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Jax Daily Record Monday, Dec. 19, 201112:00 PM EST

50 years ago this week

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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 1961. The items were compiled from the Jacksonville Public Library’s periodical archives by Staff Writer Max Marbut.

• County Solicitor Edward M. Booth revealed that the bulk of his embezzlement case against suspended criminal and civil court officials hinged on what he described as a scheme in which payments were made to a bogus printing company for office supplies that never were received.

Booth told Criminal Court Judge A. Lloyd Layton the amount of the alleged fraudulent payments to the nonexistent firm was about $31,000.

Booth made his remarks as he and defense attorney Walter G. Arnold, who represented Hartley, argued Arnold’s motion asking Layton to require the prosecution to provide a mass of detailed information concerning embezzlement charges against Kathleen Hartley, suspended clerk of the Civil and Criminal Courts of Record, and Woodrow “Woody” Richardson, suspended deputy clerk.

Hartley and Richardson on Oct. 9 were charged jointly with embezzling $35,896.30 of County funds on various dates during the period from Oct. 3, 1959, to Oct. 3, 1961.

Booth said that an investigation showed that a number of checks, signed by the clerk, were made out to a bogus firm under the name of “The Urso Press.” He said R.V. Urso Sr. of 504 Parker St., a printer employed by an actual firm, had endorsed the checks.

According to Booth, Urso acknowledged to investigators he had been submitting false invoices to the clerk’s office, would cash the checks, then turn over the proceeds to Richardson and receive a small stipend, $15 or $25, for his services.

No actual supplies ever were delivered to the clerk’s office, Booth said.

Arnold was granted some of his requests for detailed information, but others were denied.

Layton ruled that Booth had to provide Arnold with a breakdown on the items making up the total allegedly embezzled and, as near as possible, the dates of the purported thefts.

He rejected Arnold’s demand for a statement by the prosecution on how much of the embezzled money purportedly fell into Hartley’s hands and how much went to Richardson.

Booth agreed that Arnold would have access to all records of the clerk’s office for inspection.

Richardson was not involved in the proceedings since no motions had been filed by his attorney, Lacy Mahon Jr.

Layton said he had reserved the second week of February on his calendar for trial of the case, but set no definite date.

• Circuit Court Judge Marion W. Gooding threw out a claim by three Jacksonville citizens that they owned part of Blount Island, which County officials hoped to develop as the hub of an industrial and port complex.

The ruling was a setback for Mr. and Mrs. Pembroke Huckins and Elizabeth A. Payne, who claimed they owned Coon Point and that the area was a 600-acre piece of the 1,500-acre island in the St. Johns River.

Gooding in effect upheld the County’s claim of full ownership of the island. Engineers had declared the island a favorable location for port and industrial development.

Payne and the Huckinses claimed ownership of Coon Point through a long series of conveyances made since 1716, when the mainland in the area was granted to Andrew Atkinson by royal title from the king of Spain.

Congress confirmed the grant in 1827, and in 1951 the United States purportedly conveyed the grant to the State of Florida. The grant in turn was conveyed by the state in 1958 to Duval County.

During the hearing on the suit, County Attorney J. Henry Blount, for whom the island was named, argued that the trio never had owned any part of what had become the island.

Blount Island had been carved from the mainland by dredging operations in the late 1950s. Blount said old surveys showed that Coon Point was not a part of the Atkinson grant that had been conveyed to the County.

It was not known immediately after the hearing if Gooding’s decision would be appealed. The Huckinses and Payne were represented by attorney Herman Ulmer Jr. of the firm Adair, Ulmer, Murchison, Kent and Ashby.

• Custodians at the Duval County Courthouse were wondering what caused a glass door on the riverfront side of the building to crystallize early one morning and shatter into a multitude of pieces.

A night watchman on his rounds reported at 6 a.m. that the window had crystallized into a mosaic pattern, “something like a Christmas decoration.”

It was speculated that a drop in temperature might have caused the damage, but the weather bureau records showed there was only a gradual decline of a few degrees during the time of the damage.

Meteorologist Seymour Steiner said the morning of the incident, the temperature dropped from 61 degrees at midnight to 52 at 6 a.m., only 9 degrees over a six-hour period. The low of 49 wasn’t reached until 8 a.m.

A similar door next to the shattered pane showed no sign of damage.

Building engineer H.J. Boggs had the door boarded up until arrival of replacement glass, which he estimated to cost about $700.

• The Jacksonville Beach City Council enacted an ordinance prohibiting new bars and taverns from opening and one setting up new planning and zoning boards.

The council also adopted a resolution asking the State Road Department not to open bids already received on the resurfacing of South Third Street. The City wanted the road rebuilt as a six-lane divided highway to match North Third Street.

The zoning law change banned the sale of alcoholic beverages in the ocean blocks from Pablo Avenue to North Fifth Avenue. That included the boardwalk amusement zone, which the council wanted to eventually develop into a family recreation area.

The other ordinance abolished the City Planning Advisory Board and the Board of Zoning Adjustment. A new planning commission was to be appointed in January to handle planning matters only and a zoning board was to be named to address zoning and rezoning issues.

• Members of the Downtown Kiwanis Club were surprised at their annual Christmas lunch meeting at the Roosevelt Hotel when a “shepherd” walked in the room to address them.

The group was expecting Robert Hoffelt, minister of music at Riverside Park Methodist Church, as guest speaker, but they didn’t expect him to show up in costume.

Hoffelt kept his audience spellbound with a 30-minute presentation of “The Shepherd Who Stayed Behind,” the story of the shepherd who remained in the fields to tend the flock while his fellow shepherds followed the Star of Bethlehem.

Hoffelt was well-known for his authentic makeup of characters in the nativity scene which was featured in the annual Service of Lights program at his church.

• Craig Field Armory on St. Johns Bluff Road was formally turned over to the National Guard when Col. Vernon Sikes, accepted the keys to the building from the contractor, R.B. Gay.

The facility would be the headquarters for the 50th Quartermaster Group, Automatic Weapons Battalion of the 265th Artillery, Company B of the 1st Medium Tank Battalion and the 148th Aviation Company.

• The Duval County jail was given a rating of excellent by the Florida Division of Corrections.

Sheriff Dale Carson and Tom Heaney, the warden of the jail, were given certificates and letters from H.G. Cochran Jr., division director, praising the local incarceration facilities.

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