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A Downtown Fort: the Blockhouse

(Source of picture: Florida State Archives)

Here’s the last remaining blockhouse in Florida, as seen in 1975. Just what is a blockhouse? It’s a fort made of squared timbers with a projecting upper story. This one, the Burnsed Blockhouse, may date back as early as 1832. It offered protection against Seminole Indians. It still has peepholes and openings from which to fire rifles.

Also known as the Carl Brown House, the Burnsed Blockhouse isn’t located very far from Jacksonville. It used to sit fifteen miles north of Sanderson in Baker County, Jacksonville’s neighbor to the west. However, it was recently moved to storage in Macclenny, the county seat. The blockhouse will eventually be restored and placed in a local historical park.

A DOWNTOWN BLOCKHOUSE — As you stand in downtown Jacksonville, it’s hard to imagine that residents once feared that an Indian attack could endanger the entire community. It’s also tough to picture something else: A blockhouse used to be located just five blocks from “The Landing,” the present-day marketplace.

The small fortification was situated at the very edge of town. Little else had been built to the north and west of the blockhouse. When night descended with an eerie, inky blackness, nervous sentries guarded the little fort. After all, the “frontier” lay just a few feet away. Every rumor of Seminole Indians in the area sent local residents scurrying for the blockhouse.

PURPOSE — The founder of Jacksonville, Isaiah Hart, was the man behind the fortification’s construction. During the Second Seminole War, Hart led the movement to build the blockhouse. He proved successful in his quest, and the little fort was probably finished in 1836.

The blockhouse stood at the northeast corner of Ocean & Monroe streets. It was to give a place of refuge if Seminoles raided Jacksonville. It also served as a storehouse for arms & ammo. Jacksonville’s population was growing during the Seminole conflict. Fearing for their safety, many refugees fled to the city from Florida’s hinterlands. With an increasing number of people to protect, the idea of a local fortification must have seemed even more worthwhile. (By 1840, though, Jacksonville could still only boast of about 350 residents.)

APPEARANCE — The blockhouse looked like a log cabin that sat high above the ground on a pedestal. The upper room jutted out over the base. This would allow the defenders to shoot down on attackers if they tried to sneak up and set fire to the stronghold. Guns could be aimed through portholes that were placed in the floor & in all four walls.

Residents climbed a ladder and entered through a door in the floor. If the blockhouse were assaulted, they could pull the ladder up and shutter the opening. Fortunately, an attack never came. The Seminoles never fired a bullet or an arrow at the fortification. They raided Mandarin and homesteads in present-day West Jacksonville, but they didn’t assault the town of Jacksonville itself.

After the Second Seminole War ended in 1842, the blockhouse stood for about another fifteen years. It was used for meetings and worship services. The First Baptist Church, in fact, met there when it was organized in July, 1838. During more recent years, a Winn Dixie grocery store once occupied the spot. Today, the location is the site of the Duval County Supervisor of Elections Office.

written by Glenn Emery

Copyright © 2019 by Jacksonville Historical Society