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 1962. The items were compiled from the Jacksonville Public Library’s periodical archives by Staff Writer Max Marbut.

• The City Commission learned that the City would be responsible for two-thirds of the cost of the damage caused in January by an electrical accident at the new Civic Auditorium along the St. Johns River Downtown.

Claude Mullis, City claim attorney, told the commissioners that an arbiter reached the decision after studying arguments presented by the City and attorneys for the general contractor, The Auchter Co. The arbiter stipulated the contractor would pay the additional one-third of the damage cost.

The accident occurred Jan. 26, 1961, when the main electrical switchboard caught fire, causing $25,000 in damage. At the time, employees of both the City Electric Department and the contractor were working in the building.

Robert E. Walker, who was selected as arbiter by both parties, submitted a bill for $1,381.29 for his services. Mullis said the City would pay two-thirds of the fee with Auchter responsible for the balance.

• Based on an unusual case of probate law, a local bank official offered some advice on the importance of having a proper last will and testament.

“Anybody can draw up his own will if he’s foolish enough, but the most economical and safest way is to have an attorney do it,” said William G. Dickie, vice president and trust officer of the Atlantic National Bank.

What prompted Dickie’s comments was the case of a Jacksonville man who bequeathed in his will $50,000 to his dog. The will also named a person as trustee of the dog’s fund.

The will specified the trustee was to invest the money, using the interest income, and any part of the principal if it became necessary, for the care and comfort of the canine.

Upon the dog’s death, the will specified a certain charitable organization was to get the profit on the investment.

When the comfortable old dog finally died, the profit was diverted to the charity, but the will didn’t specify what was to become of the remaining balance of the principal.

It was noted that if the dead dog’s affairs were ever to be put in order, it would have to be by a judge.

• Jacksonville became the Southeastern showcase for industrial fallout shelter protection when a prototype of an approved shelter was opened for inspection at the Prudential Insurance Co.’s headquarters building. The structure is now the Aetna Building on the Southbank Downtown.

About 200 people representing business, industry, civil defense, law enforcement, government, the school system and other fields toured the shelter.

W.A. Weatherford, director of the Jacksonville-Duval County Civil Defense Council, said that Prudential provided the space and the construction was funded by a federal grant.

The shelter was designed to provide protection after a nuclear attack for up to 50 people and was intended to be a model for companies that wanted to build fallout shelters for employees.

It was stocked with a 14-day supply of food and water, radiological detection instruments, sleeping accommodations, tables and chairs, medical supplies and emergency lights.

• Bill McCoy proved he was a devoted Democrat when he sacrificed the first day of his honeymoon to be installed as president of the Young Democrats of Florida at Long Boat Key, near Sarasota.

McCoy, director of the news bureau at Jacksonville University, married Diane Christine Grieco at the Church of the Immaculate Conception. After the ceremony, the newlyweds left Jacksonville headed to the Long Boat Key Hotel, where the Democrats were holding their state convention.

• It was announced that a historic building at Forsyth and Julia streets was about to be demolished. Wreckers were to take down the building, which had as part of its history one of Jacksonville’s most famous families, to make way for a parking lot.

Retired U.S. Navy Adm. Gilchrist B. Stockton provided some of the building’s history.

He said the three-story wood frame structure, which was one of the few buildings spared by the Great Fire of 1901, was built in 1860 as a school for “frail girls.” It was occupied by girls from northern states whose health would not tolerate the cold weather.

After a few years of operation, a yellow fever epidemic in the Southeast caused the school to close when most of the students returned to their home states. The school closed in 1869.

About the same time, in Quincy, near Tallahassee, tragedy struck a family that was destined to produce some of Jacksonville’s best-known citizens.

Confederate Col. William Tennent Stockton had returned home after the Civil War to his plantation near Quincy. Crippled by war injuries and by his incarceration in a Union prison camp, Stockton died in 1869 on his plantation.

His widow was left with seven children — five boys and two girls — and no one to operate the plantation. Following the advice of a family friend who knew about the abandoned school, Mrs. Stockton moved with her children to Jacksonville.

She rented the old school building, moved in the family and rented the rest of the rooms as a boarding house.

Late in the 19th century, Downtown was mostly a series of sand dunes, but the city being the southernmost stop on the Eastern Seaboard railroad lines made it a popular destination for tourists.

The visitors came in droves and the Stockton family began to establish its place in Jacksonville’s history.

Stockton’s sons –– Guy, John N.C., Telfair, Thomas and Warwick –– began opening businesses that grew into some of the city’s most well-known.

They included Stockton, Whatley, Davin & Co. and the Ortega Co., developer of the Ortega area.

Around 1880, the Stocktons moved out of the boarding house. Other people moved in and it was operated as a boarding house for more than 20 years.

About the turn of the century, an addition was built on the first floor of the building and it was rented as office space. The upper two floors became the St. George Hotel, which continued to operate into the 1950s.

The longest tenant on the first floor was I. Beverly Nalle, who operated a real estate firm there for more than 45 years before relocating when plans for the demolition were announced.

Nalle said that when the building’s heart pine timbers were reinforced with steel beams in the late 1950s, inkpots dating back to the days of the school were found in nooks and crannies by workmen.

• Florida’s 1962-63 freshwater fishing licenses went on sale in the offices of Duval County judges in the courthouse and at authorized substations.

Florida residents could purchase an annual statewide license for $2. Annual statewide licenses for nonresidents were $8. Military personnel stationed in Florida were regarded as residents.

• Bill Lavery, manager of the City’s auditorium and coliseum, received approval to conduct one of his most enviable duties.

Lavery asked the City Commission to authorize him, at City expense, to go to New York City on June 24.

The purpose of the trip was to “scout Broadway shows” for the City entertainment facilities, Lavery said.