Special to the Daily Record Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton and starred in "Who's Afraid of Viginia Woolf," in Jacksonville theaters this week in 1967.

50 years ago: Railroad merger gets go-ahead, students get lesson in politics

Apr. 10, 2017

Have you ever wondered what life was like in Jacksonville half a century ago? It was a different era of history, culture and politics but there are often parallels between the kind of stories that made headlines then and today. As interesting as the differences may be, so are the similarities. These are some of the top stories from this week in 1967. The items were compiled from the Jacksonville Public Library’s periodical archives by Staff Writer Max Marbut.

U.S. Supreme Court approves railroad merger

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, approved the merger of the Atlantic Coast Line and Seaboard Air Line railroads.

In a joint statement, Thomas Rice, president of ACL, and John Smith, president of SAL, said “We are extremely enthusiastic about the potential of the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad. We are convinced that the merged companies will be able to perform a far better transportation service for the Southeast than ever before.”

They said consolidating duplicate facilities in many areas, eliminating parallel lines and better utilization of equipment would mean better service for shippers and the traveling public.

The merger brought into one network 9,624 route miles in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina and Virginia.

The new railroad would maintain offices in Richmond, Va., where Seaboard had its headquarters and in Jacksonville, where Atlantic had its general offices.

The new company would be No. 8 in mileage among U.S. railroads and ninth among the country’s rail carriers in both assets and revenue.

Total assets would be $123 billion. Combined operating revenue of the two lines in 1966 amounted to $404 million.

Stockholders approved the merger in 1960. The Interstate Commerce Commission ruled in favor of the merger in December 1963. The following January, opponents of the merger – Southern Railway, Florida East Coast Railway, Railway Labor Executives Association and the U.S. Department of Justice – filed petitions for reconsideration.

On June 8, 1966, a three-judge federal court in Jacksonville sustained the ICC order, but the Justice Department and the opposing railroads appealed to the Supreme Court two months later.

Students almost witness violence at council meeting

A group of students from Stanton Vocational High School who were studying local government problems went to the Tuesday evening City Council meeting to see government in action and got more than they bargained for.

Among what they witnessed was council member Barney Cobb proclaiming he had been offered a bribe to favor a property rezoning application and the man he accused stating that no bribe was offered.

The bribery allegation came when council took up consideration of rezoning property on West 19th Street to permit construction of a new service station.

Cobb said he was called on the telephone and told that some money would be waiting for him to pick up if he would agree to the zoning variance.

That’s when a man in the audience, who identified himself as Roy Lee Ledford, rose and challenged Cobb’s statement.

He confirmed that he had called Cobb, but said he had only quoted another man – whom he did not identify – in his conversation with Cobb and that the other man said he would put $200 into Cobb’s campaign fund.

“Those were my words to Mr. Cobb,” Ledford said.

Patrolman Billy Benz, a city police officer who served as sergeant-at-arms at council meetings and usually had an uneventful evening, went into action when Cobb rose from his chair.

“I’d be glad to go outside and beat the hell out of him,” Cobb said as he walked toward the swinging gates that separated him from Ledford.

When he asked permission to leave the chamber, some of the other council members said, “Come back Barney, come back.”

He went back and sat down.

Then Mike Overstreet, a representative of the Shell Oil Co. that wanted to build the station on rezoned property, took the floor and called the situation “a great misunderstanding.”

County OKs funds for new morgue

The Duval County Commission voted to include $186,000 in the 1967-68 budget to build a new county morgue.

The vote came after Dr. Carl Wells, the county medical examiner, and State Attorney William Hallowes appeared before the board to request a new facility to replace what Wells described as the “dilapidated, deteriorated and inadequate morgue.”

The existing morgue at Duval Medical Center was set up on an emergency basis, Wells said, and with an increase in the work being done by his office, it had become inadequate.

The Duval County Hospital Authority had agreed to provide a site for the new morgue on 11th Street, west of the nurse’s training building, he added.

The morgue, on an annual budget of $60,000, performed nearly 1,000 autopsies in 1966.

Women’s Guild marks anniversary

The Women’s Guild of the Jacksonville Symphony Association marked its 11th year of service and its founding members reminisced about the beginnings of the organization.

In the early days, ticket sales were a project of the Women’s Committee. It was established in 1947 and was the precursor of the guild.

The orchestra’s first season was staged in the auditorium at the George Washington Hotel. The venue proved to be too small, however, so the second season was moved to the larger armory building at Union and State streets, said Mrs. Ross Parkhill, who was the first president of the guild.

“Guild members had the job of setting up seats for the concerts in the armory and once, even had to move heavy bleachers when the custodian quit just before a concert,” she said.

“The decorating committee’s job was to spruce up the setting for the concerts that season,” said Mrs. Olin Watts, third president of the group.

“We had to crawl on our knees to attach a drape and seal up the underside of the platform on which the symphony performed,” she added.

Consolidated government study has first meeting

The Duval County Legislative Delegation had its first meeting to evaluate the proposed government consolidation plan.

The delegation took the philosophical stand that everyone was in favor of consolidation “to some extent, more or less, perhaps and maybe.”

State Sen. John Fisher started the conversation by moving that the proposed charter be approved with some changes: that Baldwin and the Beaches be excluded from the consolidation plan, that the power of the mayor be reduced by making his appointments subject to City Council confirmation and the office of director of public safety or sheriff should be elective rather than an appointed position.

The group also heard a presentation by state Rep. Fred Schultz on a conference regarding reducing air pollution caused by the city’s electric generating stations and other oil-using plants.