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What’s in a name? How the city and its streets got theirs.

For 10,000 years Native Americans lived along the St. Johns River and at some point referred to its waters by a variety of names, including Welaka, “river of lakes”. It is recorded that natives called the narrow St. Johns River crossing at today’s downtown Jacksonville, Wacca Pilatka, meaning “place of cow’s crossing.” By default, the reference to the river became the name of the location, and consequently the name for the area we now know to be Jacksonville.

In early June 1822, an estimated 250 people were living in the area, scattered up and down both sides of the St. Johns River. The potential for a town at the Cow Ford was realized by most who traveled to the area – principal among them, Isaiah D. Hart. After some persuasion, a 20-block survey of the town was formed. The town name of Jacksonville was agreed to without dissent in honor of General Andrew Jackson, the state’s first American governor and popular idol of the day. The name was suggested by John Warren, a resident, but not a native of the town, who had served as a volunteer in the army of General Jackson during “the Indian troubles in West Florida.” Ironically, there is no substantiated record that Jackson ever visited this part of Florida.

The town was surveyed by D.S.H. Miller and Francis Ross, Benjamin Chaires and John Bellamy, all residents of the area. The founders carefully selected names for the streets – most of the original street names remain today.

  • Bay Street: The origin of this name is not entirely clear, but T. Frederick Davis speculated that the naming of Bay Street may have been influenced from the “corner tree on the river bank at the foot of Market Street, starting point of the first survey, was a ‘fine old bay’.”
  • Forsyth Street: Named for General John Forsyth, U.S. minister to Spain who conducted the negotiations for the acquisition of Florida.
  • Adams Street: Named for the Secretary of State under President James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, who had a great deal to do with acquiring Florida as a territory.
  • Newnan Street: Named for Colonel Daniel Newnan, who arrived in this area with the Patriots in 1812 and who made the famous campaign against the Indian King Payne in Central Florida.
  • Monroe Street: Named for President James Monroe.
  • Duval Street: Named for the first civil governor of Florida, William P. DuVal.
  • Washington and Liberty Streets: Named for the patriotism of the commissioners.
  • Ocean Street seems to have two explanations: 1) Named for Ossian Hart, son of Isaiah Hart, who later served as governor of Florida. The explanation is that the spelling became corrupted in preparing maps or… 2) Offered by Webb in his History of Florida that Ocean was so named because “the waters covered the space of the whole earth westward of the west half of Square 10, as far as could be seen. All over it was a dense growth of tall and stately trees and impervious underbrush, vines and bush, through which no man traveled; but through which the water from the river silently penetrated.”
  • Market Street cannot be definitely traced, according to T. Frederick Davis, but it appears that there was likely a market located at the time of the town’s survey.
  • Main Street: Originally called Pine Street, most likely due to the location of pine trees.

On August 12, 1822, Duval County was created under Governor William P. DuVal’s administration. Its original boundaries were:

Suwanee River on the west; a line drawn from the mouth of the Suwanee River to the foot of Liberty Street in Jacksonville (designated in the Act as the Cow Ford), thence down the St. Johns River as it meanders to the ocean was the southern boundary, while the St. Mary’s River and the Georgia line constituted the northern boundary. Jacksonville was selected as the government seat of the new county.

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