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The Forgotten Village of Silvertown

LeBaron-Map-1887bbSilvertown was a curious real estate development, appearing on the 1887 LeBaron Map of Jacksonville as a small rectangular subdivision immediately to the west of Riverside, which at that time ended at Barrs Street.

The most unusual aspect of Silvertown was that it was bisected by a swamp, which separated the east and west portions by about two blocks (see yellow highlight on the map below). At that time there were virtually no other houses built beyond Margaret Street in the Riverside subdivision, and Silvertown was isolated at the edge of town.

Augusst BuesingIt was platted by August Buesing, a German immigrant who lived in the nearby suburb of Brooklyn (shown in pink on the large map). Buesing was an eccentric man who apprenticed as a barber/surgeon in his hometown of Hanover in the late 1850s and immigrated to Jacksonville in 1869 to “achieve great wealth and reputation” with his medical knowledge. Instead of practicing medicine, for unknown reasons he became a soap manufacturer and a grocer, setting up shop in a one-story wooden building on the corner of Commercial Street (later named Riverside Avenue) and Leila Street, across from where the Times-Union building is today.

He was Justice of the Peace for Brooklyn and published a magazine, The Advocate of Common Sense. By 1878 he had also written three books, including What Is Yellow Fever? Its Origin, Prevention and Remedy, Whether It Is Contagious. Another of his books advocated equal rights for women as well as for blacks, and another book decried the evils of intoxicating alcohol. He also got into politics and ran for Mayor of Jacksonville in 1899 against J.E.T. Bowden. Buesing was narrowly defeated by Bowden: 1,154 to 17 votes.

He also dabbled in real estate. On the western edge of Brooklyn was a thriving little community of black folks, made up mostly of former black soldiers who had occupied Jacksonville during the latter part of the Civil War. As Brooklyn filled up with white residents, they were starting to get crowded out, so Buesing decided build new town way out in the woods just for blacks. He named it Silvertown.

Buesing continued his grocery business on Riverside Avenue until his death in 1918 at age 74. As the years went by, the all-white Riverside subdivision grew up and around Silvertown, making it a small island of black residents surrounded by an all-white neighborhood. On the map, Boston Street was later renamed King Street, and Intuition Ale Works is now in the location shown by the red dot. The new “Silvertown Ale” brewed by Intuition is dedicated to this little town that gradually was absorbed by expansion of the Riverside subdivision.

LeBaron-Map-1887a

Although Silvertown has disappeared, the small population of blacks continued on until the 1980s. Lula Young Hamilton owned the house on Silvertown Lot #5, Block #8, in the 1880’s (now 741 King Street). She lived there until her death in 1941, and her daughter Mamie Adams resided there until 1980, when she was in her nineties. As the growth of the Riverside suburb advanced, engulfing the small Silvertown subdivision, Lula Hamilton was one of the few black property owners remaining in a predominantly white neighborhood. Her one-story house is different in style and character from most of the other neighborhood residences.

A small number of other nearby wood-frame houses were possibly a part of the Silvertown development: 717 King Street; 2660, 2674, and 2678 Gilmore Street.

So drink a toast to the memory of August, Lula, Mamie, and the forgotten village of Silvertown.

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