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City of Jacksonville funding for Casket Factory

The Florida Casket Company factory at 318 Palmetto Street
Thanks to City Council President Scott Wilson and At-Large Council Member Matt Carlucci, the Jacksonville Historical Society’s campaign to pay for renovations to its century-old Florida Casket Company building may receive significant help from the Council’s reserve.

On February 26, City Council heard public comments on Bill 2020-115, an appropriation of $35,000 from the City Council Operating Contingency to the Jacksonville Historical Society to assist in the restoration project at the Casket Factory building. The bill was sponsored by Council President Scott Wilson and Council Member Matt Carlucci, co-sponsored by Tommy Hazouri, Randy DeFoor and Ju’Coby Pittman. There were no dissenting remarks and the bill will advance for two more public hearings before Council votes on it.

Additionally, during the meeting, the Mayor’s Chief Administrative Officer, Brian Hughes, shared that Mayor Lenny Curry will direct $15,000 from his office’s discretionary funds account to the project. This funding from the City will put the Jacksonville Historical Society’s campaign fundraising well over the $50,000 needed for the Delores Barr Weaver Foundation matching grant.

How did this come about? On January 30, JHS Executive Director Alan Bliss and Archivist Mitch Hemann met with Wilson and Carlucci to discuss the urgency of expanding the Society’s archival processing and storage facility. To illustrate the point, Hemann showed a badly deteriorated photo negative of former Major League baseball player Hank Aaron. Audible gasps from others in the room indicated the point was well received. The photo was one among tens of thousands in the JHS collection, most of which await digitization and, by the end of the meeting, Wilson and Carlucci agreed to co-sponsor a bill to allocate up to $35,000 in funds toward the renovation campaign.

At the publicly-noticed meeting was a team from Action News Jax, the CBS affiliate. Following the meeting, reporter Jamarlo Phillips took a tour of the Florida Casket Company building at 318 Palmetto Street, where Bliss talked about the vision for the three-story, 13,500-square-foot brick building at the corner of Duval and Palmetto Streets.

The first floor was originally designated for fabricating caskets, the second floor for finishing, and the third floor for storage. The products were for sale across the Southeast. The first phase of renovations will result in an up-to-date, 4,500 square-foot archival processing and storage facility throughout the second floor of the building. This space will house the JHS’s sensitive collections – donated from many of Jacksonville’s families, businesses, and organizations such as the Woman’s Club of Jacksonville, Memorial Park Association, and Riverside Avondale Preservation, as well as records from local government, and the Florida Times-Union – in a secure, stable environment. Our plans are to digitize and catalog these records, along with our tens of thousands of photographs and photo negatives, making them available to researchers everywhere.

Subsequent to the publicity garnered by the visit to City Hall, Dr. Bliss and JHS Board President Frederick Kent III, along with Archivist Mitch Hemann, met with Brian Hughes and his administrative deputy, Stephanie Burch, at their request, to talk about the renovation project. That visit on Feb. 12 spurred the Mayor’s decision to approve the additional funding. We are grateful for all the support from City Hall, the City Council and the Mayor’s Office to help us in our mission to “Educate and inspire the greater Jacksonville community to value its history,
by fostering understanding of how the region’s past shapes our present.

Jacksonville deserves a state-of-the art public history archive. Click here to help take the Jacksonville Historical Society to the next level.

Kate A. Hallock
Director of Marketing and Communications

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