Big Plans for Former Casket Factory

Members and friends of the Jacksonville Historical Society already know something about our project to renovate and activate the Society’s 102-year-old factory building, originally home to the Florida Casket Company. When completed, this project will provide secure facilities for

museum and exhibition space devoted primarily to Jacksonville’s enduring and diverse music history; a secure repository for the archival collections of the JHS, all pertaining to Jacksonville; and a performance and event venue supporting the exhibits of the museum and the educational mission of the Jacksonville Historical Society. That mission is “to strengthen citizenship by engaging and educating Jacksonville’s people about their history, through preserving and sharing the evidence of the city’s past, and by advocating the value of historic preservation.”
Since 2011, the three-story, 13,500-square-foot building has been unoccupied and unusable due to obsolete or missing systems, unsafe stairwells and the absence of current life safety infrastructure. Since 2012 the JHS has owned the property as well as the adjacent Old St. Luke’s Hospital, which houses our offices, research library and portions of the Haskell Archive of Jacksonville history. The renovation will support programming of the casket building’s three floors as follows:

Floor 1: Museum and exhibition space devoted principally to Jacksonville’s music history.
Floor 2: Archival processing, preservation, and research space for the JHS’s collections.
Floor 3: Event venue and meeting space.

On August 11, we received final approval of our design plans from the City’s Downtown Development Review Board. Construction will begin immediately upon issuance of building permits. The initial phases will include construction of two new stairwell towers, the eastern one of which will incorporate ADA restrooms and kitchen facilities for the use of staff and event vendors. All existing windows will be replaced, exterior brick walls tuckpointed and waterproofed, the existing elevator updated, fire sprinkler system updated and recertified, and new HVAC machinery and systems installed throughout the building. Subsequent phases will make the building safe and usable by staff, volunteers and visitors.

Founded on May 3, 1929, the JHS is the only professional public history organization serving all of the people of Jacksonville. No other organization does what the JHS does in Duval County. Renovation of the casket building will allow the JHS staff and volunteers to store and preserve artifacts, documents, manuscripts, books, and historic photos relating to the City’s past in a secure environment. Doing this in a century-old factory on the east side of downtown Jacksonville is faithful to our mission, not only for the way it will elevate our operational capacity, but also because it demonstrates the adaptive re-use of historic buildings, and the power of historic renovations to strengthen economic development and growth in and around their neighborhoods and community.

A critical need for the JHS is a place to securely process, archive, digitize and catalogue over 100,000 historic photographic images of Jacksonville, making them perpetually accessible to researchers anywhere. This project will require multiple years of effort on the part of trained archives personnel. Housing this collection at the JHS will ensure that these invaluable resources are readily accessible for use by the people of this city, while secure from floods or tropical weather events.

With the help of general contractor Jeff Thompson, the JHS’s Property Management Committee has established the renovation budget at $1,719,945.00. Funds contributed or pledged thus far stand at approximately $694,000, of which $35,000 was contributed in early 2020 by City Council, and an additional $15,000 was contributed by the Office of the Mayor. The balance has come from private donors, who agree that, as Florida’s largest and most complicated city, Jacksonville’s history matters. To all of those who have contributed, we remain deeply thankful. In order to drive this project to completion in a timely way, we are seeking additional public support from state and local sources, and are continuing to welcome private gifts to the restricted capital campaign fund. Can you help? For information, please contact Alan Bliss, CEO, at alan.bliss@jaxhistory.org or (904) 665-0064.

Alan J. Bliss, CEO
Jacksonville Historical Society

THE JACKSONVILLE HISTORY CENTER