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Looking Ahead

By Dr. Alan J. Bliss, CEO

Maybe you have noticed that as we grow older, the years seem to go by faster. Not this year! Ordinarily, December is an appropriate moment to look back at the past 12 months, but most of us just want 2020 to end. Unpacking and explaining this year will begin on January 1st, and will continue for many decades. That’s great news for historians, who have lots of steady work ahead of them! Rather than getting in their way, let’s look ahead to 2021.

The mission of the JHS continues to be centered on education. Citizens who learn the history of a place become invested in it, psychically, physically and financially. Jacksonville is a sprawling, complicated place, and the breadth of its many stories is equally imposing. The JHS advocates for and provides the resources to preserve and share those stories. No one else does what we do, and in 2021 we plan to do more and better than ever. You can help by making your stories and artifacts available to the JHS.

Our educational “Speaker Series” programs will resume in January, and the schedule through next summer is filling up. In light of public health concerns, we will continue to offer programs online during the foreseeable future. In deciding to resume in-person events, we will follow the advice of experts as well as our members and friends. Many folks miss our programs at Old St. Andrew’s, as we do, too.

In 2021, we will continue to be advocates for historic preservation by showing its value to property owners and to the larger community. In May we will observe National Historic Preservation Month by releasing our annual list of Jacksonville’s “Most Endangered Buildings.” However, the conditions that lead to demolition are always unfolding, and we will strive to keep abreast of developments that may require action. You can help us by notifying the JHS of projects that may threaten an historic place or structure, anywhere in Jacksonville.

Look for progress during the year ahead on our project to renovate the former Florida Casket Company building on our Palmetto Street campus (also known as the “Casket Factory”). Our general contractor has been hired, and his team is at work on construction documents. Plans call for converting the ground floor into a music history museum focused on Jacksonville’s amazing history of music, with the second floor becoming the new home for our painfully overcrowded archives and research collection. The third floor may become a unique event space.

The JHS has long been developing an oral history collection, featuring recordings both audio and video of fascinating Jacksonville stories. Thanks to a grant from the Community Foundation for Northeast Florida, we are strengthening our technical capabilities to conduct and archive more interviews. Oral history projects include music, civil rights, naval / maritime history, aviation, the law, business, health care and medicine, government and politics, and education – to name just a few. Periodically we host public workshops on the best practices in oral history. If you know of an appropriate individual or subject for an oral history, or want to learn more about how to do oral history, contact the JHS at

The JHS has been at work helping local businesses and organizations prepare to observe significant anniversaries. A century ago, Jacksonville was Florida’s most important city, and growing more so every day. Stories and surviving examples of that roaring expansion are nearly 100 years old, and deserve commemoration. The same applies to the events of 50 years ago, when the newly consolidated Jacksonville of the early 1970s was booming again. Let us know how the JHS can help with memorializing the history of your business, club, church or other entity.

Speaking of anniversaries, planning has begun for Jacksonville’s 2022 Bicentennial, marking two centuries of the River City’s existence on the banks of the St. Johns. We are teaming with others from across the city to prepare to honor the people on whose shoulders Jacksonville stands in the 21st century.

Those are just some of the initiatives now underway at the Jacksonville Historical Society. We welcome your support and engagement with the work of public history in Jacksonville, and look forward to seeing our members and friends again in 2021.

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