns River, calling the place “Cowford.” When Florida was ceded to the U.S. in 1819, Andrew Jackson became the first provisional governor, hence, Jacksonville.