QUESTION — Jacksonville residents received an interesting surprise in 1963, when city officials began to construct a new waterfront parking lot. The parking spaces were to be situated between the St. Johns River and the tall, riverfront city hall (today’s old City Hall Annex). However, inspectors discovered something odd. What did they find — A Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton? A Timucua Indian Council House? Or a forgotten riverboat? See below…
ANSWER — Considering the pictures on this webpage, the question is pretty easy! In 1963, the inspectors stumbled upon a steamship hull buried on the Northbank. It had belonged to the Clyde Line’s steamship Osceola, seen in the photos. The 272-foot-long steel vessel operated until 1928, when she was tied up and left to rot at an abandoned wharf. The ship flooded and settled into mud at the river’s bottom. Workman dismantled what remained of the topsides in 1937. The rest of the vessel then sank further down until it was forgotten. When workers cut out and removed the hull in ’63, Jacksonville witnessed one of the final reminders of its steamboat era. The new parking covered an old dock area. What’s at the site now? The Hyatt Hotel, with its 966 rooms.
Boat wreckage used to litter various parts of the St. Johns. During the first half of the 20th century, many large hulks were purposely scuttled in the bays and creeks along the river. This proved the cheapest way to dispose of them. Dredging and cleaning eventually removed many of the remains, but river navigators during the mid-1900s still knew about the surviving “snags.”
The top photo shows the Osceola gliding past the Northbank in about 1915, according to the Florida State Archives. If it were at the same spot today, it would be crossing under the Main Street Bridge, which opened in 1941. The bottom postcard, depicting Captain T. W. Lund of the Osceola, dates from around 1925, as indicated by the Archives. The steamer ran overnight trips between Jacksonville and Sanford, 140 miles up the St. Johns. It carried 60 passengers plus cargo.
The Osceola was born in 1913 at Jacksonville’s Merrill Stevens Shipyard. The recessed sternwheeler proved unusual in that it was completely enclosed within the hull.
~written by Glenn Emery