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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Jun. 14, 200712:00 PM EST

Commemorating Jacksonville's first city planners

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by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

by Max Marbut

Staff Writer

City Council Tuesday approved a resolution to recognize Friday, June 15 as the 185th anniversary of the founding of Jacksonville.

That was the day in 1822 when a group of settlers led by Isaiah Hart and John Brady tied a rope around a bay tree and then used the rope to lay out the survey markers for city’s first streets. However, when telling a story about anything that happened almost two centuries ago, there is usually some “filling in the blanks” involved and this one is no exception.

“Lost to us is the actual date in June this event took place,” said Emily Lisska, executive director of the Jacksonville Historical Society. “But decades ago, city leaders decided June 15, 1822 would be the official date of the founding.”

She added that the event might not have happened if it were not for Hart’s dedication to creating a town where he and his wife Nancy and two young sons had built a log cabin on an 18-acre parcel that was purchased with $72 worth of cattle.

“It was Isaiah who had the vision. He had to talk Brady, who was Hart’s neighbor, into the plan to give up part of their properties to carve out the first streets. In fact, Brady never really wanted a bustling town here because he preferred a more rural lifestyle. He moved out of the area within about a year of the founding,” said Lisska.

That first survey was the first example of a task that continues in Jacksonville today but on a much higher level. Isaiah Hart and the others who were there that day could be considered Jacksonville’s first City Planners because, “They laid out the street grid system we still use today,” said Joel McEachin, principal historic preservation planner in the Planning and Development Department. He has worked in the historic planning field since 1984 and became Jacksonville’s first Preservation Planner four years later. The division now employs five planners as well as a Historic Preservation inspector.

The department maintains an extensive collection of historic documents related to sites, buildings and other landmarks that exist or have existed in Duval County. While most of the material relates to the reconstruction period following the Great Fire of 1901, McEachin said there is no shortage of historic sites or architecture.

“Because of the fire, you might think there is very little that can be classified as historic but that’s not the case. We don’t have a lot of Victorian architecture but we have a large number of examples of classic 20th century architecture because Jacksonville was the business, financial and political center of the State of Florida in the early part of the century.”

The local documents are part of the Florida Master Site File, a collection used by the Florida Department of State’s Division of Historical Resources as a “recording tool to document what was on each site by date. It includes street layouts, buildings, bridges, statues and even archaeological sites – anything placed there by humans that reflects their built environment,” said McEachin.

He added that having the archives can sometimes head off costly errors that don’t fall into the monetary category.

“Being able to accurately research the site files allows us to make sure we don’t accidentally lose something that is valuable from a historic standpoint – something that could not be replaced.”

Even with the most thorough modern planning processes, sometimes changes have to be made before the final drawings are accepted. That’s also something it didn’t take Jacksonville’s founders long to discover, said Lisska.

“They thought everything out as best they could, but there was a glitch. Each block was supposed to be the same dimensions, but some of them are larger than others because based on the initial survey, Brady’s house would have been right in the middle of Liberty Street, so obviously that had to be changed.”

The founding of Jacksonville will be celebrated with a ceremony beginning at 10:30 a.m. Friday at the corner of Bay and Market streets. Among the invited guests will be Circuit Court Judge Peter L. Dearing, a direct descendant of Isaiah Hart.

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