For Immediate Release
Wednesday, January 17, 2024
Contact: Mark Ard
PRESS RELEASE: Secretary Byrd Recognizes Florida Main Street’s Newest Participating Communities
TALLAHASSEE, FLA. –
Today, Secretary of State Cord Byrd recognized Florida Main Street’s two newest communities. These communities are now eligible for technical assistance from the Florida Main Street Program to support local revitalization and historic preservation efforts.
“I am excited to acknowledge Hastings Main Street and Eastside Jacksonville as the newest Florida Main Street communities,” said Secretary Byrd. “These organizations exhibit the pride and passion we seek in our participating programs. I look forward to their successes and achievements in the new year and in the future.”
Secretary Byrd designated the two new Main Street communities on December 21, 2023, following the meeting of the ad hoc Florida Main Street Advisory Committee, which recommended the new communities for designation. Composed of six members, the advisory committee included representatives of the Florida Division of Historical Resources, Florida Redevelopment Association, Fernandina Beach Main Street, Florida League of Cities, 1000 Friends of Florida, and Florida Trust for Historic Preservation.
Hastings Main Street
The community of Hastings, located in St. Johns County, originated as an agricultural railroad town. During the late 1800s, Henry Flagler began investing in Florida, purchasing and expanding railroads and developing hotels along the Atlantic coast. As Flagler’s hotel empire expanded, he needed a fresh supply of produce to feed workers and visitors. To solve this problem, he encouraged his cousin Thomas Horace Hastings to establish a large agricultural operation. In 1890, a small farming community originally known as Hastings Station sprang up along the Florida East Coast Railway (FEC). In 1909, the town of Hastings was formally incorporated. Although area farmers grew a variety of crops, Hastings became best known for its potatoes. Soon, it became known as the Potato Capital of Florida. The community entered a period of growth in the early 20th century, with a downtown that catered to the agricultural industry, particularly potato growing. Its location along the FEC railroad made it an important transshipment point for local farmers seeking to bring their produce to market.
Photograph courtesy of Hastings Main Street, Inc.
Today, Hastings Main Street is working to capitalize on momentum and experience gained from recent community events, such as the Hastings Fall Festival of Art, to help generate buzz for what is expected to be an exciting 2024. Several businesses in the district anticipate holding their grand openings, and the town will host several family-friendly events, including a barbeque competition, barrel racing series, car shows, concerts, markets, expos, and the local tradition of celebrating Hastings’ history known as the “Cabbage, Potato, and Bacon Festival.” The hard work and determination of the community will culminate when “The Venue,” a new event space, opens in the renovated historic Stanton Ford automotive dealership.
“Today marks a significant milestone for Hastings as we are recognized by Secretary of State Cord Byrd for our participation in the Florida Main Street Program,” said Jena Dennis, Chair of the Hastings Main Street Board of Directors. “Being part of this program is a tremendous benefit for our community. It not only acknowledges our rich history, dating back to the late 1800s when Henry Flagler and Thomas Horace Hastings played pivotal roles in our development, but also sets the stage for revitalization and economic growth. Receiving a Main Street designation means a commitment to preserving our unique heritage, while fostering new opportunities for our residents. It’s a testament to the dedication of our community members who have worked tirelessly to make Hastings a place where history meets progress. We believe that through this program, we can enhance our local economy, attract visitors, and create a vibrant and sustainable future for Hastings.”
Jacksonville’s Historic Eastside, in Duval County, represents one of the largest and most historically intact African American neighborhoods in Florida. The community has a documented Black presence dating prior to the Civil War. Among the churches found in Historic Eastside is Midway African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, which was founded in 1865, and is the first formally organized AME church in the state of Florida. After the Civil War, formerly enslaved people moved to the Historic Eastside, drawn by its riverside location, the city’s rapid growth and industrialization, and the development of sawmills in the area. The development of Jacksonville as an important rail hub during this period also drew Black residents seeking employment opportunities.
By the late 19th century, Historic Eastside developed into a thriving community with a substantial residential, commercial, and industrial core. Historic Eastside survived the Great Fire of 1901, which destroyed most of downtown Jacksonville, due to the neighborhood’s location east of Hogan’s Creek. During this thriving period, Historic Eastside’s main commercial corridor, Florida Avenue, now known as A. Philip Randolph Blvd, became an economic haven for Black residents. At its height, this commercial strip was filled with multiple restaurants, bars, grocery stores, retail shops, and a theater. By the mid-20th century, urban renewal began impacting the neighborhood. Two bridges, the Mathews Bridge and Hart Bridge, constructed in the 1950s, along with a series of expressways and connectors, displaced large numbers of residents in the surrounding area. The city also began expanding the area around the Gator Bowl to convert it into a larger hub of sporting activities. Despite the surrounding redevelopment, Historic Eastside persisted as a community.
Photograph courtesy of LIFT JAX
Recently, the Historic Eastside, also known as OutEast, has been at the center of private and public investments to ensure that its valued history is preserved for years to come. The most recent data shows that 83% of buildings in the program area are locally owned, and zero percent of the buildings in the program area have absentee ownership. LIFT JAX, the philanthropic organization responsible for Eastside’s Main Street campaign, and partner organizations like the Eastside Legacy Business Council are working to revitalize the business corridor by garnering input from residents and business owners. Some of these activities include placemaking efforts to beautify ten blocks of businesses with six brand-new murals and plans to improve lighting and signage to help local businesses thrive. Additionally, the Melanin Market is a staple event along the business corridor that attracts hundreds of Black-owned businesses from across the Southeast to showcase their products and work to hundreds of shoppers.
“Jacksonville’s Historic Eastside is one of the last historically intact African American neighborhoods in our city, which means preserving its history is more important now than ever before,” said Travis Williams, Chief Operating Officer of LIFT JAX. “Part of that history is a commercial corridor bustling with commerce and activity. We believe having the corridor added to Florida Main Street gives the business community and residents a major tool to begin rebuilding our corridor for the future.”
“As a business owner along the A. Philip Randolph corridor, and a fourth generation Eastsider, I am excited about all the possibilities that come along with this Florida Main Street designation,” said Avery McKnight, President of the Eastside Legacy Business Council. “With our current investments already underway, this will give us guidance and a proven strategy to lead the corridor’s revitalization efforts going forward.
About Florida Main Street
Florida Main Street is a program administered by the Division of Historical Resources under the Florida Department of State, which currently oversees 56 communities throughout the state. By implementing the National Main Street Center’s Four-Point Approach, Florida Main Street encourages economic development within the context of historic preservation through the revitalization of Florida’s downtowns—the community’s heart and soul.