Top Navigation

This photo doesn't do justice to the splendor that was Mayor Greeley's Riverside Avenue home. This showplace was located north of the gallery of elegant mansions called The Row, which developed mostly during the early 1900s. The residence was located on what is now the site of a large office building just south of the Florida Times-Union headquarters. The Greeley residence had originally been a typical, two-story, Southern country dwelling made of wood, with a wide, double-storied front porch. During the early 1890s, however, the house was made much larger by the addition of three more stories, including a tower with French doors and a gallery. A three-story porch fronted the mansion, and extremely fancy scrollwork decorated the porch. Townsfolk loved the look. Mayor Greeley's house stood until 1916, when it was replaced by a car dealership. No doubt it would prove a historical treasure today had it survived.
Shingles cover most of this dwelling, including the main porch posts and the arch over the entrance. One of the final two houses from "The Row," the structure stands at 1521 Riverside Avenue and dates from about 1901 to 1905. Its original owner, William J. Kelly, the vice president of the Naval Stores Export Company, belonged to the Gum Bunch.
A parasoled lady strolls down Riverside Avenue in about 1910. This scene is "at the bend," which today would be next to the entrance to Memorial Park. This is where the street makes a sharp turn southwest.
Here's one of the last two remaining mansions from The Row, a gallery of elegant residences along Riverside Avenue during the early 1900s. Situated near Memorial Park at 1541 Riverside, this dwelling was constructed in 1906-1907. Its first owner was R. L. Stringfellow, a wholesale grocer, and he was followed by James L. Medlin, a turpentine magnate. Medlin and other turpentine industrialists were jokingly referred to as "the Gum Bunch." Jacksonville once served as a center for "naval stores," substances obtained from pine trees, including such sticky stuff as resin and turpentine. The term "naval stores" comes the days when wooden sailing ships, including naval vessels, were waterproofed with pine products. Nowadays, turpentine is used for medicines, solvents, paint thinners, and other items. Resin has been utilized for everything from glue for envelope flaps to ingredients in ointments & plasters. The Medlin family owned their Riverside Avenue house for sixty years. Now beautifully restored, it contains offices for Northeast Florida Dermatology.
Riverside Avenue was once lined with more than 50 mansions.

Riverside’s Lost “Row”

HIGH SOCIETY– To receive a dinner invitation to “The Row” used to be quite an honor. This was the nickname for the northern portion of Riverside Avenue, when more than 50 spectacular mansions lined its sides. During its glory days of the early 1900s, Riverside Avenue ran through the residential showplace of the Gateway to Florida. The Row extended about seven blocks, from Margaret to Edison streets, a stretch that today includes Memorial Park, the Cummer Museum, and the Garden Club.

Entertaining proved such a way of life along The Row that its houses were sometimes designed with this in mind. According to George Hallam’s wonderful memoir Riverside Remembered, a well laid-out residence would boast a dining room that opened into a wide colonial hall that ran through the structure’s center, giving partiers easy access to first floor rooms. A reception could prove a feast of flora, with chambers decked with palms, ferns, autumn leaves, magnolia wreaths, bridesmaid roses, and yellow and crimson chrysanthemums. Even more eye-catching were the ladies, showing off Paris gowns of satin, Brussels lace, and crepe de chine. A butler might greet the guests, and the hosts would bid them welcome in a receiving line. While an orchestra provided mood music, visitors could partake of ice cream in the dining room, coffee and chocolates in the den, and a punch bowl in the library. These were the grand days of formal dinners, dances, teas, holiday celebrations, and debuts for Riverside’s debutantes.

Perhaps the centerpiece of ritzy Riverside Avenue was a five-story gingerbread house situated not far too north of The Row. This popular hang-out for weekend visitors, located in the neighborhood of Brooklyn, belonged to Jax Mayor J. C. Greeley, father of prominent local architect Mellen C. Greeley. The dwelling’s tower gave a terrific view of the downtown harbor. Many photos were taken from this vantage point, and a number of these images ended up on postcards and in books and brochures.

PICTURE ABOVE — A pink parasoled lady strolls down Riverside Avenue in about 1910. This old postcard indicates that the scene is “at the bend,” which today would be next to the entrance to Memorial Park. This is where the street makes a sharp turn southwest

BOVINE INVADERS — The Row may not have been as exclusive as some of its residents wished. During the early 1900s, the Florida cowboys may’ve been as welcomed as the Clampetts would be in Beverly Hills: These wranglers on horseback often herded their cattle down Riverside Avenue. They were headed to a slaughterhouse on Lackawanna (now Edison) Avenue. Someone would cry out “Cattle comin’!” Then, according to Riverside Remembered, the bullwhips would crack and the hooves would kick the dirt into swirling clouds of dust.

The Row is gone with the wind. Almost every mansion fell victim to the bulldozer and wrecking ball. Modern office buildings and other commercial structures stand where many of the stately homes once did. Only two remain, a couple of wonderfully eclectic dwellings at 1521 and 1541 Riverside Avenue. Both lie in the immediate vicinity of Memorial Park. The neighborhood’s demise was partly caused by commercial zoning, which also impacted Main Street in Springfield in about 1930. Furthermore, The Row was cut up and transformed by the construction of the Fuller Warren Bridge and Interstate 95 during the Fifties. The building of highways and bridges also greatly affected, for example, the neighborhood of East Jacksonville, which is in the vicinity of Everbank Field.

Copyright © 2017 by Jacksonville Historical Society