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Here's a antiquarian Disney World: the mall at Dixieland Park in Jacksonville. It stood in the area of the present Hilton Hotel on the Southbank. This postcard was postdated in Jacksonville on March 11, 1909. A note on the back reads, "Dear Friends: We arrived safely after a fairly good trip. Have not found a house as yet, so are boarding... There is lots of business here. J.K. has gone up the river today." The last reference was probably either to a business or pleasure trip up the St. Johns.
The exotic entrance to Dixieland Park made it clear that you were entering someplace special.
If it weren't for the big bird, this could be a horse track. The photo shows ostrich racing at Dixieland Park in 1917 or 1918.
Source of picture: Florida State Archives) Fortunately, some things don't change: The octopus-like oak from Dixieland Park still stands. It's called the Treaty Oak because of old myths about Native American peace accords having been signed under its branches. The majestic tree is located in Jessie Ball DuPont Park on the Southside. It rises to height of 66 feet, and its crown spreads over 145 feet, with twisting branches that bow to the ground & curl back up. According to a note on the above picture, the oak shades an area of 190 in diameter. The tree is less than 200 years old, but it still ranks as one of the oldest living things in Jacksonville. It may've been here when Isaiah Hart founded the city during the 1820s. Decorated with hundreds of electric lights, Treaty Oak stood in the midst of much excitement during the days of Dixieland Park.
These exotic structures housed a cafe and dance pavilion at Dixieland Park. The postcard may date from between 1910 to about 1917.


YESTERYEAR’S FUN SPOTS — Billing itself as “The Coney Island of the South,” Dixieland Park opened in 1907. Featuring Alligator Joe Campbell, ostrich races, electric fountains, burros, bands and theater productions, the sprawling complex drew hordes of tourists & locals, many of whom took the ferry from the end of Main Street over to Dixieland. The theme park and ostrich farm sprawled over 30 acres of riverfront property on the Southbank, in the vicinity of today’s Hilton Hotel.

Among its myriad attractions, Dixieland featured a 160-foot roller coaster, a Figure Eight ride, a toboggan, a “laughing gallery,” a “House of Troubles,” and a large merry-go-round called “The Flying Jenny,” which boasted 56 wooden animals. Customers could ride ostriches, watch them race, and buy ostrich feathers in the souvenir shop. At night, almost 20,000 electric lights illunated the park. Babe Ruth once played baseball at Dixieland, and the famous bandleader John Phillips Sousa gave a concert. Many movie companies filmed their silent flicks there. These included jungle pictures, which brought elephants, tigers, camels, and horses to the ostrich park.

Indeed, more than just big birds entertained guests at Dixieland & other local attractions. Do any of these appeal to you? — Alligators, dog & pony shows, lion wrestling, hot air balloons, parachute jumps, comedy acrobats, high-wire performers, & vaudeville acts. On muggy days at Jax ostrich parks, visitors could refresh themselves at a swimming pool and bathing beaches. Dixieland also featured an electric water fountain.

Dixieland & other ostrich parks faded around the time of World War I. In the case of Dixieland, it was renamed the Florida Alligator Farm after it acquired numerous alligators. By the 1930s, the entire collection was sold to some folks in St. Augustine, which is now the St. Augustine Alligator Farm.

~written by Glenn Emery

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